Whether you love her or you hate her, it seems Memphians can't get enough of City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove. From outbursts to arrests, the exploits of the controversial public servant have been well documented.
In January 2008 a record-setting nine new Memphis City Council members relished in the personal opportunity to conduct the "business of the people." None appeared more grateful to begin a life of public service than Janis Fullilove.
The outspoken Councilwoman said at the time, "Ready to go to work. Ready to help neighborhoods become greater neighborhoods and our citizenry ready to become greater citizenry. So, I'm ready."
But, not even Fullilove herself could have been prepared for the stormy and controversial twists and turns that have haunted her five year tenure on the Council. A series of personal meltdowns, mea culpa's and defiant comebacks have often overshadowed the passionate representation she's given to her staunch, but sometimes bewildered constituents.
But, with four alcohol related arrests in five years, a declared bankruptcy filing, a public censure from her own colleagues she readily accepted, an apology for a pole dancing incident in front of a gathering of members of the Black Caucus Convention and then her highly publicized arrest last year for a domestic altercation with husband Vernon Chalmers, it's a "Perils of Pauline" tightrope act that's given fodder to her detractors, fascinates the media and yet seems to give her a vulnerability, humanity, and resiliency few political figures in Memphis history can boast of. Now in her second term, surprisingly, Fullilove's enthusiasm for her work on the Council still burns despite the mental and physical toll her personal tribulations have inflicted. Now, as back on her first day on the Council, Janis Fullilove is ready to carry on as she believes she was "ordained" to do.
"I feel this is what I want and ask God for it. And so I got it."
After all of her trials, Fullilove agreed to sit down with Fox13 for an unprecedented interview. She was very candid about her personal struggles and asks people not to judge her without taking a look at themselves.
When asked how she could be so popular and unpopular at the same time, she said, "You know what, Jesus Christ was so popular and unpopular, so why not me?"
Fullilove is the first to admit that she's made mistakes, "Have I done some dastardly things? Yes I have, I've done some things I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. People look at that and want to have something to compare themselves with, and say, ‘I would never do that.'"
But, the Councilwoman does think that some of her more highly publicized incidents have been blown out of proportion, "You know, I wish I could pole dance. I'd love to pole dance, but when I was on the boat I didn't pole dance, I just had a corner there…I was dancing, and how it got out of hand (and) I was pole dancing, I have no idea…My error was getting behind the wheel of a car while taking all this medication. My second DUI I received, I drank two big glasses of wine without eating, my husband had his fifth heart attack, I didn't know what to do at the time, I was really depressed about it, went to the casino, tried to win some money, being stupid, so all of that is my responsibility. I don't blame anyone for that but me."
Fullilove continued, "I know we all do things, we make bad choices, we make bad decisions, that doesn't necessarily mean we are bad people. I have made so many bad decisions, but the best decision I ever made was to run for office and to work my darndest."
If you judge Fullilove solely by what you see in the media, you may have a negative opinion. But, she says she spends upwards of 100 hours a week talking and fixing problems for Memphians.
Whether you agree or disagree with her politics, it takes sitting in just one council meeting to realize, she is working for her constituents.
We talked to some of her colleagues, trying to get a sense of how she is viewed by her colleagues. The same phrase kept coming up: Rock Star.
"You know what? The only reason they call me a rock star is because I am. I'm a rock star. I think it's wonderful, I'm a diva, I'm a rock star, and I'm a hard worker."
What kept coming up in talking with her colleagues and constituents is that Fullilove is one of the best Council members at responding when someone e-mails or calls and says something like, "My garbage didn't get picked up," or, "There's a pothole in front of my house, the weeds are overgrown."
Fullilove also points to being the first to bring up a non-discrimination ordinance for gay and lesbian workers, co-sponsoring a blight initiative, spearheading a utility assistance program, and passing the ban the box ordinance, which makes it easier for people with a criminal history to get work.
When asked about her future political aspirations, Fullilove responded, "I'm running for Mayor. A C, I'm coming after you and just watch me…no, I just said that to make the Mayor scared."
She did say that she has aspirations to run for a higher office, but would not tip her hat to what that might be.
Love her or hate her, Fullilove thinks people are too quick to judge her based on preconceived notions.
"Well, I say, you get to know Janis Fullilove. You get to know me personally, and you'll know the kind of heart that I have, the kind of compassion I have. Yes I have done wrong things, and I'm not proud of that. I try to learn from those things and I ask the Lord, ‘Lord, don't let me walk down that path again.' But I know I'm going to make mistakes, as we all are. So, just get to know me. If you don't get to know me, stop judging me because God is the ultimate judge, and he's the only one I want to answer to. When my days are up, when I enter into heaven, and I will go to heaven people, he's going to say, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.'"