Friday, July 31, 2009

The Great Hater

After an 18-year, nearly tyrannical reign as the Memphis mayor, Willie Herenton has resigned on his own terms, on his own schizophrenic timetable, exiting to the uncomfortably poignant tune "My Way".

There are plenty of stories in circulation about Herenton's politics of hate, his penchant for weaving his personal life with his political connections, his bizarre disappearances, his ever-expanding political posse, and so on. In fact, it's much more difficult to find a recent story detailing Herenton's accomplishments without the dark shadow of his irrational behavior looming. The absence of real progress in Herenton's tenure is truly pathetic given that he has held the position of Memphis mayor longer than anyone else... ever.

But enough about Herenton's indiscretions. Everyone knows about his poor oversight and shady political tactics. In his resignation speech yesterday, Willie gave his shout-outs, talked about his accomplishments, listed some "critical imperatives" that he wants his replacement to handle (Hey Willie. Let it go, man.), and offered his regular self-congratulations on being a man and being a good superintendent and fighting white racists, yada yada yada. However, during his speech, he made a statement that typified his entire mindset as mayor. Rather than praising the people of Memphis for finding any unity at all, Herenton went out of his way to address the idea that Memphis basketball could be a unifier for the city of Memphis by saying it "makes him sick."

I'm sorry? A city historically regarded as racially charged finds common ground in a basketball team and it makes the mayor "sick"? Has Herenton ever attended a University of Memphis basketball game? It's not like the mayor's office. Tiger fans don't fight each other to see who the best fan will be. Tiger fans don't kick out the person sitting next to them so they can squeeze a few more friends onto their row. Tigar fans don't disappear for vast periods of time, then show back up acting like nothing ever happened (although we've seen that before and those fans suck, thus supporting the example).

What you see from a statement as inane as Herenton's is a man who is so narcissistic and insecure that he cannot support a good thing in his own city unless it can be credited to himself. Rather than rally behind the team like the rest of the city, Herenton sees the Tigers as a competitor for the seat of Memphis' darling and his ego will simply not tolerate it. Is this perspective surprising? From a man who insulted the democratic process with campaign slogans such as "Shake Them Haters Off", we should have expected his response to be defensive and derogatory.

If anything, Herenton could have learned from the Tiger basketball team. Find a cause that benefits the people and stirs up passion among them, rally the troops behind that cause and push forward to achieve the greatest things possible. That sentiment is what made the championship run so special. That's why people of all colors showed up at the airport to support the team. That's why most people were furious and felt betrayed when Benedict Calipari abandoned ship. That's the same reason why years from now, people will cheer the day that the reign of King Willie ended.