The song "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" blared over the public address system in a Cook Convention Center ballroom Thursday as supporters of Willie Herenton pushed toward the stage where the mayor delivered his victory speech.
The emcee barked "he shook the haters off" into the microphone, as the jubilant crowd roared its approval.
Campaign manager Charles Carpenter set, or at least reinforced, the celebration's defiant tone in his introduction to Herenton's comments. "Reporters ask me, 'What's the difference between this race and 2003?' In 2003, the mayor, who had been doing an excellent job at that time, had business community support and white community support. But this election, he had little of either," Carpenter said.
Herenton took the microphone on a stage crowded with familiar faces, including former Memphis Light, Gas & Water head Joseph Lee, blogger and former Herenton-hater Thaddeus Matthews, attorney Robert Spence, Memphis police director Larry Godwin, and former councilwoman TaJuan Stout Mitchell.
"I'm in a very serious mood," he told the crowd, before thanking God for his favor. "It is out of this favor that we received this victory tonight. I now know who is for me and ... who is against me. I thank God for discerning."
Herenton thanked the friends who he said had supported him unconditionally. "I appreciate loyalty," he said. "This election was hard for me. There were people [who] I thought were with me, and I found out, they weren't.
"I'm going to be nice tonight," Herenton continued, "but there are some mean, mean-spirited people in Memphis. These are the haters. I know how to shake them off," he said, his next words lost in the applause.
"Memphis has some major decisions to make. Memphis has to decide whether or not we want to be one city, or ... a divided city," he continued.
He mocked the "haters," anticipating their criticisms of him: "He didn't get many white votes."
The mayor recalled two incidents in which he perceived racism. He said that a "90 percent white" crowd at a University of Memphis basketball game booed his honoring DeAngelo Williams with a key to the city. "I know the haters are going to say I need to pull the races together — I didn't separate us."
He then told of his television appearance with Justin Timberlake, remembering the audience as "95 percent young white kids who booed me on national television. The white citizens of Memphis were not in outrage. Nobody wrote letters and said that was shameful."
Herenton did single out his "few white brothers who have stuck with me," including developer Rusty Hyneman and used-car salesman Mark Goodfellow.
Returning to whites other than those few, Herenton warned, "If you're not careful, they'll work a game on you. They have psychology."