One of the things that stood out to me in my colleague Bill Dries’ exit interview with Mayor Wharton is the mayor’s assessment of his political legacy, which Wharton views as the civic pride that’s swept through the city in recent years.
“I would think it’s the intangible of how we changed the attitude of Memphis as we see ourselves, and we also changed the way the larger outside world sees us,” Wharton said. “We were kind of down on ourselves. … We were starting to believe that stuff. We weathered the recession. We had a recession of the spirit about the same time we had an economic recession, and that’s a bad condition.”
Five years ago, when he was still settling in at City Hall, the mayor gave me some insight into what the above quote means.
In this piece I wrote back in 2010, we got a look at the mayor as a sort of one-man chamber of commerce. I caught up with him after he’d just come back from New York City and met with the chairman and CEO of Sharp Electronics Corp., which Wharton was helping encourage to keep Memphis on its radar.
A flurry of out of town trips to Washington and elsewhere followed. And this is what the mayor told me back then, harkening to the pride he was trying to help foment in Memphis, particularly in the business community here:
“I’m coming up on my 40th (wedding) anniversary,” Wharton said. “I don’t take roses home as often as I did. But you’ve got to take something home. Don’t take anything for granted. With our existing employers, it’s like a marriage that’s gotten some age to it. ‘Oh, we’ve got them here, they aren’t going anywhere.’ But there’s people bringing them roses, perfume and sweet music every day. I want to start taking them roses, perfume and sweet music. Whether it’s to southeast Shelby County or Southeast Asia, we’re going to be there.”