A Knock Could Prove a Boost as Herenton Goes After Chumney, Lowery

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Mayoral candidates Lowery and Chumney
  • JB
  • Mayoral candidates Lowery and Chumney
Though he made it clear on Monday he could not endorse A C Wharton for mayor — and was something less than flattering toward a man who, he said, was neither a leader nor a real mayor — Willie Herenton in effect called the October 15th special mayoral election for the county mayor, contending that Wharton might get as much as 65 percent of the vote in what is already a teeming field.

So, in the left-handed-compliment sense, A C came out ahead in the aftermath of former mayor Herenton’s three-hour talkfest with blogger/broadcaster Thaddeus Matthews on KWAM.

And so, oddly enough, did two other candidates not beloved of the ex-mayor. In a detailed accounting to Matthews of reasons why he reluctantly ran for a fifth mayoral term in 2007, Herenton listed as the most compelling reason this one: “Carol Chumney, had I not been in that race, would have been your mayor, and I felt that would have been disastrous for Memphis.”

Chumney may end up purchasing that sound bite and running it on radio and TV spots — “disastrous” or no “disastrous.” For the conventional wisdom is that the then maverick city council member owed her 35 percent second-place finish in 2007 to the incumbent mayor’s very presence in that race.

For years in the run-up to the 2007 race, Chumney had cast herself as Herenton’s chief nemesis in city government. (She also was something of a nemesis to many of her council-mates and to a staffer or two, but that’s another matter.) She was so clearly a foil to a mayor whose popularity was wearing thin that she, not former MLGW head Herman Morris, became the designated alternative.

Indeed, had Morris not been a candidate, Chumney might actually have had a chance at a majority. (To be sure, the same might have been said of Morris had he been able to run one-on-one.)

Absent Herenton to play off against, Chumney’s defiant — and somewhat abstract — insistence on change might not have resonated so well with the voters. She would have had to run a different sort of campaign, one more geared to positive assertions and specific proposals. And her history of clashing with colleagues might have come more to the fore.

So it was that the burden of having to run without Willie Herenton to do the dozens on was regarded by some as a serious problem for Chumney in this year’s special-election race, especially since acknowledged front-runner Wharton, whatever his derelictions might be, was too smooth and popular a figure to serve well as a substitute villain.

To the rescue Willie Herenton! The former mayor’s blanket assertion that he had run mainly to keep Chumney from winning in 2007 was pure gift, a wholly unexpected re-packaging of the Joan-of-Arc persona her supporters had draped around her two years ago.

There seems little doubt that the status of Lowery, who had plainly floundered during his first week in office, was elevated when Herenton chose, as an explanation for his picking up his own petition week before last, to re-cast the mayor pro tem as a menacing, almost irresistible force requiring nothing less than a maximum resistance effort by ex-mayor Herenton himself.

That gave Lowery renewed viability as the official anti-Willie of this year’s race, a potentially formidable role he earned not by making attacks but by being the object of them. Though still a long shot, Lowery actually benefited from Herenton’s public animosity (which continued in Monday’s Matthews interview).

Inadvertently or not, Herenton’s remarks on Monday enlarged Chumney in like manner. And this potential rejuvenation of her stature came at a time when former councilwoman Chumney had been largely absent from the public eye, a virtual non-presence for the last several weeks, with her campaign finances a question mark.

The other candidates in the mayoral field must be jealous. At least one of them, professional wrestling eminence Jerry Lawler, understands the value of grudge matches and polarized role-playing in the building of a gate and a following. He and several others would surely welcome being stigmatized by a similar intervention from Herenton.

It might be their best — indeed, their only — chance of dealing with professional good-guy Wharton.

And, by the way, longtime bad-guy wrestling manager Jimmy Hart, the Mouth of the South, was one of the well-wishers in attendance last month at Herenton’s official farewell ceremony. Was that coincidence or what?

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