Speaking modestly but confidently, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton took the first concrete steps Wednesday evening toward a run for Memphis mayor in 2011 -- or earlier. Addressing a crowd of several hundred attending a $500-a-head fund-raiser at The Racquet Club, Wharton said, "I will not be launching any kind of formal campaign yet," and cautioned his audience that anybody "expecting to hear some grand announcement or possibly receive some yard signs for distribution is going to be disappointed."
That caveat having been uttered, along with a reminder that "2011 is a good ways off," Wharton went on to make it clear that his hat was very much in the ring for the right to succeed as mayor of Memphis his longtime friend Willie Herenton, a public figure currently bedeviled by persistent rumors of pending legal problems.
Looking beyond the expiration of his current term as county mayor, which ends after the county general election of 2010, Wharton said, "I have elected to remain in the weal of public service." He said his zeal had only gained steam in recent years, and that "my head is still filled with ways to make connections ... and address our challenges."
Therefore, he assured the crowd, "You'll be hearing from me."
The county mayor maintained a light tone in the few improvisations he permitted himself. At one point, acknowledging several of the numerous prominent people in the crowd, he mused out loud, "I see (county) commissioner Sidney Chisms hat. I guess he's under it."
Most of what Wharton had to say was from a prepared statement which he read -- after several jests to the effect that his wife, Ruby Wharton, had warned him to avoid extemporizing "old crazy stuff that I'll hear about for weeks to come." Further along that line, he maintained, "Ruby is always saying to me, 'No man is totally useless. He can always serve as a bad example.'"
Brandishing the several sheets of paper that constituted his formal statement, Wharton quipped, "It's better to read it rather than listen to a critique for the next three weeks." He called the written speech "a warranty to keep me from getting in trouble." And, indeed, he avoided such potentially controversial topics as city/county consolidation, which he has pledged to pursue.
Instead, he praised the community he intends to lead and made passing references to such policy areas as public finance, schools, and health care.
Just as he avoided unleashing any heavy thunder in his remarks, the newly fledged candidate made an effort to downplay any grandiose expectations on the part of his supporters. He dismissed as "ridiculous" the idea that "anybody could dry up all the money" with an early entry into the city mayor's race. But from the looks of the throng Wednesday night, he'd made a good start.