In baseball there are mighty home run hitters, and then there are players who have great careers just hitting singles and doubles.
As mayor of Memphis, A C Wharton knows pulling off big projects or attacking big issues can sap a city of its resources. So why swing for the fences if you can advance progress with small, but successful policies that make a city feel good about themselves?
That's why Wharton is the "Dr. Feelgood" of Memphis politics.
Amidst the cramped, but ornate setting of the Memphis Pink Palace lobby, Mayor Wharton began the annual State of the City speech with a simplistic assurance.
"The state of our city is sound and continues to improve," he said.
In measured oratory, mostly devoid of the home-spun parables he often amuses an audience with, Wharton began his remarks with a litany of accomplishments brought about during his administration over the previous year. He cited progress in the areas of investment in youth, dollar savings derived from more efficient government and segued into advancements attained in the fights against two of the city's perennial problems - blight and gang violence.
"Through our 25 square block strategy we have totally revolutionized the way we address blight in our city with amazingly positive results," Mr. Wharton said. "We have ramped up our efforts to address gang violence through the formation of the multi-jurisdictional gang unit. This effort, involving the Memphis police and their federal and county partners, is playing an important role in ferreting out gang activity."
With curiously only one city councilman, Edmund Ford, Jr., in attendance, Wharton took the occasion to, not surprisingly, endorse a proposal for a half-cent sales tax that would fund $27 million in Pre-K funding with the rest going to a property tax decrease. Wharton added just one caveat to his full support.
"I have conditioned my support for the proposed sales tax increase on creation of a legal trust with a board made up of people from outside city government," he said.
Yet, in a speech historically designed to promote public optimism, Mr. Wharton was not remiss in addressing some of the downer issues on the economic front. Though not directly referring to Thursday's bombshell that Pinnacle Airlines was moving its headquarters to Minneapolis, Wharton expressed his dogged determination to continue an aggressive economic development agenda.
"Even if we don't come out on top in our efforts to attract, grow or retain jobs and businesses, we do not close up shop knowing that the stakes are far too high and the competition too fierce for us to forfeit our responsibility to at least try, try, try," he said.
A mixed bag also applied to African-American employment opportunities in Memphis last year. While minority contractors reached a new high of 74 percent participation in city construction projects, it made little dent in the overall level of those who live below the poverty line.
"I recognize and we recognize that having almost a full one quarter of our fellow citizens shackled by poverty is untenable and unacceptable," Mayor Wharton said.