By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell, Special to the New Tri-State Defender
Born and raised in West Memphis, Mayor Marco McClendon is eight months into his first term, which he told constituents at a recent Crittenden County NAACP meeting already is generating new jobs and business opportunities.
“My mother and father live here. So, I am fully invested in the growth and success of West Memphis. This is our time, and God has given me this opportunity for such a time as this,” said McClendon, who headlined the meeting.
“Here is a man, our mayor, fulfilling a promise he made when he took office, to come and deliver an address on his progress for the first six months,” said Shabaka Afrika, NAACP chapter president. “We have heard some exciting things like we haven’t seen here in decades. This is truly a new day in West Memphis.”
McClendon, a former city councilman, was sworn in on Jan. 1. The city is about 70 percent African American and he is second African American elected West Memphis Mayor. Leo Chitman was the first African American elected to the office in 1982.
Reflecting on his swearing-in ceremony, McClendon said, “Our community needed to see that. Our black children needed to see someone who looks like them taking the mayor’s office.”
He supports that assertion with a recent encounter at a favorite restaurant.
“I went into the restaurant to pick up my food, and there were some guys there. We were just talking, and a mother came in with her nine-year-old son. She said to him, ‘Did you know he is the mayor of West Memphis?’ He looked at me and said, ‘You can’t be the mayor of West Memphis.’ I asked him why not, and he said, ‘Because you look just like me.’
“Well, I took out my business card and gave it to him, and I took out my phone and showed him on Facebook that I was the mayor,” McClendon said. “And if you could have seen the look in his eyes. He looked at me like I was a superhero. And he looks at me the same way each time I run into him and other children just like him. More black officials change the landscape for black citizens. God has put me here for such a time as this.”
Expansion and multiple initiatives have created what some in West Memphis consider a corridor of opportunity. The $250 million renovation and expansion at the Southland Casino Racing complex is a major contributor.
McClendon said he expects to be in talks with hotels and restaurateurs looking to also build establishments around the expansion.
“People are buying into our vision for growth and economic development,” he said. “It’s an easy sell. Both I-40 and I-55 run through West Memphis. We are spending $10 million to revitalize the railroad. We just had Coca-Cola move from Memphis over to West Memphis with a $22 million construction bringing hundreds of new jobs.
“I am under a non-disclosure agreement, so I can’t say anything tonight, but an auto manufacturer is coming soon,” he said.” Let’s just say the governor and I are on the same page.”
The city also is building four new structures: two fire stations, one library and information center, and one municipal courthouse.
“Our priorities are to bring economic opportunities to this city for our people, public safety, creating a quality school system, a cleaner city, and investing in a bright future for our children.”
The 41-year-old mayor said he has gained valuable knowledge and advice from former Memphis mayor, Dr. Willie W. Herenton.
“I talked to Dr. Herenton, and he asked me, ‘When all of your department heads are doing their jobs and moving toward attaining objectives in your agenda, what should a mayor be doing?’ He said a mayor should be devising initiatives.
“So, I am dreaming all the time. We plan in the next three years of my administration to make West Memphis the new Southaven. We’re building a water park so families can enjoy good, family fun together. We’re building a movie theatre. And you know what they said in that movie, ‘If you build it, they will come.’
“Oh, and did I tell you we are going to bring our own bus system to West Memphis? We’re going to rebuild and revitalize Broadway Avenue, our main thoroughfare, and bus trolleys are going to run up and down Broadway.”
He promised to continue building a unified community in West Memphis to eradicate any factions that may breed gang violence.
“I’ve been talking to young brothers, and I tell them, ‘We are all brothers. How can you kill your brother?’ Public safety is paramount in my administration.”