Bill Gibbons may not have intended to move anyone by withdrawing from the Tennessee Governor’s race. However, I found gems of inspiration in his words that I wish had been more evident through the early stages of his campaign.

And I felt that we Memphians better be ready to demand attention from Nashville one way or another through the remainder of the campaign and beyond. The words in this withdrawal pointed out to me Memphis’ importance to this state, its precarious position in its own history and the neglect it often suffers.

Lessons in Leadership

Set Goals

“We have had a specific campaign plan which called for a budget of $2.5 million – Our initial goal was to have at least $1.0 million of that by the end of 2009.”

Keep Trying

“We fell significantly short of that goal. We then set a goal of having at least $1 million by April 1 of this year.”

Accept Responsibility

“My primary responsibility was to successfully convince enough people to make that investment. To the extent we failed, it was my failure.”

Recognize Others… Even Competitors

“Since State Senator Jim Kyle and I have both withdrawn from the race, we have no candidate from my own community of Memphis and Shelby County or who understands personally its unique needs and opportunities.”

Summary of Universal Issues

“We have crime driven by gang activity and drug trafficking which cries out for changes in our state sentencing laws. We have one of the largest urban school systems in the nation with the urgent need for reform. The University of Memphis is a unique urban research university which is being overlooked by state government and deserves its own independent governing board. And state government needs to end its neglect of the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences and The MED.”

While many of us on Smart City Memphis have discussed these issues that the State of Tennessee should be addressing, it is rare to have them summed up and laid out so neatly in one paragraph.


“I hope the other candidates of both parties will work to learn more about the community I love. I’m looking forward to continuing my service as district attorney in Shelby County, our state’s largest jurisdiction. I’ll go to work every day determined to make my community an even better place in which to live. And I will continue to push aggressively for needed changes at the state level in our criminal justice system.”

Bill Gibbons may not have been the right politician in the right place at the right time to move this state from the Governor’s office. But we better follow his lead by doing what we can with what we have while we’re able.

I hope that our local leaders are listening and then acting. Mayor Wharton doesn’t shy away from Nashville or Washington and I hope our many other leaders are prepared to join the team. Taking action on problems in which the state should intervene will only be successful if galvanized and demanded by those we have elected from this community.

I hope that our local candidates are prepared to work like never before. Bill Gibbons said it best, “A statewide campaign in Tennessee is not for the faint-hearted.”

If you are running for Mayor or Commissioner or School Board or Dog-Catcher, you will have to campaign for Memphis at the State level. I hope your local vision is backed up by enthusiasm and unwavering strength.

Be the Squeakiest Wheel

It is easy for legislators and the Governor to work with Nashville. They are there all day, everyday. They watch Nashville news. They read Nashville papers. They dine in Nashville restaurants with Nashville leaders, business owners, citizens and lobbyists.


Like Gibbons, we need a goal and a heavy agenda to take east.

We need to keep trying when we aren’t being heard.

We need to accept our inadequacies when we fail, make some adjustments and then we need to try again even harder.

We need to build coalitions across our boundaries and rally together to solve the issues that we must, while forcing the State to step in when its authority is required.

We have to believe that crime and education and community health can be tackled, then run at real solutions with all of our might.

Our business leaders know this. Our elected leaders know this. Our citizens know this.

I’d like to take Bill Gibbons’ words in defeat as a rallying cry for the rest of us to make the next big push to band together and succeed. The first victory is being heard. A purposeful Memphis will have to speak loudly to Nashville with one voice. A determined Memphis may have to leverage our strengths and call in our favors just to get to the table. But we must begin moving toward our seat and shouting about what we need.

Making sure anyone with a tie to the Capitol hears what we are saying is the first step in making them realize that we can no longer be ignored.