To great fanfare, Former MLGW President and Memphis attorney Herman Morris, announced his bid for Memphis Mayor today, in a much-anticipated event at the Peabody Hotel. Morris talked of his Memphis roots and his children's success in the City schools while standing before a stage-length banner spelling out the basic tenets of his campaign.
His announcement comes amid a growing scandal and a federal investigation over preferential treatment for powerful Memphians during his tenure at the helm of MLGW and in the years following. The questions which began over revelations that City Councilman Edmund Ford had been granted repeated extensions on payment of his utility bills - until he became more than $16k in arrears - have recently also exposed a long-standing practice of delivering special notification to political V.I.P.'s of pending shut-offs.
At his address, Morris answered questions about a list of people who were to be directed to him personally when they would call the utility with concerns. The list was made available by the attorney for the embattled, current MLGW President, Joseph Lee, and followed an email written by Morris to subordinates five years ago, apparently establishing the precedent. "I thought it was simply a statement saying, like many folks, I've got relationships and communication back and forth from people i've met and in my life and they're kind of my friends and family," he told reporters.
"Essentially, what i intended then and what i read when i read it again, is that there are some folks... that would sometimes want to get in touch with me," he said. "I wanted them to be able to get through to me when they called."
"I will tell you today... that i got a lot of handwritten notes from customers asking me to take some action or at least take note... i looked at it and i felt that it was something that i should take charge of and i did," he said of another reference in his email, dated 2002, that cited an angry former editor from the Commercial Appeal and his fear that inattention might lead to bad press. "I felt that it was something that should be resolved and it was. And that was the end of it."
Morris' invited campaign support and encouraged people to visit his website, www.hermanmorrisformayor.com, which features an animated image of him holding a sign with the letters "WH" and turning it over to reveal his initials, "HM."
He talked of race relations in Memphis at length. "We've got to confront the issue of race relations and race-baiting in our community, in our politics, and we've got to do it with honesty and integrity," he said, comparing successes in Atlanta with Memphis' status as "the city too busy hating for progress."
"I want to stop it," he said.
He added that "Memphis is not a tale of two cities. We are one community, one story and we've got one future together."