Stormy Mayoral Debate Shakes Sensibilities, But Did It Alter the Standings?

Posted by Jackson Baker on Sun, Sep 27, 2009 at 10:21 AM

Before the Storm: Debaters Lowery, Chumney, Carpenter, and Wharton
  • JB
  • Before the Storm: Debaters Lowery, Chumney, Carpenter, and Wharton

For much of the way in Saturday night’s second televised mayoral debate, it was a legitimate question as to which participant was most prosecutorial:

Was it WREG anchor Richard Ransom, who consistently hounded the four candidates for their lack of candor, charging them with making “political” answers? Or attorney Charles Carpenter, who pressed a relentless attack against front-runner A C Wharton? Or Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery, who sternly marshaled evidence against both Carpenter and Wharton, interrupting their replies to one inquisition before whipping immediately to the next?

Even genial A C himself, the Shelby County mayor who seems headed to inevitable victory, largely on his capacity for being laid back and wearing well, got cranky and ad hominem once or twice.

The big surprise was the subdued final posture of Carol Chumney, the former damn-the-torpedoes councilwoman who had arguably got the mischief started by asserting that Wharton wanted to pile on new layers of bureaucracy and reactivating an old accusation that the county mayor had committed some hanky-panky in getting his car registered.

Declining, unlike the others, to take advantage of the opportunity, in the two-hour debate’s last half hour, to address direct questions to whomever she might choose for up to four minutes, Chumney explained that as mayor she might in the future have to “work with” one of her three opponents. So why would she want to rile things up now?

Her concerns would seem to be moot if the various polls conducted on the race so far are to be believed — notably the most recent one, done by Mason-Dixon for debate co-sponsors WREG and The Commercial Appeal (the activist organization MPact was the third sponsor).

That Mason-Dixon poll, on the basis of which the four contestants Saturday night were winnowed down from the 25 people on the ballot, showed Wharton with a 30-point lead on the three runners-up, with a serious chance of winning an absolute majority when the polls close on October 15.

No matter then that Wharton struck some as over-cautious, even a bit of a waffler, having made a somewhat generalized case for the success of his seven years as county mayor (though his claim to moving ahead on a Shelby Farms plan was acknowledged by critic Chumney). Or that his finest moment — one that earned him “courage” points from opponent Lowery — came when he acknowledged being “dead wrong” in allowing blogger/talk show host Thaddeus Matthews to use the N-word in his presence.

The fact is, as his intimates will confide, A C is no controversialist. He hates being cross with people or excluding anybody or anything from his good-natured consensus.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. It sometimes prevents him from making explicit cut-bait choices, but it’s what underlies his campaign exhortation to “come together as one Memphis,” a theme stated in his opening remarks Saturday night. And, beyond the money he’s raised or his ever-burgeoning list of endorsers or his long experience in and around local government, it’s what gives him his seemingly impervious 30-point lead.

They all hoisted their campaign personas in their opening remarks: Self-described man-of-action Lowery depicted himself through the slogan “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” Carpenter, insisting he was “not a politician” (shades of his longtime mentor Willie Herenton), promised to substitute a “business culture” for a “political culture.” Chumney assumed the role of civic crusader, vowing to “fight for you” (a note that many, even some longtime supporters, consider more appropriate to a legislator — Chumney served both in the legislature and on the council — than an executive).

Memes and themes: Neither Wharton nor Lowery missed an opportunity to remind listeners of their current stations in life, responding that they had “already” done something or other that was asked about. Chumney, co-opting Wharton’s “come-together” motif, alluded more than once to the “40 years in the wilderness” since the catastrophic events of 1968, when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, and it had to be an inattentive person indeed who missed Carpenter’s frequently stated resolve to prepare and act on a “comprehensive plan” for the city.

Astonishingly, given that everybody but Carpenter had previously gone on the line for city/county consolidation, that chestnut was never really warmed up — except indirectly in the direct-questioning portion of the forum — Carpenter demanding that Wharton cite something he’d done to facilitate unified services (“You must not have been paying attention,” the county mayor responded, citing his efforts to standardize and coordinate ambulance service); and Lowery chiding Wharton for allegedly letting seven years go by before getting serious about “one Shelby County.”

For obvious reasons, clear front-runner Wharton bore the brunt of most of the direct attacks. Sometimes things got ultra-personal. Carpenter was particularly slashing, at one point demanding to know how it was that the county mayor could utilize as campaign aides Bobby Lanier, Susan Adler Thorp, and Tom Jones, three longtime Wharton associates who, Carpenter insisted, had run afoul of ethical or legal guidelines. And both Carpenter and Wharton would be taxed by Lowery for using former Herenton intimate Reginald French in their campaigns.

Lowery also got Carpenter to own up to having earned some $5 million in work for the city over the 17 years of his mentor Herenton’s mayoralty.

Indeed, in the judgment of several observers (including this one), the acting mayor probably rose and shone more consistently than the others, though his final statement, (which was also the final statement of the night) was a somewhat risky defense of his “Hello Dalai” fist-bump moment, which Lowery seemed to be trying to escalate into a transcending piece of good P.R. for the city. (He might have been coaxed into that hubristic reprise by the playful way he had been introduced in the beginning by Ransom: "Myron 'I fist-bumped the Dalai Lama' Lowery.")

One concession to the vanished old order: A question asking the panelists to assign a letter grade to Mayor Herenton got mixed results. Lowery, the most specific grader, gave Herenton A through F, with the letter declining a step for each of the ex-mayor's five successive terms). All four candidates gave Herenton high marks for his accomplishments in upgrading the city's public housing.

And 9th district congressman Steve Cohen got some endorsements, too, when the candidates were asked to choose between him and his forthcoming reelection opponent Herenton. Lowery endorsed Cohen right away, and Chumney did, too, ultimately, after some prodding to choose from Ransom.

It remains to be seen if the mayoral-race standings got shifted to any appreciable degree, or how their exclusion from this debate might affect such other hopefuls as Jerry Lawler and Wanda Halbert and Kennth Whalum Jr..(As things got ready to go Saturday in the WREG studio, Ransom, who co-hosted with Claudia Barr, jested, “Everybody here but Prince Mongo?”) In any case, more debates or forums are to be held, including one on Tuesday night of this week sponsored by the Cordova Leadership Council at the Homebuilders headquarters on Germantown Parkway.

Comments (17)

Showing 1-17 of 17

Reflecting on that courage issue, I wondered why Myron didn 't appoint Veronica, come to the Council meeting, and lobby for the result he wanted rather than making Shea carry his water. Myron can endorse Cohen now because he hates Herenton and has been at odds with him for years.

Carol caved because, in my opinion, Cohen made her as a State Rep. (and I was around when it happened), and she's been on the outs with Willie in the past.

AC is trying to get along with Willie if it's possible (nothing wrong with that) and keep Willie on good enough behavior to be in the running for an endorsement from AC. Again, a good thing. And AC has every right to wonder where COHEN'S courage and endorsement are, after AC stepped up in a very public news conference to endorse HIM in Cohen's first election to a majority black district, when that endorsement was sorely needed.

Posted by Wintermute on 09/27/2009 at 11:10 AM

However, the Shelby County mayor said he would offer no endorsement as such in the congressional primary. “My friends are divided on the issue,” Wharton said. “Half of them want Cohen, and half of them are for Nikki Tinker. I don’t want to get in the middle of that.”…

Apparently, not even Tinker's ridiculous and offensive ads were enough to pull him off of the fence.

Posted by Tom.Joad on 09/27/2009 at 12:57 PM

Leaning even more towards Lowry, although I still wish Lawler had been there.

Posted by mad_merc on 09/27/2009 at 2:04 PM

I wonder why Jerry Lawler hasn't been invited to most of these debates . Is it because WREG or others in the media are strong Wharton supporters and Jerry would pose a serious threat in his own light-hearted kind of banter ? I'm just guessing .......

Posted by jp38119 on 09/27/2009 at 3:33 PM

I'm leaning towards Lowery myself; perhaps his smashingly hip debate introduction from Richard Ransom swayed me. Heh.

Posted by Phlo on 09/27/2009 at 4:21 PM

Wharton and Reginald has always been friends.

YES he was sent to the Carpenter Camp to SPY and Decieve!!! Reginald French was FIRED by Carpenter after proof of SPYING for Wharton's Camp!!!..Yes he is working in the Wharton's Camp today.

Wharton LIED!! just like he has lied to the public as to what he has done for the County which is NOTHING and will do the same thing in the CITY!!!

Gerald Fanion is the employee of Wharton whom is now campanigning for Wharton everyday. Is he doing this on County Time or is he doing it on his own time? This worth looking into.

Wharton took a small portion of his pay but did not fire him. Is he giving him BACK PAY by way of campaining for him?

Wharton You Are Just A Big Liar...Stop Lying To The Public!!!

Posted by stopliying on 09/27/2009 at 5:20 PM

i hope lawler resigns and endorses chumney...

Posted by Malcodislike on 09/27/2009 at 11:47 PM

Chumney came off as a total idiot. Carpenter sounded like Elmer Fudd. AC was cool and creamy. The winner was Myron Lowrey. I was thinking about voting for AC, but now, I may go with Lowrey. Myron is not afraid to tell the truth.
Also, he has a sense of humor. That will go a long way in helping the city pull together and get beyond race.

Posted by rantboy on 09/28/2009 at 12:02 AM

d) none of the above.

Posted by 38103 on 09/28/2009 at 9:55 AM

wake up people. cohen is supporting myron, hence the big "endorsement." have none of you seen his tv ad? cohen's all over it.

beat up on ac if you want, but get a clue about how politics works first. ac isn't going to endorse somebody who's actively working against him. duh.

Posted by truth38ll5 on 09/28/2009 at 11:26 AM

Thanks to Richard Ransom for asking the question I've been wanting to ask; who do you support in the 9th distict congressional race in 2010? This speaks to the vision each candidate has for our city. Mr. (I'm proud not to be a politician) Carpenter and Mayor Wharton, what is to think over? I realize you want Herenton supporters to vote for you but what about the needs of Memphis citizens? Ms. Chumney had to think about it but not Mayor Pro Tem Lowery. Why did Mayor Wharton seem surprised by the question? Did he expect the press to roll over? This is not the county. No more Herenton and no more racial division! We will have a better mayor but let's not lose Congressman Cohen.

Posted by Wimberley on 09/28/2009 at 11:40 AM

And your point truth38115?

Don't you mean Chumney step aside and endorse Lawler?

Hey, I've got it! How about a Lowry/Lawler tag team. The World Heavy Weight Tag Team Mayors. Hell it's crazy enough to work in Memphis.

Posted by mad_merc on 09/28/2009 at 11:43 AM

Thanks to Richard Ransom for asking the question I have been wanting to ask; who do you support in the 9th district congressional race in 2010? This speaks to the vision each candidate has for our city. We saw Mr. (I'm proud not to be a politician) Carpenter and County Mayor Wharton play politics in an attempt to gain votes from Congressman Cohen and Willie Herenton supporters. What about the needs of Memphis citizens? Ms. Chumney had to think about it but not Mayor Pro Tem Lowery. Why wait to endorse? You all know these two men and their capabilities very well. Why did AC Wharton seem so surprised? Did he expect the press to roll over? No more Herenton and no more racial division! We will have a better mayor but let's not lose Congressman Cohen.

Posted by Wimberley on 09/28/2009 at 11:55 AM

I am officially endorsing Myron "Mr.Fist-Bump" Lowrey. He is on the right track.

Posted by rantboy on 09/28/2009 at 1:30 PM

Myron Lowery, you have my vote.

Posted by marie on 09/28/2009 at 2:48 PM

Myron! You're the only man who can bring this thing together!

Posted by alankwellsmsmbaetc on 09/28/2009 at 7:48 PM

The elites and the organizations of the status quo want AC because they know he is in their pocket and they control him like a puppet. They don't want real change and change that's good for the city. For crying out loud AC campaigned for Herenton. They are on the same team. It's time we the people took our city back from the people that only care about lining their pockets. We need Jerry Lawler. The elites are so afraid of him they don't even allow him on the debates. Wake up and take our city back from the people that could care less about it.

Posted by motionfrequency on 09/30/2009 at 5:48 PM
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