A couple of months ago, former
Shelby County mayor Bill Morris, then thinking in mainly hypothetical terms
about a possible race for Memphis mayor of his own against incumbent Willie
Herenton, opined to a luncheon group of self-styled "Politicos" that Herenton
would be an easy winner over a field that was then presumed to include city
council member Carol Chumney, former MLGW head Herman Morris, and ex-Shelby
County Commissioner John Willingham.
When Morris was asked again this week about the mayor's race, he saw a radically changed picture. He now perceived Herenton as vulnerable to the point that the mayor might actually consider withdrawing, with Shelby County mayor A C Wharton (who is being relentlessly hotboxed to make a race by high-ranking civic sorts) hovering ever nearer in the wings. And, though Bill Morris ventured no hint of his own intentions, whatever impulse had caused him to think about running in the first place had to have been enhanced by intervening events.
Mainly two new polls which, the Flyer has learned, not only show Herenton in significant decline with the electorate - both white and black-- but reveal that Chumney's two-years' worth of high-profile challenges to the mayor have elevated her to first place among the candidates now in the field.
Businessman Karl Schledwitz, who commissioned one of the polls (from veteran pollster/strategist John Bakke), acknowledged that Chumney seems to be in first place as of now and - to answer something that political junkies have wondered about incessantly - is doing well among the city's black voters in addition to its disenchanted whites. Herman Morris, still working on his name recognition among voters at large, lags behind, and Willingham is further back still.
Another poll, reportedly taken by lawyer Richard Fields, is said to contain similar findings.
One of Herman Morris' mainstays, lawyer John Ryder, was philosophical about the results. "This will obviously buoy Carol, but it won't hold up over the long haul. Meanwhile, Willie will have to be pleased." Ryder maintained that Morris was the mayor's chief threat in the long term, and that what he saw as Chumney's short-term strength might actually be of some benefit to Herenton.
Other observers conjecture that Wharton, who said earlier this month that he would not run against Herenton, will rethink that position. "He'll definitely run if Herenton drops out, and there's a 30 percent chance that he'll run even if Herenton stays in," opined one. (For his part, the county mayor told the Flyer this week that he'd had conversations on he subject but that he wouldn't "kiss and tell" concerning the contents.)
If nothing else, the new polling results have alerted political insiders, most of whom had only vague suspicions beforehand, to the very real prospect of profound change at the ballot box this fall, both in the mayoral results and in elections for city council positions.
(Further details, including exact numbers, will come when and if made available.)