Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Young Politicos

After bringing Newark, New Jersey, mayor Cory Booker to Memphis to speak, the Leadership Academy felt like it needed a special event to follow the energetic young mayor.

The result was one of the group's Celebrate What's Right luncheons, this one with a panel of "young politicos."

During the luncheon — held today at the FedEx Institute of Technology — city school board members Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart, County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, and City Council members Shea Flinn and Kemp Conrad (as of yesterday) talked about how they decided to run for office, what their youth brought to their respective bodies, and how people could get involved.

"The average age of your district nine reps, now that we got rid of Ol' Man [Scott] McCormick, is 33," Flinn joked.

Moderator Darrell Cobbins went through a list of what he called Memphis' "rich history of young leaders" — which, if we're to be honest, made me sort of think that it's time to get on the stick:

Harold Ford Senior first got elected when he was 29, Fred Smith founded FedEx when he was 27, Dick Hackett became mayor of Memphis when he was 33, and Henry Turley founded his company when he was 36.

The Leadership Academy also played clips of last month's luncheon with Booker.

But the most important message from the young leaders seemed to be about getting involved, whether on a board or commission or just by showing up at meetings. Jones, for instance, began his public service as a member of the the Memphis Alcohol Commission.

(I can also personally vouch that he was a faithful attendee of the school board meetings. He told the crowd he attended them because, at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays, they were most convenient than the County Commission's 1:30 p.m. Monday meetings or the City Council's 3:30 p.m. Tuesday meetings.)

"The power does not lie in the elected official. You're only one in 9 or one in 13. It's the people's government, " Hart said. "We gauge the public's reaction on something by the 100 people who show up at a meeting in a city of 600,000."

When asked what issues Memphis needs to move on, the responses centered around education, crime, taxes, and, what Hart called the "umbrella of the issues," poverty.

"More immediately is lowering the crime rate," Flinn said. "That will allow us to get more economic development. ... In a more abstract way, we need to look at who we are as a community. We need to look at consolidation. We need to look at how we see race."

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