Halbert Defends Mongo, Channel 5, Calls Wharton Complaint "Strange"

Councilwoman says station never changed debate rules....

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Mayoral candidate Halbert passing out campaign T-shirts at her headquarters opening
  • JB
  • Mayoral candidate Halbert passing out campaign T-shirts at her headquarters opening
Calling critical remarks by Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton “strange,” City councilwoman Wanda Halbert, a candidate for mayor and a participant in last week’s firs televised mayoral debate, sponsored by WMC-TV, Action News 5, defended the station for its conduct of the debate and upheld the right of controversial candidate Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges to have participated.

“This is a democracy, and he’s a candidate, and he had every right to take part in the debate,” Halbert said about Mongo Saturday at the opening of her campaign headquarters at 919 South Highland. The District 4 councilwoman noted also, “He’s my constituent!” Halbert, who sat next to Hodges during the debate, said she had enjoyed meeting the perennial candidate and well-known street character and thought there was “more to him” than his madcap reputation.

She said she was inclined to be impressed by Hodges, who shortly after the debate journeyed to South Africa and later discussed that trip with KWAM radio host and blogger Thaddeus Matthews.

Hodges’ presence in the debate may have been one of the factors that nettled Wharton, who had threatened to back out of last Thursday night ’s debate on that morning, when, as he said, he learned of the full debater list from a WMC-TV newscast.

In a hand-delivered letter that morning to station officials, Wharton said, “…I accepted this invitation based on the good-faith assurance from Mr. [Joe} Birch that this debate would include only ‘serous candidates.’ I learned of the final list of the participating candidates scheduled for tonight’s debate while watching WMC-TV’s newscast this morning. Please be advised that I am considering withdrawal from this debate....”

Ultimately, Wharton did attend the debate, though he pointedly avoided contact with Mongo beforehand. Speaking to reporters at Frayser Park on Saturday, where he took part in an event related to the prevention of infant mortality, Wharton said Channel 5 had changed the rules overnighht about candidate participation.

“I’m a lawyer, and when you set the rules to a game, you follow them: ‘You must have filed, you must have an office, you must have campaigned.’ All those things. It’s not any particular rules. It’s just that the rule of law is the rule of law. That’s offensive to me. Two pages of rules, and then throw them all out the window.”

Wharton said that, as a result of his experience, he was “reassessing” his potential participation in all future debates and would insist on being “consulted and given an opportunity to have some input into the rules.” He said he needed to be serving the citizens “instead of jibber-jabbering in some loose form called a debate.”

This is the portion of Wharton’s remarks Halbert characterized as “strange.” She said, “The rules were exactly as indicated to us beforehand. There was no change.”

Uniquely for a candidate, Halbert owns the South Highland building she is using as a headquarters. “It’s in our family,” she said, adding that various family members had used it as a residence.

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