On Friday, July 3rd The New Southern wrote this about John
John Marek is a 2015 city council candidate for the city of Memphis. He’s running for the District 5 spot, Jim Strickland’s current position. Marek, 32, is from Memphis, attending both Southwest Tennessee Community College and the University of Memphis before getting his law and master’s degrees from the U of M in 2010. He worked with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) while in office and on the campaign trail. He currently practices criminal defense law and serves on the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB).
The New Southern: Why did you decide to run for city council?
John Marek: I saw two things. When I called out the body cameras on all police officers, I did the research. I talked to my officer buddies before I called out for them because I respect them and I don’t want them to dislike me because they’re tough guys. I reached out to them, and they said, ‘No, actually, we get false complaints filed against us all the time.’ So I did the research. Rialto, Calif., was the first city that did this. After one year of implementation — I think they did it in 2012, because the research came in 2013 — [there was a] 60 percent reduction in use of force. It’s either 88 or 89 percent reduction in lawsuits against the police. I was an attorney at the city attorney’s office for a few years. I know that they get sued frequently. That reduction in lawsuits, if it translates into Memphis and I believe it will, is going to save the city money. It’s going to protect our police and it’s going to protect the public. Basically, it’s a win-win and it’s one of those situations where everybody’s happy.
“I might give them a better understanding of my viewpoint, but at the end of the day, the best thing we can do in an age where we have so much polarization in our country is focus. And I mean focus on issues that actually bring us together, not tear us apart.”
I’ve spent the last 10 years — probably closer to 12 — debating my Catholic and conservative side of my family [as well as] my Southern Baptist side of my family. I’ve been debating the issues with them for so long. People ask, ‘John, why are you doing 300 comments on Facebook over an issue?’ And I say, ‘Because I’m learning. I’m seeing their opinions, and I’m ingesting it. I’m shooting out my own, and in some cases, I’m being corrected.’ It’s a good thing, because what it taught me and showed me is that I can’t change their minds no matter how many pie graphs I put up. I might give them a better understanding of my viewpoint, but at the end of the day, the best thing we can do in an age where we have so much polarization in our country is focus. And I mean focus on issues that actually bring us together, not tear us apart. When I saw that body camera issue and I talked to officers, I saw that they were on my side, too, I knew it was the issue I had to push.
In 2013, I called for it and nobody listened. I was just some young insider that worked for the Congressman [Steve Cohen], an attorney that they didn’t want to listen to. However, after Ferguson, I felt something deep down in my soul ache. I grew up off of Riverdale [Road] and Shelby Drive in an African-American neighborhood. I knew that was only going to further and derail the trust that used to exist between the police and the public. I knew that was not good for our community because we need our police. I was on the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board by chance. Someone reached out for me to be on it and I said, ‘Sure.’ I called for it again, and fortunately, The Memphis Daily News and some other people picked up on it.
From there, I was able to do some Facebook activism where I tagged the mayor and all the city council enough times. I think they researched the issue and realized I was right. That’s why we have body cameras — 2,100 — that are going to be on our officers. That begins to be implemented in September now. My concern is that we’re not going to implement it properly. Hopefully that’s not the case. I’m keeping an eye on that, and I’m going to make recommendations to CLERB if needed, to make sure we implement it properly.
To answer your question, that process of trying to reach out to city government and not being listened to at first. Once I was in the right position, all of a sudden the average voter becomes somebody they actually listen to — when they should’ve listened to the average voter in the first place. That experience is really what led me.
I hope I’m not being negative here, but I’ve watched a lot of young people run for office in the past. I wish I didn’t take it as negatively as I did. We need more young people running for office. I mean, look at the elected officials down here. You’re not going to see many young folks. What I want to see are young people who actually have experience, who have actually done work: community service; not just paid work, volunteer work; people who care; people that fight for the right issues; people who fight for the right causes; [and] people who don’t just do it for the money. I want to see those young people running for office. I see too often that those people are so involved in their own non-profit and community work that, not only did they not want to run for office because of that, but usually they don’t trust the system enough to run for office. And I say ‘usually,’ not always. That’s why I thought, ‘You know, I’ve put my blood, sweat and tears into work for a long time now.’ I see a young field — if you look at my field, it’s a lot of young people running. I’ve got experience, and if I can do the body camera issue as an unelected official, imagine what I, along with my friends, family and supporters, can do for our city as an elected official.
What differentiates you from other candidates?
JM: I’ve been on — and I don’t want to sound strange here — a spiritual journey. One thing I’ve tried to do is improve myself in the past [as] ‘Mr. Strategist.’ I found people that I didn’t think were in it for the right reasons, and I targeted them. Behind the scenes, strategically, I took the legs out from under them, even recently. It’s not the right approach. It’s not the way to do it. Really, I need to focus on myself and my own campaign.
I got involved with the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center in 2003. I started volunteering for all kinds of campaigns before I knew who was who. By 2005, I figured out who the good souls were in this city, and that’s what led me to Steve Cohen. He could’ve chosen any of his wealthy friends’ kids under his arm, but he saw a young kid from a working-class, middle-class family that was working his heart out and cared about the issues. He allowed me to become something much more than what I was supposed to be.
What’s the overall platform that you’re running on?
JM: I think I’m uniquely situated because of where I grew up. It was originally a Caucasian neighborhood south of Germantown that everybody thought was the new Germantown, even though it was unincorporated Shelby County. Then something happened. All of a sudden, I noticed that white families were moving out. African-American families [were] at the time were becoming victims of subprime mortgage crisis loans. My family was duped into the same thing. I watched them move in, and I watched other people flee. Fortunately, me and some of my best friends and many of my friends who moved in, stayed. We didn’t run. We believed in our neighborhood. We loved our neighborhood. I was in the Germantown High School district at the time until they built another school to get us out — Southland High School. I went to Germantown High School, and it gave me a nice perspective on what the two communities were like. With that experience in mind, I know that community well.
“I know Germantown, and I know the people aren’t working in Saddle Creek. Then they drive home on our streets, get out of the city limits, where they don’t pay into our system and don’t pay our property taxes — the highest in the state, [which is] one of the reasons why they leave. They go back home.”
Being a Memphian, in my adult life, I’ve lived around the University of Memphis and Midtown. I’ve seen the people — and it’s no offense, because I love so many people that live in Germantown — who drive our streets, use our city services [and] take from our jobs. I know Germantown, and I know the people aren’t working in Saddle Creek. Then they drive home on our streets, get out of the city limits, where they don’t pay into our system and don’t pay our property taxes — the highest in the state, [which is] one of the reasons why they leave. They go back home. Not all of them. Many of them love Memphis and love their [University of Memphis] Tigers. Some of them, and not just Germantown but all the surrounding areas, get on social media and bash our city. I’ve never liked bullies. I’m sick and tired of people picking on our city.
That’s why I know people are looking at my parking garage idea and asking, ‘What’s that all about?’ I’ll tell you. The way we have to solve this problem that our city suffers from right now is that we have to bring people back into the city limits. They don’t just use our city, they help pay for it. That parking garage thing is the key.
As a city councilman, I can’t solve the poverty problem. Our city is strapped for cash. It’s going to take people wonderful people like Bradley Watkins, [as well as] non-profit and religious entities to help pull our city forward. The Rotary Club is another great place to see that kind of thing. It’s going to take state, federal and charity to really solve the poverty problem. I can’t do that.
Because I can’t solve the poverty problem, I can’t completely solve the crime problem because that’s where it’s born from. But I can help us better structure our Memphis Police Department (MPD) spending — not cut from it. Respect our first responders by returning their benefits and pensions that were ripped from them. Now they’re running off to other cities. I’m sorry, but that’s the one issue that people might say I’m being fiscally irresponsible for. I disagree. I think when well-trained officers leave our city to go to Austin, Texas, I think that’s fiscally irresponsible. At the end of the day, I’d rather be fiscally irresponsible than unsafe. That’s another part. I think we can restructure the MPD and CLERB that makes the public trust in our first responders again. We need that trust. They need to know that they can call the police when they’re having trouble, and not just expect a local gang or somebody else to come to their aid. I grew up in Vice Lord territory, so I realize how that system works too.
The parking garage tax is the key to that, but it’s only a piece. It’s not going to bring our property tax by that much, but it’s a beginning. What I want to do is tax parking garages. With that revenue — we can only constitutionally tax 7 percent — I want to take every dollar of it and not stick it in the city code to help pay people in City Hall making over $100,000 a year. I want to take every dollar of that and lowering the [property] tax in the city limits. By bringing that property tax down, that’s the third thing that’s scaring people off this city, and on city council, I can affect that.
That’s the gist of my platform. I have other stuff I’m concerned about. We have a very long internal platform.
Where’s your favorite places to go in Memphis, besides your own home?
JM: The place I pretty much live in is RP Tracks. That’s been like a second home to me. I went to U of M, so that’s where I went. Another place I really miss is Newby’s, and [that’s] coming back. I cannot wait for it to come back. I’m a Midtown kid for sure, but I’ve spent most of my adult life in the U of M area, whether it be going to class or living in it. I’ve lived in the Normal Station neighborhood for over seven years now.
Like I said earlier, our police officers are under constant attack from every direction. As a result, they’re becoming defensive. It’s hurting their souls. We let a few bad apples cast a terrible shadow over so many of the people in the department that have good hearts. I have three really close personal friends — they know I love them, and they’re trying to make our city a better place. Tough guys. I’m glad we have them on the force.
Where I grew up, I understand where a lot of that mistrust comes from. I think that’s why I’m uniquely situated, once again, to address the issue. I think we need to treat our officers with respect, let them know we care about them and let them know that we need them. One thing I’d really like to say is that just as our soldiers in the U.S. military don’t choose the countries they invade, our officers do not choose the laws that they enforce. They do not make the system that they work within. Our problem is not soldiers or officers. They’re the good souls in our city and our country. Our problem is the system that they exist in. And until we fix that system, there’s going to continue to be this disconnect that we have to fix.
“… Just as our soldiers in the U.S. military don’t choose the countries they invade, our officers do not choose the laws that they enforce. They do not make the system that they work within. Our problem is not soldiers or officers. They’re the good souls in our city and our country. Our problem is the system that they exist in.”
What I want to do is build that trust back. I know a lot of officers are wary of law enforcement review boards. I know they’re wary of that. But I promise them that I know the people on that board, and they’re good people. Very good people. We’re going to be as fair as possible in dealing with the situations that may happen. I think body cameras are going to help our job become a whole lot better. I’m very glad I was able to voice my opinion on body cameras through that organization because officers love body cameras. Eighty-six percent, according to a poll recently said that people support it. My conservative friend loves body cameras, and he’s a retired officer. He supports body cameras a hundred percent. He says, ‘I know officers that get false complaints filed all the time.’ It’s also going to provide a video feed.
The problem with Ferguson that was so bad is that we don’t really know what happened that day. There’s conflicting witness testimony, and that would’ve been conflicting in court too. As a lawyer, I know that. We have to have footage. We have to be able to see what actually took place. I think that body cameras implemented properly — not like in Seattle, where they release all the videos on YouTube. That’s terrible. It needs to be something that’s accessible to the courts, and we need to make sure that people’s privacy and officers’ privacy is protected. Proper body cameras and a well-structured citizen law enforcement review board that doesn’t have too much power but simply provides transparency is how we start to build that trust back.
That’s how we address the crime problem. The other part of my program that my campaign manager, Chris Pew — I grew up with this guy. This is his third election cycle now. He’s an Iraq War veteran. He’s a criminal justice major. I’m trying to get him to come to Memphis. I’m going to try to make him a Tiger if I can. He’s wants to become a police officer. That’s his dream. He has to go to the police academy either way, but he really wants the experience. One thing as a lawyer that I didn’t get that all new lawyers will complain about is that law school teaches you to read and interpret law, it doesn’t teach you how to practice law. That’s been a really tough thing for many lawyers, including me. He wants the experience.
The police service technician (PST) program that used to exist is going to be a key to help young people get the experience they need, whether they be in college or they just want to train and learn in order to become good officers. It’s a good program. It also allows our well-trained officers to not focus on fender benders. We train our officers very well. We don’t need them going to fender benders, we don’t need them going out to animal control issues, when animal control doesn’t even show up for several hours if at all. We don’t need them dealing with minor issues that a PST could handle and save our expensively trained officers’ time.
All of this stuff tied together is the key to building the trust, better focusing our resources and letting our well-trained officers focus on violent crimes, which we know exist. We have to address it in order to make our city safe.
JM: I’m very passionate about homelessness, in fact. Mike Kernell, who is a true public servant, is a school board member and a former state representative. He’s one of the people that truly believe in public service. He’s truly in the fight, unlike so many elected officials in this city, for the right reasons. He’s the one that pulled me into The Bridge, when it was in its early stages. Some Rhodes [College] students were getting together at Caritas Village. If you haven’t been there, go there and get the burger — it’s one of the best-kept secrets in town. Go there, have a burger and know that so many beautiful foundations and non-profits and charity groups have started in that building. I went into that office once a week, but now we meet bi-monthly. Every week, I’d offer my attorney and community service — any capacity necessary. I helped, but I can’t take all the credit.
There’s some brilliant minds that threw in their efforts and time in order to help found this organization. [The Bridge] is a non-profit organization. It’s a group of Rhodes students who produce a poverty newspaper. It basically discourages panhandling by allowing homeless people to sell that student-produced newspaper for an income. If you see someone holding a Bridge paper, it’s only a dollar. You’re helping defeat homelessness and discouraging panhandling because they’re working for that dollar that you give them. I was pulled aside by the board of The Bridge and was told, ‘John, you’re obviously loving what you’re doing here.’ Whenever a homeless vendor is arrested wrongfully for being accused for panhandling — if they need me — I’d go down there for free because I believe in community service. They pulled me aside and said, ‘John, I want you to join the Rotary Club.’ The Southeast Memphis in me went, ‘Oh, Rotary Club. Fancy schmancy drinks and tables, things like that.’ I wish I hadn’t thought that, because once I walked into the Rotary Club, I saw it was a room full of people who didn’t just have big hearts but influence. They believe in fighting for good causes. They believe fighting for it through private charity. I’m not against that. I’m inspired. I’m a new member, going to help them recruit a lot new young people.
Have you heard of Utah’s Housing First program? It’s a beautiful program. It’s not a wall-eyed liberal program because it was done in Utah. I think the Mormon Church even backed it. They did academic studies and found it cost less for government services to give someone a house and not put rigid rules in place but try your best to coax them into programs to better themselves. It’s less expensive to do that than it is to provide the healthcare and jail that the homeless frequently need. They have a retention rate of around 70 percent, which is unheard of. That means 70 percent of the people that enter the program actually stay in their house, go into these programs for recovery and many of them are getting jobs, pulling themselves out of poverty.
“I see myself with my experience, my knowledge, my education and my abilities as a positive vehicle for change. I have the abilities and, if the right people work with me, I can make a positive difference in our community.”
I don’t think city government is necessarily the vehicle for that. I think it would take me forever to try to explain that to voters and people that this is good enough to save us money through government. I think the Rotary Club is the best place to push it through, because it is a private organization that does care about homelessness and plenty of other issues. I’m really hoping with the right people and the right heart that we can push Housing First through Rotary Club and other groups. I want to bring in a coalition of people. There’s actually a brain trust currently flushing out the issue.
With my connections to Congressman Cohen and plenty of other people in this city, I could’ve gone to big law firms and made a bunch of money, but that’s not what I’m passionate about. That’s not what I wake up every day wanting to do. I see myself with my experience, my knowledge, my education and my abilities as a positive vehicle for change. I have the abilities and, if the right people work with me, I can make a positive difference in our community. I think Housing First is the solution to homelessness.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues
JM: I’m not a hundred percent certain, but I believe I was told that 40 percent of LGBT youth at some point in their life suffer from homelessness. That’s terrible. Nobody should ever have to suffer because of the way they’re born. It’s disappointing that people can’t see in their hearts that, while they have every right to disagree with someone’s lifestyle personally, government and other institutions shouldn’t pass that judgment on them. All of religions pretty much say don’t judge people. Unfortunately, when the LGBT youth is left out in the streets, that’s about the worst judgment I can ever imagine.
“MY WHOLE LIFE, I’VE STOOD UP TO BULLIES.”
The Tennessee Equality Project has a list of the local agenda that they’re pushing, and I think it’s a reasonable policy objective. I completely agree with it. Another [objective] I particularly like is [anti-]bullying. My whole life, I’ve stood up to bullies. I will stand up for the forgotten and poor voices in this community that are ignored far too often.
I’ve worked in local, state and federal government. I understand the legislative process. I’ve got the relationships already there from my work, and as a campaign expert, I know how to remove the people in power. As a lawyer, I know how to read and interpret the law. I believe I’m effective for this job, and I’m overwhelmed with the beautiful and soulful responses I’ve received from the people that have known me my whole life, who know I stand up for people and who know I don’t back down. That’s really what drives me forward every day.
On the city pension
JM: I believe in people that work in public service. Government work is public service, because when you go into government jobs, you don’t get the salary that private sector people get. You go into it because you want the benefits. You want the 9 to 5.
We need people in this community to stand up and do what Binghampton’s done. You go out to Binghampton, you’ll never see as much community service anywhere in the city.
Our country’s lost touch with the importance of the 9 to 5. Both parties like to talk about family values, but I’ll tell you, there’s nothing more family value-oriented than a 9 to 5, where you can leave work at a decent time and go spend time with your family.
We need people in this community to stand up and do what Binghampton’s done. You go out to Binghampton, you’ll never see as much community service anywhere in the city. What they’re doing reminds me of what Orange Mound did in the past. I’m so sick of people who don’t live in the city who think that it’s the same Orange Mound as the 1990s. It’s not. They’ve turned that neighborhood around, and it was turned around by people who owned homes and people who cared about their community. Their community center that good people helped start has turned that community around, and now you’re seeing that same thing to the extreme in Binghampton.
When I drive through Binghampton, it makes me tear up. You see all the art, that garden on Merton [Avenue] and Caritas Village — that cultural, beautiful center of love, really, that cares about these kinds of things. In order to have time to do that sort of thing, we need people who have a work schedule.
My heart wants me to return all the benefits, pension and health benefits for all city employees. However, I understand that our city is strapped for cash, and that’s why my focus — even though I’d like to look at the other city workers, too — has been on first responders. (If I can find a place in the budget to make up the money, contact me and I’ll run through the figures with my research team.) That includes not just MPD and fire, officers out in the field, but also dispatchers and several other groups that are vitally important to keeping our city safe. These groups need their pensions back. Like I said, tell me it’s fiscally unsafe. That’s fine. I’d rather be fiscally unsafe than physically unsafe. I hope someone brings that argument to me.
At the end of the day, these well-trained, expensively trained officers are running off to other cities because they don’t think they’re being treated right. The media is constantly attacking the police. Trust me, I get it. There’s some awful things taking place, but once again, it’s not the officer’s fault, it’s the system’s fault. Change the system, build it to where we can rebuild that trust and we’re going to have a lot more trust in our community.
On the Fairgrounds
JM: I was actually fortunate to be involved with that issue. The National Charrette Institute and the Urban Land Institute were wonderful. I was so impressed with what they did. These people were volunteers from all over the country. They came together to our city and studied the Fairgrounds to see what we could do. I’m so used to seeing apathy. We’ve got plenty of heart in this city, but so many times, we have a feeling of surrender. I really hate that. I think this city has so much potential. We’re on the cusp of something so big.
When I went to this community meeting at the Kroc Center, I saw firsthand what the Urban Land Institute and the National Charrette Institute were up to. It was this beautiful program where they actually had citizens, average people like us, could go in there, sit down at this small table and discuss what we want to do with the Fairgrounds. I learned so much from that meeting. I had so many ideas, but what I actually learned from other people was better. They actually had people vote on what they liked to see what the people wanted. They had a drawing at the end, and seven people were chosen to speak to the panel before they released their findings. I was fortunate enough by fate or whatever to be able to speak at it. I’m not just going to take this opportunity for granted, so I studied and called some people I know about the issue. I don’t know everything. I’m not a genius; I’m just good at surrounding myself with them. I called a lot of those geniuses and I asked them what they thought. An overarching theme I caught was that the city’s already financially strapped. We do not need to build a bunch of new buildings there.
For example, the man sitting across from me was kind enough to come down from New York to help us. As a public speaker, I’ve always learned to build your credibility up before you speak. So I said, ‘While I’m not a developer, I was the top in my class at Cecil C. Humphreys University of Memphis School of Law in land use, planning and development. I’ve seen New York, I’ve been there. I’ve seen how much you value the small spaces, chunks and pieces of green space you turn into beautiful gardens because it’s the only green space you have in your city outside of the beautiful and amazing Central Park. But I see the little spaces, and I see how much they value that.’ Unfortunately, Memphis is a city of sprawl.
Our land area is bigger than Atlanta, D.C. and Baltimore combined — 320 square miles. It’s a very large city, and it’s also very spread out. That’s why public transportation is difficult, but I think there’s some stuff we can do with that, too. That being said, we need to turn a negative into a positive. Look at the Fairgrounds. Look at how much green space is out there. My friends love that disc golf course. They play on it frequently. It keeps them from having to burn gas and pollute the environment having to drive out to Shelby Farms — which I love riding my bike to frequently. They’re actually able to go close to home and play some disc golf. It doesn’t even cost money that a golf course would cost, because you don’t have to prepare the greens. We just have to cut the grass, which we have to do anyway. I think it needs to be kept a greenspace for parks. It’s cheap, it’s a public amenity and people can go there. We love Overton Park, we love Audubon Park. Why not have another one too?
I know other people suggested the same thing I did, but it warmed my heart to see them actually listen. I told them Tiger Lane is a beautiful thing. I know that Tigers football broke the top 25 last year and broke the top 10 in attendance. When did we ever think that was going to happen? It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s also a huge chunk of concrete on that property. So I said, ‘Please preserve Tiger Lane. Do anything to make it better. However, why not have dual uses? It’s not always Tiger football game day.’ When it’s not, why not throw some basketball courts on there? Do something else for the kids to spend their energy rather than running around the neighborhood? Give them somewhere to do positive things. I had a buddy that really wants an indoor skate park. I didn’t suggest that one, but when someone else did, I was on board a hundred percent. I know the skater kids need that to spend that energy positively. We want them skating in an indoor skate park, not down a rail on the courthouse steps.
“At the end of the day, the Coliseum has to have something that is going to bring in revenue. If we don’t put something in there that brings in revenue, it’s going to be an empty building again in 10 years, and they’re going to try to tear it down.”
Also, derby girls, please don’t come after me. I don’t want any more hip checks, so please know I will protect your ability to have a roller derby. But any of these buildings we are not using, we should make that a non-profit center in the city where, all in one place, you can volunteer for multiple causes. The women’s building is being protected, and that’s great, because we need that too.
At the end of the day, the Coliseum has to have something that is going to bring in revenue. If we don’t put something in there that brings in revenue, it’s going to be an empty building again in 10 years, and they’re going to try to tear it down. They’re going to have more of an argument to tear it down if it’s unsuccessful again. I don’t want to see it torn down. I want to see it put to good use. That’s why my idea — as kooky as it was — was to put Adventure River and Maywood inside of it. I thought that was a good idea. I’ve been corrected since then.
They didn’t discard my idea completely; they just took some of the kookiness out of it. They decided to put a water park on the outside, because Memphis is hot. We could use that, and you can charge a decent amount so that we can raise revenue — then on the inside, a concert venue. A buddy of mine really wants it to be a concert venue, where bands smaller than the FedExForum and more than Minglewood [Hall] can sell out a venue. That’d be a great way to bring in revenue. Right now, we see so many bands go down to Snowden Grove [Amphitheatre]. We already have enough money going down to Tunica. We need to bring money into Memphis.
WE NEED TO BRING MONEY INTO MEMPHIS.
[The institutes] volunteered their time and looked into our issue. They’re experts in their field. And they made some beautiful suggestions as to what to do with the Fairgrounds.
On tax breaks for corporations
JM: With the PILOT program, as someone who studied economics, I understand what it’s trying to do. It’s trying to bring in jobs that wouldn’t otherwise come here. The problem with the PILOT program is that the clause that says we would not give you this PILOT unless you would otherwise not locate to Memphis or Shelby County. That’s not being enforced. We’re basically giving it to every company, and that’s not the way you do it. You have to make sure that company would otherwise not come here.
“If it’s actually bringing in jobs, and well-paying jobs — not just low-wage jobs — we can build our city up and spend revenue in Memphis.”
Another problem we have, from my research, is that we have several agencies doing PILOTs. And they all have different standards. It’s going to be hard to properly regulate PILOTs if we have five of them doing it in a different way. We need to have one, maybe two, consolidated groups that does PILOTs. That’s how you properly give oversight to the project. Right now, we’re giving away $16 million a year in taxpayer money over PILOTs. If it’s actually bringing in jobs, and well-paying jobs — not just low-wage jobs — we can build our city up and spend revenue in Memphis. We need to make sure they’re not just getting a government handout. We actually need to make sure it’s incentivized.
JM: I have an opponent with $250,000 in his campaign account. He’s got the funds, but I’ve got the numbers. I’m not going to give up. I’m going to work hard. I’ve never been given anything on a silver platter, and I don’t believe that’s starting today. I’m going to work hard, and I’m not going to stop. Regardless of what happens, I’m always going to work to make my community a better place. I’m going to encourage young people, especially those who actually want to run for office, to actually get involved in their community. Do the grit and grind. Do the heart. Do the work. Care about people. Don’t care about profits, or yourself and your ego. Make sure you actually care about what you’re doing and your causes.
If you go to my website, I actually have a platform listed. People can contact me. As much as I talk, I do listen.
An issue that’s come up a lot, people have been saying, ‘John, why are you bringing up consolidation?’ I know that may not be popular with everybody. I know people are burned out on the issue because they fought it and they lost. That being said, my platform — what I push — as much as I politically calculate a message, and as much as I know what needs to be said in order to win, that’s just not me. What I push is what I believe. What I fight for is a cause I believe in. That’s truly what I have to do.
I’m sick of a city that’s two cities in one. I’m sick of it. The best way to start us moving in that right direction is consolidation. One of the main reasons it failed last time is because our schools were involved. That’s no longer an issue. It doesn’t matter where you come from on the political scale. Any political ideology should believe that we should not have two governments doing the same thing. It’s wasteful spending. I don’t mind Germantown, Bartlett and Millington being their own entities — in fact, I think they’re learning a valuable lesson with their school systems right now that they’re forming.
“The state legislature ties our hands and bullies Memphis all the time. They restrict us on so many policy objectives that we could achieve to make our city better. They don’t respect us.”
They can be autonomous. If you don’t want to be part of Memphis, go for it, but guess what? You’re going to have to pay for those school systems you have. You’re going to have to raise your own taxes. You’re going to get to pay for all that. That’s all on your tab now. Congratulations. And by the way, we’re going to start changing things in Memphis so that you pay for the streets you use when you drive to work here. I’ve got nothing but love for those people because I was a part of their community, but at the same time, I get a little angry when I see them picking on Memphis. I see it when they call their state senator, and they go up to Nashville and pass what they want at the hurt and disadvantage of Memphis.
The state legislature ties our hands and bullies Memphis all the time. They restrict us on so many policy objectives that we could achieve to make our city better. They don’t respect us. The state legislature is on the side of the suburbs that are outside of Memphis. They don’t care about Memphis. If they cared about [us], they would stop focusing on only their districts and their political safety.
That being said, when I say ‘consolidation,’ I’m not talking about [municipalities]. They can have their own governments. I don’t want to overrule them. If y’all want to be your own thing, you don’t want to be a part of our community, you’re going to be a part of it anyway. If Memphis didn’t exist, you wouldn’t exist. What I am talking about is unincorporated Shelby County and Memphis combining, getting rid of two governments and making it into one. We need a metro council like Nashville. We need more positions. We don’t need super districts [in city council]. These super districts we have cause wealthy and influential people to be able to run for office rather than the average citizen, and that’s wrong.
That’s how you bring people together and bridge the divide. That may not be the popular issue that people think I should be running on, but I’m speaking from the heart. And I’m not backing down. I hope that the voters see that I’m genuine. I hope they join my team and help us make this a better place. I hope they make Memphis move.