Behind the Headlines – August 16, 2019

– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines
is made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – County Commissioner
and candidate for mayor, Tami Sawyer tonight on
Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes with
The Daily Memphian. Thanks for joining us. I am joined tonight
by Tami Sawyer, County Commissioner,
candidate for mayor. Thanks for being here again. – Thank you for having me. – And Brill Dries, reporter
with The Daily Memphian. Let me first say that we
are happy to have you here and to talk about your campaign. We have reached out
to Jim Strickland, current mayor who’s
running for reelection. He’ll be on the
show in two weeks. We also reached out to former
mayor, Willie Herenton. He has so far declined
to be on the show. So, we’ll get started,
we’ll talk about issues, talk about some of the things
you’ve been campaigning on. One of the things
I wanna start with, which is, I guess, an
issue in the campaign but also was a bit
of news recently, when CNN commentator
Angela Rye came to town, spoke at a campaign event
supporting your candidacy and she called, she
made some headlines by calling Jim
Strickland a racist. Do you think that Jim
Strickland is a racist? – Thanks for asking. You know, first I’d just like
to say thanks for having me. And the opportunity to
come and speak today when so many debates
have been canceled and being able to get
what is important to us in this race out
is very important and I hope we get more
opportunities like this. But to answer your question,
Angela Rye came as a friend and as a supporter. What we need to remember
is that the mayor disrespected Angela when she
was paid to come to Memphis and speak during MLK 50. He chose not to greet her. He chose to walk
out of the event and then he went on TV and
said, I don’t know who she is. In a world where
we are continuously watching black women
silenced, it is not surprising that Angela took offense to that and feels that a
mayor who continuously upholds systemic
racist policies, that she would feel
those things about him. – Go ahead, finish
your thought, for sure. – For me, Angela has her
opinions about the mayor and I feel that she has
a right to that opinion. As far as I’m
concerned, what I see in the current
administration is a mayor who chooses continuously
to silence black people, especially black
women, who continuously uses his administration to
uphold the systemic oppression that we see rampant
throughout Memphis and is not, as we
would say, antiracist. Great book out right
now, How to Be AntiRacist by Ibram Kendi and
I would recommend so many people look at that. And I think that the
discussion needs to be about how are the policies
that are being upheld by this administration,
how are those funneling racism in the city?
– And that’s what I was, interrupting you to
say, what are examples of those policies that you
feel are racist policies, upholding racism and suppressing
especially black women? – Absolutely. So, on the oppressing
black women front, you know personally,
as a black woman, I’ve been on the
side of surveillance, of being silenced by
this administration without any reason for that. There’s an article,
really great article this past weekend
by Bill himself, but you know, I was not someone who laid on the mayor’s lawn. I was not someone who’s
ever enacted violence or threatened violence
against the mayor. I’ve actually
suffered from violence threatened against me, myself. And you know, even when I
think about this entire story of the mayor being the one who
removed Confederate statues, but the city provided
tactical support and spent dollars to escort the Sons of the
Confederate Veterans back and forth to
Forrest Park to the point where they actually
said thank you to Mayor Jim Strickland and
the Memphis Police Department for you know, your
great support of us. In the meantime, today,
it’s been announced that Crime Stoppers
is giving awards for people who were involved
in the Frayser unrest. At a time when we are realizing that people are
taking to streets, people are
continuously protesting because of this continuous,
these continuous issues, and we’re allowing
the police department to give money to arrest people who were in the Frayser protest. And so, it’s a
continuous disconnect in where people of color are
saying they need support. This is a mayor
who stayed silent when 630 Latinx
people were removed from Mississippi last week. And when we have the fastest
growing Hispanic population in the state and you
know, it was said that there were probably
at least 150 families who were looking for shelter
in Memphis that next night because they were
afraid that their homes would be raided as well. This is a mayor who
has stayed silent and won’t say the
names of black people who were killed during
police violence. Even when you stand
with police officers, which as mayor is
your right and duty, to not say the names of
those who have been killed, you know, there’s a whole
movement, Say Their Name. We could go on and on and on, but what we have to
do is disrupt racism. What we have to do is
be an active disrupter of these systems. Just this week, six
schools were closed in the first week of school
due to either power being out or air conditioning being out. And that’s the first
week of school. It is ground zero for kids
building a foundation. The reason it’s tied to racism is because Shelby County schools is 90 percent black– – Let me interrupt a little bit. We got 25 minutes, so we’ll
definitely have a conversation about these issues. As mayor of Memphis,
and if you were to win in the office
you’re running for, you don’t have any authority, the mayor does not
have any authority over what goes on in Mississippi and with ICE in Mississippi. And it doesn’t have
really any authority and the people
lose track of this, but the mayor of Memphis
has no real authority over what happens in
the school system, the Shelby County school system. So how would you, as
mayor, have handled those two things differently? – So, yes, the mayor
doesn’t have any authority over what happens
in Mississippi, but Mississippi is two
minutes away from here. And when things
happen around us, when we’re silent
about those things without realizing the terror
that is enacted here at home. How many people, as I
shared, were impacted when that happened? How many people were
afraid right here? And even when there have been
ICE raids here in Memphis, we have not see that
administration speak out. Even when people
have actually called on the city of Memphis to, even before it was
banned by the state to have a sanctuary city,
the administration was asked to name the city
as sanctuary city and all the mayor would
say, we welcome everyone to this city. – And then the schools? – And then on the schools, the city doesn’t
have oversight, no, but if you look at the
municipalities around us, they don’t have oversight either and they continuously
put funding into, they get city funding,
they get county funding, they get state and
federal dollars as well. – You mean like Bartlett or Collierville?
– Bartlet or Collierville. – But those are independent
school districts. – They’re independent
school districts, but our kids are competing
for the same jobs. Our kids are looking for
the same opportunities. Only one third of
kids who graduated from high school in 2019 were
ready for college or work. And so that needs
to be important. We’re asking
businesses to come here and two thirds of, we’re not
replenishing our work force by two thirds, that’s important. And there is an issue
where if we can only give zero dollars to
our kids’ education, how do we tell them
that they matter? – Let me bring Bill in. – Commissioner, is
it your view, then, that the mayor’s
race, the campaign, the discussion of the
issues, is part and parcel of what we see
happening nationally around issues that are
of nationwide importance or is it just about what happens within the borders of Memphis? – So I think that
national issues, we are ground zero for a
lot of national issues. You know, we ping on
all of these radars for high poverty,
high segregation, lack of transportation,
lack of educational inequity and we need to be figuring
out how to solve that and I think people
are watching Memphis to see how we’re
going to solve that. Throughout the south, people
are trying different things and it seems that we’re
not really trying anything except basic leadership. – Are people who are trying
to make up their mind in this mayor’s race, do
you think that there is, that they experience
some discomfort when they look at issues
like roads, things like that, what’s happening with
Shelby County schools or any of the other
school districts, is there some discomfort
that is inherent in trying to make that decision and also to reconcile
what happens here with what happens nationally
on all of the issues that you’ve talked about? – Do I see people
experiencing that discomfort? I think that we’re definitely
connecting the dots for people about how
what’s happening in Memphis matters with what’s
happening nationally. You know, for example,
when Jeff Sessions came here and people asked that the administration not
meet with Jeff Sessions, the administration
said of course we’re gonna meet
with Jeff Sessions, he’s the Attorney General. But what happened
out of that meeting was not taking the
voices of the Memphians who were concerned about his
record and Sessions’ policies, but here we are and now
out of that meeting, we’ve lost federal monitoring
of Department of Justice and just reported
in the last month that we’ve had 63%
more juveniles arrested a year after that
monitoring was taken away. You can connect the dots between what’s
happening nationally, who’s appointed in
certain administrations, excuse me, who gets
to come to Memphis, who we meet with and what we
do when we meet with them. So my thing is
not that the mayor has the ability to
change things nationally, but the mayor can
be an influencer for our city and an advocate. We need someone who’s
going to advocate as well as lead
administratively. And so being, again,
this basic leadership and then the basics
that you’re providing aren’t reaching everyone. So even if you’re not
talking nationally, I represent District
Seven and I drive down major streets
that haven’t been paved and continue to have potholes. – Let’s come back
to that and give you a chance to have a glass
of water over there. And you wanna stay with
you, Bill, on this. – Yeah, we talked
about this a bit on the politics podcast and
that is kind of the thing about there is momentum
that the mayor’s advocating and then there is, and you even have used the word, disruption. Is that the ultimate choice? Is that the choice
that you feel like is over all of these issues
going into the mayor’s race? – So I do believe we have
to disrupt the status quo. The momentum that is being
seen is seen for a just few. Tens of millions of
dollars for parking garages while schools are being closed. If someone was advocating
for the children, the black and brown
children of Memphis, they would see an urgency
to put city dollars in ways that could
help education. $19 million, I believe,
for a new tennis court. I played tennis. I grew up playing tennis. But the majority of
the kids in Memphis can’t get to Leftwich. And so we continuously
put these things forward without addressing the issues that are the basic support
services that people need. And we’ve, well I’ll let you
get to your next question. – Yeah, so to just talk
about that for a second then in terms of the voters
going back to the voters who are kind of still making
up their mind about this, do you look at the
election as where your stand on the issues is
going beyond the mayor’s race? I mean, obviously
if you become mayor, there are changes that
are involved with that, but is there a larger movement that depends on what
happens in the mayor’s race in terms of how
many votes are there in terms of what the
support looks like? – I do think that that matters. I think that we have
all kinds of positions, we saw a pink and
blue wave last year with the county and state races, how does that continue? How do people continue to
have the support to advocate? A lot of people don’t think
that they can run for office and be more progressive, can
show people-centered issues, that they have to go
with the usual course, that they have to
be big business, that they have to
be silent about the more challenging
issues that we’re facing. So what I think that this
race represents for so many is the possibility that
we can have a mayor who will speak to the issues
that we’re facing everyday, that the parents who are
struggling to get to work on old transportation
systems will hear somebody who’s gonna advocate for
them while running for mayor and while being mayor. And so I think that
this shows an ability for moving forward what
the political world of Memphis looks like. – About midway through the
show, so 13 minutes left. Some of these things
you’re talking about, you mentioned transportation,
you mentioned schools, you mentioned paving and then
you mentioned the priorities of where spending is happening. The city of Memphis has
a finite budget, right? So how do you take the
money it’s spending, where would you take
that money from? Would that be from police,
would that be from fire? Those are really
the biggest expenses on the operating side. Would it be tax
increases to fund increased spending
at the school level? How, on a dollars
and cents basis, would you implement these
things you’re talking about? – Right. So as you know we about
about a $750 million budget here in Memphis. And so, the way that that
budget has been decided has been by the administration and influencers of
that administration, Memphis Tomorrow, people
who have, you know, a lot of access in that way. What we are looking
to do is to present the budget to the people and
have participatory budgeting, meaning that we’ll
take that budget out into the community and say how
would you slice up this pie, north Memphis, south
Memphis, whatever? So I rarely say, I’m
gonna do 10% here, I’m gonna take this from
here because I wanna hear what the people
have to say first. I do believe that what
the outcome will be is that we go from zero dollars invested in K through
12 education to more. I’m not saying that
we’ll increase taxes on day one or even
in month four. I think that the first
year, I wanna see how we chop up the
budget based on the input from the community. And I think that the
community will speak up in a way where they believe
a lot of the same things because we built this idea
based on people’s input. – To some degree,
isn’t the City Council meant to be that
representative of the people, where does the City Council
fit in that conversation you just described? – Well what’s exciting,
when you and Matt talk about the political climate is that you have a city council that could be a whole new
city council in a lot of ways. And so, participatory budgeting has happened in a lot of
cities across the country and city councils
play a role in that. I think that most
leadership that’s rising or that is a part
of modern leadership has no problem allowing people to be a part of that process. – And you talked about the
possibility of tax increases. That definitely gets
people’s ears going, certainly the business
community says we already have a
huge tax burden. It’s higher than anywhere
else in the state and it’s a real drag on growth. But you are saying that
a property tax increase is on the table or, I don’t
wanna put words in your mouth. – I’m saying that
there’s no increase that’s off the table. – Okay. – I’m not saying
there’s no taxes. – We mentioned
crime and obviously, I mention it in the
context of the budget, the police force is one
of the biggest expenses for the city government. Mayor Strickland
has run, ran on, and in his administration and
now in his reelection campaign has talked about
rebuilding the police force and getting back up to a number, I think about 2300,
they’re approaching 2100. What is your take on the
best way to fight crime and let’s start with
how many police officers does the city of Memphis need? – So again, I think that 2300, that we’re getting to a
point of being excessive. One model that I look at
is Stockton, California where they were able to
freeze their hiring levels and hired a police chief,
one who actually applied for the job here
and wasn’t selected, but hired a police
chief who believed in community oriented policing. And what they were able to
do was not just reduce crime but also reduce police
involved shootings. And they did that by
building community and police trust. Rebuilding the
relationship on both sides so that police are in the
community building with them and the community is seeing them and trusting them and that
the crimes are going down. And also, the tension between
the community and the police are going down as well. So those type of
models are the things that we’re looking at bringing. Again, you’re
asking for numbers, I don’t have a
number to give you. – So you’re not opposed to 2300, but what you want is
a different philosophy behind whatever that number.
– What I want is a different philosophy
and what we won’t be doing is the same like, more
police on the ground, more police on the
ground, by all research, even though the current
administration says differently, does not include
reduction of crime because most crime happens,
if you shot me right now, it’ll be a crime number, right? It’s kinda crazy, but
to illustrate the point, if you committed a crime
against me right now, the crime’s committed. Police have to be
called to come in. There’s no reduction of crime. They couldn’t stop you
from committing the crime. What we as a city need to
do to reduce crime numbers, you have to get involved
with intervention, prevention, and education. We’re focused on the conviction and so our numbers
will never go down. More police officers
equals more people being arrested for crimes. – Very visibly right now, we
had Police Director Rallings on the show, I believe
a week ago or two, in the last two weeks. The effort around the highways to reduce police
shootings on the highways and road rage incidents and so, I think I sometimes
have seen four or five police and state patrol and
sheriffs on the highway, people have seen it everywhere. Is that, to you, an effective,
an appropriate approach to reduce this highway
road rage crime? – That’s tough to say. I do know that the police
have had a high presence on the highway, I
saw it driving here. I see it just about everyday
and I’ve heard people say that you know, it
makes them feel safer and I’ve heard people say it
makes them feel less safer. But to the point
of whether or not those police reduce crime, what, they were arresting
80 people a week or something like
that with having that many police
officers on the highway. So there we go where crime
numbers are being increased. These are the type of arrests
that would’ve never happened had more police not
been on the highways and they weren’t
the type of crimes where we would normally,
again, we’re talking about reducing low level,
violent crime offenses and talking about bail
reduction and things like that because that further disrupts
our economic insurance when we have so many
people tied up in courts. – Before I go to Bill,
Director Rallings talked about it when
he was on the show, they pull over a lot of people, if it’s 80, I didn’t know
that, but it’s a lot. But they’re finding guns. They’re finding people who
are wanted on, he says, they’re finding a
lot of illegal guns, they’re finding people who’ve
been wanted on warrants and then they’re giving
a whole lotta tickets. Again, is that
the right balance? Are you saying you
don’t want people swept up in that
unfairly, or is it a price you have to pay to reduce
this highway crime? – I think that there
is a better balance. I don’t know that 80 people
a week being arrested is the way to go or is
the reduction in crime, it’s not reducing crime
because there we are adding numbers to
our crime rate. – Bill, with six minutes left. – Also on the October ballot
is a sales tax referendum, a half a cent to go
for restoring benefits for police and
firefighters that were cut five years ago in
2014 by the city, do you have a position on that? – I would love that the
police and firefighters, and when I met with
police and fire and when I’ve met with unions, as you know,
endorsed by AFL-CIO, I’ve met with them and
said that I want them to have a seat at the table. I want us to make sure that the
people who work for the city get the benefits that they need so that they continue
to raise families, continue to take care
of their grandchildren, continue to take
care of their health. So this referendum,
my position on it is that I think that
there are good things that could be done with
it and I’d love to see what the people say about it. – Do you think that the benefits that police and fire have
in the wake of these cuts from 2014, do you
think the benefits are adequate in
their present state? – I’m not a policeman
or a fireman, and so you know, I’m running on hearing what people are saying, bringing their
voices to the table, police and fire don’t feel that
their benefits are adequate, the union workers
in other departments don’t feel that their
benefits or wages are adequate and so if we have
all of these folks saying we’re not
getting what we deserve being paid by the
city, I would say no. – With five minutes left
here, let’s shift it. We’ve talked around some of
this stuff we’ve mentioned, but more explicitly about
economic development and the business community
and a lot of debates over the years of
where the spending goes and where incentives are used
in terms of tax incentives. Do you think that,
would you want the city, most incentives go through EDGE, they also go through the
Downtown Memphis Commission, they are bodies that
the mayor’s office has some authority over but
not explicit authority over. Do you think the priorities
for economic incentives over say, the last
five to ten years, let’s focus on the
Strickland Administration over the last three plus years, do you think those incentives
have been given out wisely? – I do not think so. I think we need more oversight. My belief is that, if elected, we would freeze
those initiatives while we do a full
audit of the program. I’ve attempted to
have that conversation on the County Commission
side and we were told, well you’re not our boss. The mayors are our bosses. And you know, that
doesn’t give the community a more positive view of how
these things are handed out and so I think that
what needs to happen is that we have to
have clauses that say, you will pay a living wage,
you will give benefits, you will treat your
employees in a way where they’re not
dying in hot warehouses and you know, so
forth and so on. And you will be a
part of the community and people think that this
will scare business off and that’s not the case. Amazon said that they
weren’t gonna go to New York because New York
was making demands of a certain, I guess,
more progressive nature if they came and Amazon
is now in New York and I think that
what we see is that businesses are a
business for a reason. They’re corporations,
they’re gonna do the minimum possible
to get into a city. We have the right to
demand more for our people. – What about the argument, particularly for the
distribution business, the warehousing type business, that they can go
across the border and still take advantage
of the Memphis Airport or the Memphis Grizzlies
or Memphis restaurants. I mean they are effectively
a part of Memphis but they’re living by an
entirely different standard by just going across the border. How do you handle that dynamic? – Well first, when
you think about the distribution
business, we are, as everyone knows today, facing
a huge economic downturn, a recession looming and
distribution businesses are actually on the way out. Even FedEx is showing
very public struggles with how it moves
forward in the future. By our estimate, 65% of the jobs that are available today won’t
be available in five years due to automation or some
type of form of elimination. And so what I’m not trying to do is make it comfortable
for distribution jobs to get away with the things they’ve been doing
for a long time. What I’m trying to do is
bring new industry here such as tech, such as
growing our entertainments and arts businesses
and making sure that we can get people into
jobs that will last longer than five years and
that where they’ll be able to grow, thrive, and
earn what they deserve. – Examples of that with just
a minute and a half left, would probably be Indigo
Ag, which has moved down from a very high tech
company, FedEx Logistics is moving downtown a whole lot, it’s not the
distribution center, it’s the knowledge
workers, it’s programmers, Service Master moved
downtown a few years ago, some what 700 people, many of
them knowledge workers and IT, all those involved public
incentives to get them and all of those
people have said, had they not gotten incentives, they would not have
moved downtown. How do you balance that?
– And I’m not saying no incentives. I’m saying that we
need a full audit of the current program
so that the programs can be more accountable. You said yourself that the
programs aren’t accountable to many people in a lot of ways. – I didn’t say
that, but you did. Fair enough, fair enough. – But also, when you
also look at FedEx, most of the jobs, when
you look at the jobs that they were bringing
down to the logistics center into downtown,
majority of those jobs are moving positions that
are already out east. They’re not hiring new people. And so again, when we’re
looking at the incentives that we’re getting, what
is the greater impact? And I think we have to
do more, a better job of making sure that
the impact is greater. – We have just 30 seconds. Is the focus on Tom
Lee Park right now, $70 million, is that something you would want to disrupt? Or is that
$70 million appropriate? – Is it something I
would wanna disrupt? Tom Lee Park is not a
priority for my campaign and what I think needs
to happen, again, is there’s not been a
lot of accountability with Mayor Strickland. You know, he does
what he wants to do, he doesn’t listen to the people. The people of this
city have said that they had an issue
and I would listen to what the people wanted done. – All right, we
will leave it there. Thank you, we had
a whole lot more we couldn’t get to, we
appreciate your time immensely. Sorry, I left you out there
at the end there, Bill. But thank you all
for joining us. Again, we’ve asked Dr. Herenton
to come on, he’s declined. Jim Strickland will
be on in two weeks. Thanks for joining us. Goodnight. [dramatic orchestral music] [guitar music]

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