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December 28, 2023 31 mins
Stormy and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland talk his final days as Mayor of Memphis and how his wife Melyne Strickland was and is right by his side working tirelessly in the community.
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Episode Transcript

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All right, you guys, weare back. It is the pulse.
I am stormy. Thank you forjoining us as we keep our fingertips on
the pulse of our community and ladiesand gentlemen. Special guests in the studio
today, I know I say thatevery week, but they are special guests.
It is our Mayor Jim Strickland andhis amazing wife, Melanie Strickland.

Hello, Hey, how are youno? Thank you for coming. I
never thought this was gonna be possible. I know, I interviewed, I've
interviewed you. Do you know howmany times I've interviewed you over the years.
It's been a lot. It's beena lot. I've never interviewed your
wife. Yeah. I saw youguys though on TV and that that I

was like, well, yeah,yeah, I saw you and I was
like, well, so welcome Melanie, thank you, thank you for having
me, thank you for being here. Okay, so in a few more
days you'll be a has been.Well your picture's up down the city Hall.

That's true. So you won't bea hasband, but you won't be
mayor anymore. So what are yougoing to do? Mayor Strickland? Take
some time off first? How manymonths, well, not months. It
can't be that long. I'm notold enough and don't have enough money to
take months off, although that wouldbe nice. It's probably a matter of
weeks and then then I'm working ona couple opportunities and we'll see which ones

work out and which ones I want. But in politics, no, I'm
an elected office. Does that haveto ask? Now? I understand no,
no, no this. I've runfor office the last time. But
it's how many years were you inoffice as an elected official? Sixteen?
That's a long time. Eight onthe council and aid is mayor, so
it's sixteen in a row. Soit's it's time for new folks. Yeah,

enjoyed the heck out of it.Been a I've loved this job.
It's been the professional honor of mylife. I've worked with great people and
we've done some great things. Thereare still some huge challenges the city has.
Yeah, and hopefully Mayor elect Youngwill take us to the next level
level. You just want to keepimproving the city overall. But I'll be

involved in the community somehow. Yeah. Yeah, I'm sure you will be,
and your wife Melanie will be aswell. Melanie Strickland welcome to the
Pulse. Thank you at iHeart it'sa pleasure to have you here because I
don't think we've never interviewed you.Never, never, So what has life
been like for you for these pastsixteen years. It's been busy, but

just a little faster. As faras his pace, he's always been in
politics since we met. He hadwe started dating, and he twenty nine
years ago and he had just wonthe Shelby County Democratic chairman. Oh wow,
I've never known him a Democratic Partyinvolved somehow and somebody's race or in

the community. Yeah, so thishas been your life, my life with
him, yes, correct. Sowhat is it like to be the wife
of an elected official when he takesthe heat on stuff? Do you take
it too? I would say yes. And how hard is it to not

go on social media when you seepeople talking about your husband in a negative
light or saying things. How hardis it for you not to join the
conversation and say, well listen here. Well, that part has not been
hard because I've not been on socialmedia. Okay, don't have a Facebook
page, not for any reason otherthan when I'm working, I'm driving.
So it's just decided I didn't needto have. That only recently got on

Instagram in the last couple of yearsjust because of children that were on it.
So that part hasn't been hard becauseI just but I did learn kind
of quickly just don't read it.Probably the harder heart is wanting to fix
what people think, especially when you'rein it so you kind of know the

truth. And usually when a lotof times when people are frustrated, it's
because they have a misunderstanding or theydon't really know how something really occurred,
and so you it's hard when youyou can't fix that for everyone. Sometimes
people really don't care to know thetruth. And then other times you just
can't reach everybody or you. Butyou know, if I can and I'm

in a conversation, I'll try tonot to influence their thinking, because I
mean, I do believe it's apublic official. I mean, I'm a
fan of Mayor Jim Strickland. Iknow you are, but I don't.
But well, and so therefore Idon't expect everyone to always agree with him,
and they don't have the right todisagree. So what are the arguments

like when you don't agree with him? Just made at Homer in politics,
it's more at home. It's moreat home. And as our daughter has
said repeatedly, mommy is mayor ofthe house. Uh huh, come on,
and you got to understand that.Okay. Well, you know they
say behind every good man, there'san even better woman, Dan right,

right, I say there's an eveneven better woman because a lot of times
the woman has to be the onewho is the kindler, kinder, gentler
side of you know, what herhusband is going through, so she has
to let more things roll off herback and be more of a cheerleader.
Is that how it is? Orno, am I getting it wrong?
Well, in addition to that thatyou've got, she's taken up the slack

at home with our children. Ourchildren have you know, advanced in age
eight years. They've gone through youknow, grade school and high school now
while I've been mayor, and she'shad to pick up the slack. And
then one challenge that she's had thatshe hadn't mentioned yet though. You know,
if you have a city issue,you call three one one. You
know your garbage and get picked up. You need a pothole, you want

your street paved, You want tospeed humps on your neighborhood streets. Melanie
has been a three to one onefor everyone she knows, she comes in
contact with, that she works.She's constantly, multiple times a week,
gets some kind of city issue orMLGENW issue, or state issue or federal
issue. She's the one stop shopfor so many. She's the face of

me to a lot of people thatshe is in contact with. Yeah,
yeah, I think some of myinterviews wouldn't have happened if it were not
for her. Thank you, Melanieand that pillow talk. You go girl,
but no, seriously, you were. Your picture was hung at city
Hall recently. And I'm gonna tellyou my favorite part of your speech.

You said thank you to your parents. But then this is my favorite part.
Now, my wife, Melanie,how incredibly lucky was I to get
her to marry me? And yousay some other beautiful things here. I
love you, I admire you.Thank you. You say you absolutely could
not have been mayor without her supportand sacrifices and her willingness to and ability

to pick up the slack with yourfamily. There's no doubt because being mayor
is a seven day a week,twenty four hour, twenty four hours a
day job it is a sprint.There are you will ask me about when
I sleep. I want to knowwhen do you sleep? And I know

I've asked you that a thousand times. It's I fall asleep really easily because
I'm tired. But you know,I check email in the middle of the
nine It's just it weighs on you, and it takes up so much time.
And there's so many community organizations andneighborhood neighborho you need to meet with
at night. So for eight years, you're doing things seven days a week.

It's very rare that I have aday off. Uh and uh.
Now during the pandemic it was different, but normally it's a sprint. So
you know, I tried, likeI mean, I made all my kids
games, both kids, but there'sthings I missed. Our daughter's on a

youth group church youth group trip rightnow. But all that preparation, one
hundred percent of that preparation was Melanie, Yeah, getting her ready for that
trip, going to the school meetingsand so forth. So it's that's where
she's picked. And she works fulltime. I mean, so that's hard.
I mean, when you work fulltime, you don't have much energy

to do much else. She soundslike she's every woman. And that's why
I said in this speech, she'sshe is a force of nature, and
I'm obviously that's a compliment. It'slike a it's a huge force, and
she's she's the energizer, bunny.She's just go, go, go go.
Yeah. Yeah, your picture,your portrait rather was hung at the

Hall of Mayors. Who's the personwho drew that? Did somebody draw it?
Or who who put that together?Again? Melanie put it all together,
Melanie, you did this. Soevery mayor, I guess gets to
pick their artist, portrait artist.So I did a little a little research
on it and chose Glinda Brown andit's her first time to do one in
the Hall of Mayors. Really,she's wonderful. Okay, she's on portraits,

but never correct. She's a portraitartist and very professional trained to do
these, and she did a beautifuljob. I like it. And it's
got you smiling. Yeah, yeah, that was important to me. That's
about the only thing I wanted.Really. Yeah. But she's good,

she's good. Yeah. She mademe look better than I actually am,
So that's I appreciate that. Therewas me. She did photographs and then
when we had to pick the photographthere. I don't know if I told
you this, Jim, but therewas a certain list of adjectives I guess
that I was going for when yousee that painting, So I think she

captured what I was looking for.And I hear when you did your speech
when the picture was hung that therewasn't a dry eye in the house.
Well, I mean, is itjust me? Was I Did I get
wrong? No? There were.It was an emotional moment because I went
through a lot of different things andand uh, obviously a lot of people

there were close to me, familyand friends and co workers. It's I
appreciated the support of people who werethere. Uh. So I end today
with a lesson about service I've learnedfrom reading the speeches of doctor Martin Luther
King. Yeah, service is veryimportant, and I kind of go through

how I got onto that, butmy calling to serve as an American that
I out from John Kennedy, withthe call to serve that I got from
reading the Gospels, and doctor Kingkind of summarized it in the best way
that I've ever heard when he talkedabout the Good Samaritan. We all know
that story the guy was beaten robbedleft on the side of the road,

and several people went by and didn'tstop, and Doctor King theorized why didn't
they stop? Were they worried thatif they stopped they might get beaten and
robbed too? So he said thosepeople must have been thinking, if I
stop, what would happen to me? If I stop, what would happen

to me? The good Samaritan stopped, and he reversed it, if I
don't stop, what would happen tohim? Well, looking at it from
another person's point of view, andthat service, see, service is all
about the other person. Although youdo gain a lot from serving, the
focus is on the other person.Just the way he changed a couple of

words, which change should change yourfocus is really an important lesson. And
then I tie it all up inthe end of the speech saying that we
ought we need more people to serve, like my wife Melanie, who for
six or seven years has volunteered toteach reading and literacy skills to second graders

at Dunbar. And through this program, it's either a Rise to Read or
Team Read. They're both similar.The schools that they are in. The
literacy rates are sky high. Soif we had more people out there who
would volunteer, listen to doctor King'smessage, be a good samaritan like Melanie,

we could raise that literacy rate.And right now, only twenty five
percent of third graders read at thirdgrade level. Think about how great our
city would be if it was seventyfive percent, Yeah, of third graders
right at third level. It'd beamazing. Yes, it would be better.
It would be a turn for thebetter for our youth. Yes,
because we do it for them.We're doing it. Yeah. And the
reason third grade is so important becauseif you don't know how to read by

third grade, how do you learnsocial studies and fourth and biology and the
sciences and history. You have toread. All the subjects require reading proficiency,
and so if you're not reading bythird grade, you're just falling behind
in fourth and fifth and sixth.And that's what's happening. Yeah, that
is one of the reasons why Iwanted your wife to come with you,

because I don't think that a lotof people know that you do those kinds
of things, Melanie, And don'tyou don't just do them alone, You
actually pull people to come and dothem with you. You're like, what's
the worst? Like a with you, you're like a call to action.

You know what I'm saying. That'syou are that kind of person now.
But she's been quiet. She won'tadmit that, but you're right. Yeah,
yeah, yeah. She's probably gottenfour or five people to volunteer at
dunbar. Yeah yeah, yeah yeah. And it's amazing to hear and she's
she's talked to me. Listener,she's still here. Yeah here. Anybody

want a tutor, come of callme. You need more tutors. It
is amazing, though, to hearher talk about the work and how compassionate
you are with doing things in thiscity, Melanie, it is. It's
amazing. And I know you don'tbecause your husband is a light and a
force all by himself. You don'tshine your light as much, but you

do use it for good. Andyou've been a blessing to this city in
ways that a lot of people don'tknow about. Well, thank you,
You're welcome. I know it's hard, it's very nice. I know it's
hard, Melanie. I know it'shard to hear those things. I think
sometimes we feel too busy selfishly,I will say, doing the tutoring at

Dunbar. The handful of times I'vecalled and gone out to the animal shelter,
for instance. Sometimes those are momentsthat are really kind of more for
me too, though, because becauselife is so busy and it is so
stressful, and I am working,and his job is stressful. So sometimes
calling and going in on a Sundayto fold laundry at the animal shelter in

the laundry room is really a mentalescape for me. But of course you
always feel good when you're giving back, so you're helping. But so it's
kind of I would say, Ido it for a couple of reasons,
but yes, yeah, it's agood escape. It's a good escape.
Yeah, so what about that?Doing that kind of work drives you also

to bring people along go on,and the animal shelter is never done.
And I'm just every time I comehome from there, I look at Jim
and I go, oh, theyjust need help, so much help.
Tutoring is because we more children needthat. There's just Dune Bars a small

school. It only goes to fifthgrade. I think it's only two classes
per grade. And I mean,I wish I could quit my job and
be there eight hours a day.Yeah, but I can I get I
get one hour one child, sotwo children away. I mean I get
a child for thirty minutes, sothat's two kids when I go, and
I will go one day a week. There's just some of them need more,

or some of them like I'll lookat the sheet where I sign and
I've seen them and I'm like,oh gosh, they haven't been pulled from
the classroom to do this in acouple weeks, and I wish they could
have been pulled every week. Theyjust, you know, because the more
they get, the more they're goingto get from it. But don't you
see a difference in September and April? Yeah, Yes, I mean I

see Normally I would see the samechildren every time. Now they do.
I get some new kids thrown onmy schedule, which is fine. The
ones that I do get to workwith repeatedly, I see a difference,
definitely. Yeah, And definitely yousee a difference after they've come in and
been tested at the beginning of theyear, you know, and they get
comfortable. You have to get themkind of comfortable with you, yeah,

and then they kind of take offa little bit. But there's some that
don't take off as quickly and theyjust need All that means is they That
just means I wish I could comeback tomorrow and titor them again, and
I wish I could come back Wednesdayand do it again and Thursday, because
if I could have them every dayfor thirty minutes, I just think of
the difference that would make for them. And they're reading so while you while

your husband is doing all of histhings, and we clearly hear what motivated
him to be a public servant,but what motivates you, goodness, probably
him to be a bonds with you. Because when I mean, I don't
think I was a bad person oranything, but I mean when I met

Jim, he was already doing thesethings. He was already coaching basketball for
you know, a grade school voluntarilyas a lawyer. He was already volunteering
the third Sunday of every month atthe soup kitchen and had done that throughout
our marriage. So these were allthings he did far before he met me.
So just sort of kind of seeinghow much he did and that I

mean, I was kind of probablythat person you could call and get me
to sign up and drag along togo help do something. But I don't
know that I really sought to goout and find it to do. Yeah,
I mean I have done things.I mean I've worked in Haiti and
went on a you know, missiontrip there and things like that. Things
like that I sought out, butI don't know that I really sought out
things in my own backyard. Andthen, like I said, when I

met him, he was doing somuch of that as a single man out
there, wow and running for theyou know, helping with people's campaigns and
signing up for it seemed like everyDemocrat. And every time we went on
a date, we had to gobuy somebody's Democratic fundraisers. That's how he
got me to marry. Oh reallyYeah. I pretended we were going to

a fundraiser at the Peabody, anduh we opened that. We were up
on the mezzanine level and they hadthese smaller rooms, not the ballrooms,
smaller rooms, and uh we openedthe door and it was I'd arranged I'd
worked with a guy whose mother workedat the Peabody, and she arranged for

dinner for two here in this smalllittle room, and that's where I proposed.
So I had a trick her throughthrough a political fundraiser. Wow,
and I believed it because I hadhad to attend so many of them.
Oh my goodness. So I knowyou probably well you do know this and
a lot of people are talking aboutand I just want to ask you will

veer away from marriage and to thelatest. We heard that Mayor elect Paul
Young has chosen to keep or reappointChief C. J. Davis. What
do you think of that? Ithink it was the right thing to do.
You know. I chose her twoand a half years ago because I
really thought the police department. Whilewe have a great police department, it

was time for some new eyes andto make some improvements at the police department.
We had not had an outside personlead the police department since the nineteen
seventies. Yes, and people don'trealize that. And we've had great police
directors as long as I've been involved. I've worked with three really great ones,

Larry Godwin and Tony Armstrong and MikeRollins. But I think it was
time to have somebody new eyes.I'm a big believer in new eyes to
solve old challenges, and I thinkshe's bringing some leadership to the position.
I just left a we have anew police recruit class in in uh in
our academy with sixty six people.Recruiting and retaining is an important part of

the job and and we're improving onthat regard. Uh. I know some
people are obviously all people are concernedabout the level of crime, and there
are some out there who associate orblame me and or the police director for
that. Our police chief does notdeserve the criticism for that because our crime

problem is not because of the policeor their actions. Yeah. Uh,
they are arresting people, the courtsystem won't keep them and because of the
lack of accountability, it's actually encouragingthe crime out there. And that's that's
our short term. You know,crime is a is a complex puzzle and

it goes to you know, itinvolves parents and poverty and education and schools
and all these things. But onthe law enforcement side, you know,
it's arresting by the police and holdingthem accountable by the court systems. Adult
court, in juvenile court and thecourt systems are our challenge there and it

is not because of the police department. Yeah, I think once you take
a deeper dive into it. Ihad to as I was a skeptic as
well, I had to take adeeper dive to see what was going on,
and I noticed some things. Andthey're arresting people. I'll give you
an example for car theft and breakinginto cars, which is the largest crime

that we have, car theft andbreaking in the cars. Over a recent
eighteen month period, MPD has arrestedalmost two thy four hundred people. First
of all, that's an astonishing number. Twenty four hundred people. Almost none
of them are being punished. AndI wrote at this and my weekly update
a few weeks ago, I actuallyhired a retire judge to do a deep

dive. Very few are being sentencedto any jail. So the juveniles nothing's
being done to and the adults,they're given low bombs, their cases are
dismissed, they're put on probation,and they're just going round and round.
And I'll give you the most unfortunateexample that I can think of right now.
About a month ago, maybe sixweeks ago, an owner of a

restaurant on Elvis Presley was killed.He heard there were some young people breaking
into cars on his parking lot,so he went out there. These young
people shot and killed him. Andalso on an innocent bystander, and MPD
arrested somebody within twenty four hours.That person who killed this restaurant owner while

breaking cars had been arrested five timesprior to that, five different times for
stealing cars and break in cars andgun crimes and that sort of thing,
and was given There was no punishmentfor those for those crimes. Let ride
back out on probation. And that'swhat's happening. And all these individuals breaking

in cars, they have guns.We hear stories regularly people, we've seen
videos on social media, absolutely,and these are dangerous individuals. And you've
argued back and forth with our DAon that same issue several times. And
he's not the I mean, wehave a different philosophy any eye. But
he's not the only challenge we have. It's the court system, it's the

laws, it's the juvenile court.All these things together are not holding individuals
accountable. MPD is out there arrestingtwenty four hundred people. If all those
were in jail right now, cartheft would drop to almost zero. But
they're not. They're out stealing cars. Yeah. Well, onto a lighter

note, we really didn't call youin for that, even though I do.
Thank you for explaining that to meand answering my question. I appreciate
that your I guess proudest accomplishments thatyou've made in your administration. Well,
it's in my speech. I kindof described it, which is also on
my weekly update if somebody wants tolook for it online. Three areas.

Number One, we've done everything acity can do to rebuild the Memphis Police
Department and attack the root causes ofcrime, I mean root causes of crime.
Yeah. Number two, we've improvedcity services. And number three,
we've created and led the way tocreate opportunities, careers and so forth.
I'll just briefly touch on them all. We've given fifteen thousand dollars signing bonuses.

We've increased our paid the pay policeofficers thirty percent over eight years.
We're now the highest paid police forcein the in the area. We've recruited
nationwide, really pushed to recruit officers, and we've really one of my important
things was young people need something productiveto do that when they're not in school.

Yeah, and that's the root cause. We got to lift up good
young people so they don't ever pickup that gun and don't hang out with
the wrong ground and don't become carthieves and shooting people. And we've we've
doubled the amount of summer jobs.We've doubled our capacity to community sators and
libraries for young people. We dida partnership with Boys and Girls Club where
they're in ten high schools and onehundred percent of the club members graduate high

school and one hundred percent go onto get a job, go to hire
ed or join the military. Bottomas a side note, every high school
and every middle school needs after schoolactivities, keeping those kids there from three
to eight o'clock at night so they'resafe. We've improved services to the public.
We've increased paving by over seventy percent. We've our fire departments rated number

one in the fire world my firsttime since the nineteen sixties. Our animal
shelter has gone from fifty percent ofthe animals getting out alive to eighty to
ninety percent. Our library won theequivalent of the oscar just two years ago.
And the last part this is whatkind of sums it all up.
Young people have opportunities in Memphis.We're near an all or adding all all

time high of people employed. Employment'sup unemployment rate is down, salaries are
up by twenty seven percent, Ourpoverty rate is down. It's the lowest
it's been in decades. We stillhave room to go, work to do,
but that's significant, lowest point indecades, and we have thousands of

good paying jobs available right now andfree job training. Memphis is an opportunity
city. At least for the nextweek or so, there's a job.
There's a website called Opportunity Memphis.It tells you if you have a criminal
record and you need help, wegot a program for you. If you're
homeless and you need help, wegot a program for you. If you're

sixteen to twenty four and you've droppedout of school and you don't have a
job, we have a program foryou. We're connecting these young people to
employment and two careers so that everyonecan take part in the opportunities because we
can't leave anyone out of the successthat's going on. So that's kind of
a you know, in summary,what I'm most proud of, Yeah,

Melanie, Yes, And what areyou most proud of? Well, I
would definitely do everything, Jim said. There's a couple other things. I'm
just thinking back special moments of thelast eight years. I love the MLK
fifty and what Jim did with that. You may have to explain better than

me what you did, but thatwas a really special evening with the families
sanitation. Whereas nineteen sixty eight sanitationworkers, Yeah, they all got seventy
thousand dollars cash stipends to make upfor the and to honor them, the
living sanitation workers. And then allthe public, all the folks who still
in that department, we improved theirretirement for fifty years. Their retirement was

not as good as a police officer, firefighters. Yeah, city council or
staff or any of the staff inthe city. We fixed that too.
And then of course built I Ama Man plaza, which is a beautiful
thing to honor those thirteen hundred bravemen. Yeah, so that was another
moment that I enjoyed. Of course, taking the Confederate statues down, that

was an exciting time and evening aswell, which started even back when Jim
was on the council. I guessmote you know, pre K passing that.
And then I've already mentioned the animalshelter, but you know, always
kind of jokingly tell people I can't. We can't get inside people's homes right
and fixed families and children. Butanimals are such an easy thing to fix.

And just as soon as he hired, it started with Alexis pu and
now ties there doing a great job. But just hire the right people to
do the job and you can turnthings around. And that animal shelter went
from not a well respected animal shelterin the country to one of the best,
you know, with a national meritaward, I believe, and so

some good things so and then oneof the things on the pre K won
the opportunities universal pre K pre kindergarteneducation for every four year old in Memphis.
We never had that, and thatwas a partnership with the city council
and county county government and the schools. But now every four year old who
wants to go to pre K cango, and that should help us on

literacy. Yeah, I love it. I love it. We run out
of time because we could have talkedeven more, but thank you again for
coming by, thank you for yourservice to our community, and we're gonna
wish you the best in the daysto come and send you a whole lot
of love and prayers to you,Mayor Strickland. God bless you, thank
you for what you've done. AndMelanie, being the silent partner and the

silent Mayor, we say thank youas well. Thank you. Yes,
all right, you guys, I'mstormy. It is the pulse. We
keep our fingertips on the pulse ofour community. We'll see you next week,
same time, same station. Godbless you. Have a great week.
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