Shelby County Public Defender A C Wharton, who carried the Democratic banner but had bipartisan support, was elected Shelby County Mayor Thursday with an almost 2-to-1 majority over Dr. George Flinn, his Republican opponent.
TuesdayÕs local Shelby County election was a roller-coaster ride, with the expectations of all sides rising and falling through the day and most of the evening,, but when the ride finally ended late Thursday night, the ones bearing the grins were the ones who had been expected to way back before early voting had started.
Democrat A C Wharton, the polished and affable Shelby County Public Defender, won the county mayorÕs job with 62 percent of the vote over Republican George Flinn, and Wharton was characteristically modest from the podium of his victory celebration at the new Holiday Inn on Central Avenue , thanking virtually all of the wide array of movers and shakers who had persuaded him to run.
Wharton joked about the conflicting advice he receiving from his wife Ruby ,who stoutly resisted the idea of her husband making the race at first, and from state Senator Steve Cohen, who insisted that he do so They had Òcertain personality traits in common,Ó he said to laughter from the happy overflow crowd of a thousand or more.
Wharton also cited, among others, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton (Òanother person who has some personality traits quite similar to myw ife and Senator CohenÓ); state Senator Jim Kyle, his erstwhile mayoral rival;, state Senator John Ford (who easily withstood his own election challenge from attorney Richard Fields);U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, whom he once mentored but who Ònow comes to counsel me;Ó and Òa fellow named Bill Morris,Ó the former county mayor who first involved him in public life by naming him Public /Defender.
While WhartonÕs victory party was still in progress, Flinn played the role of gracious opponent, arriving to offer his personal congratulations and setting to rest some of the rancor that had developed in WhartonÕs camp concerning alleged negative campaigning by Flinn, a wealthy radiologist/broadcaster making his first political race.
First totals, which seemed to come mainly from inner-city Memphis, had made it appear that Wharton might head a ticket sweep by the Democrats, most of whose candidates took an early lead that was consistent with a measurably stronger Democratic showing during the two weeks of early voting.
Democrat Randy Wade teetered on the edge of victory most of the night in his race for sheriff against Republican nominee Mark Luttrell, who finally was able to claim a win, with sme 53 percent of the vote, just before 11 o'clock.
During the heady early-evening period for Democrats, victory seemed possible even for Shep Wilbun, the Juvenile Court clerk whose campaign had seemed to bog down amid an investigation of office irregularities by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
ÓThatÕs a relief,Ó confided county commission clerk Calvin Williams at mid-evening, when Wilbun looked to be a winner; Williams had partly brokered the deal whereby Wilbun, then a commissioner, was appointed clerk in late 2000, with Williams pal Darrell Catron, whose alleged misdeeds as an aide to Wilbun account for much of the current trouble, coming along as a throw-in.
Republican Steve Stamson, the former deputy clerk who was aced out in that deal, won vindication over Wilbun when all the votes were counted, and the other GOP candidates for countywide office defeated their Democratic opponents as well.
Criminal Court clerk Bill Key beat Ralph White; incumbent Probate clerk Chris Thomas turned back Sondra Becton; register Tom Leatherwood beat Otis Jackson; Circourt Court clerk Jimmy Moore routed Del Gill; County Trustee Bob Patterson turned back E.C. Jones, and County Clerk Jayne Creson beat Janis Fullilove
Incumbents (or those who beat them in party primaries prevailed in all county commission races, too.
In an open-seat commission race which had generated considerable interest Ð both because it determined which party would have the dominant seven seats on the 13-member commission and because it involved the controversial Shelby Farms issue Ð Republican Bruce Thompson won comfortably over Democrat Joe Cooper, a political veteran.
Cooper, an advocate of partially developing Shelby Farms, was a rarity this year in that he engaged in no negative campaigning whatsoever, and stayed gallant with a congratulatory phone call to Thompson when it became obvious that the engaging newcomer would prevail.
In two judgeship races involving interim appointees, General Sessions (criminal) Judge Jim Robinson was victimized by a split in his three-way race, losing to attorney Gwen Rooks, while General Sessions (civil) Judge Phyllis Gardner, was the beneficiary of a split in her race, turning away main challenger Derek Renfroe.
Bernie Kustoff, father and law partner of GOP 7th district congressional candidate David Kustoff, was optimistic early in the evening,but state Senator Marsha Blackburn of suburban Nashville ultimately prevailed in the multi-candidate race.
7th District candidate Brent Taylor, with family, conceded early to Blackburn, promising to "respect the majesty of the system."
GOP 5th District county commission candidate Bruce Thompson and friend Jeni Stephens celebrate win over Democrat Joe Cooper, whose trademark shades-and-cellphone look they adopt for the occasion.