Ten Inconvenient Truths

As early voting for mayor begins, can anyone win this thing?



1) There is a very good chance that the winner of the mayor's race will be rejected by half the voters and a good chance that the winner will be rejected by six out of 10 voters.

2) Things could be worse, and maybe they have been. In 1971, 1975, and 1979, a charismatic mayoral candidate given to fits of ego, arrogance, candor, and foibles in his bachelor lifestyle rallied his political base while writing off the "other" racial group and won a narrow victory. His name was Wyeth Chandler, and he was mayor from 1972 to 1982. The Peabody was closed. Downtown was emptying out. The Martin Luther King Jr. assassination was a recent memory, not a chapter in the history books. Firemen went on strike as buildings burned. Chandler got almost all the white vote and almost none of the black vote.

3) Willie Herenton increasingly refers to himself in the third person. This is not a good thing in Memphis or any other city.

4) Herenton has seemingly written off many of his former supporters, although his special assistant, Pete Aviotti, thinks he will get 65 percent of the vote. When Chandler hunkered down with his white base in 1975 and 1979, black Memphians, who were then slightly in the minority, said it was tragic. If Herenton gets almost none of the white vote after serving 16 years, it will be no less tragic today.

5) Herman Morris is Republican retro, from his supporters, who include John Ryder, Minerva Johnican, and Lewis Donelson, to his big house in Midtown, which was lit up like Christmas while his neighbors were still in the dark after Hurricane Elvis (luck of the grid, it was said) to his membership on corporate boards that pay more for meetings than most people earn.

6) It is well and good that Morris, who grew up in Binghamton, went to Rhodes and Vanderbilt Law School and has a very nice family. But it is telling that, until he was a candidate for mayor, he did not often attend neighborhood meetings in either his current or former neighborhoods of Evergreen and Vollintine-Evergreen.

7) If there was a public institution less open to scrutiny than MLGW under Morris (and Herenton, who appointed the board), it would be hard to name it. The place was a fortress. Its board made a mockery of open meetings by going into executive session in the morning and a perfunctory public session after lunch. Sure, the notorious Morris VIP list included Mom and some corporate chiefs. But it also included Morris pals at The Commercial Appeal, which conveniently low-balled the details of the retirement package Morris sought and Herenton rejected back in 2003.

8) Carol Chumney will speak truth to power, but what if she had the power? As a candidate, her favorite word often seems to be I, as in "what I did." Being mayor is about "we." An election is partly a popularity contest. In other circumstances, Chumney's distance from her council colleagues would be understandable, even admirable, given that two of them were indicted. As a mayoral candidate, it's a legitimate concern.

9) What about me? asks John Willingham. True, candidates have run on flimsier credentials, and Willingham is a former elected county commissioner with the endorsement of the local Republican Party steering committee. But when he had a one-on-one shot at an already weakened Herenton in 2003, he got about 30 percent of the vote. Only in college football do you expect a rematch after losing 70-30.

10) Chumney and Morris have a better chance than Willingham, but he won't support either of them. Enough said.

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