So it turns out that Mayor Willie Herenton's claim, some months back, to be the victim of a lurid blackmail plot by his election opponents was just some sort of elementary overture. His latest claim, delivered from the same podium in the Hall of the Mayors at City Hall on Wednesday, may exceed the other one -- both from the standpoint of sensationalism and (though not in the sense he would like) on the elementary smell test.
As before, the mayor invoked higher authority -- or, rather, stood by supportively while city attorney Elbert Jefferson did, calling for investigations by the state Election Commission and the Justice Department. This time the culprit is not dishonest lawyers and scheming snakes but the Diebold voting machines that have been recording Memphians' early-voting choices since last Friday.
Herenton declined to answer a direct question as to whether his "suspicion" about the machines was that they just didn't work right or that they were designed to work against him. But, having asked Jefferson to make an "independent" case for defective voting results in the Hall of the Mayors, the mayor then stepped outside -- maybe 100 yards away from his original podium but directly under the sign of the city's Great Seal atop City Hall -- and supported that position, citing the 1974 congressional election of Harold Ford Sr. and his own first mayoral victory in 1991 as cases where vigilance by African Americans prevented fabricated vote totals
Herenton kept a straight face fore and aft of Jefferson's role in the proceedings. He withdrew to the background while Jefferson made the same case to gathered reporters that the mayor had begun making the previous day -- namely, that there had been "numerous" complaints from voters that the Diebold machines had been recording their votes incorrectly. Then, after Jefferson announced that the city would seek a legal halt to the voting, the press conference adjourned in order to reconvene just outside the building
There "candidate" Herenton solemnly maintained that he had not in any influenced Jeffersons decision, suggested that anecdotal reports the early voting numbers were against him were in error, and that as a candidate he had no need, therefore, to stop the voting. (Inside, he had said, he was not involved in the vote-halting stratagem as mayor, "but only to protect the citizens of Memphis.")
Though he continued to proclaim that he was but a disinterested observer, Herenton did make a point of recapitulating the two prior campaigns where voter fraud was suspected and said that African Americans as a group had little faith in the election process.
It was somewhat off the point of his press conference theme, but the mayor ceased being high-minded long enough to contend that the current election was between himself and City Council member Carol Chumney, and that an "individual" he declined to name -- presumably former MLGW Herman Morris -- had no mathematical chance to win.
Herenton did not thereby consign Morris to the rank of snake, however, as he had those individuals he accused of complicity in the earlier disclosed "blackmail" plot involving felony suspect Gwen Smith as the alleged pawn of conspirators hoping to defeat his reelection.
It was no great surprise that Morris, Chumney, and others hastened to discount this latest conspiracy scenario, as, apparently, did the county Election Commission, whose chairman, Myra Styles, had pointed out the various built-in fail-safe remedies to early voters -- including a final page recapping votes cast on the entire ballot.
Reporters at the outdoor press conference attempted to remind Herenton and attorney Charles Carpenter of those safeguards, but neither appeared to be convinced.
It remained to be seen what response was forthcoming from the state Election Commission and the Justice Department.