News media were notified Thursday that Mayor Willie Herenton will make "a special announcement" at 11:30 a.m. in City Hall.
There were no details in the e-mail from the mayor's office. City Council Chairman Myron Lowery, who would become interim mayor if Herenton resigns, said he was not told to be there and does not know the nature of the announcement.
Fueled by staff departures and the mayor's apparently sincere interest in running for Congress, the chatter level about an imminent Willie Herenton resignation has moved to orange, and maybe borderline red.
A person close to the mayor says he will not finish out his term and possibly will resign before Labor Day. This person has not previously predicted a Herenton resignation. Last week, chief administrative officer Keith McGee announced his retirement. But when I interviewed McGee on Monday, he said nothing about the mayor retiring and denied having so much as a conversation about working on his congressional campaign. McGee's retirement was sudden, and he has no job waiting for him, although he can draw a nice pension to tide himself over.
Herenton is famously motivated by a challenge, and in this case the challenge is running for Congress in the face of his plunging popularity. A couple of Herenton's oldest friends are supporting Congressman Steve Cohen. Maxine Smith confirmed her support of Cohen in a Flyer interview, and former school board member and judge George Brown is also supporting Cohen. Associates of the mayor say he was hurt by those endorsements. Former congressman Harold Ford, a Herenton supporter who became a Herenton rival, is also supporting Cohen.
A Herenton resignation would set off a chain of events that could last until well into 2010, depending on the timing. City Council chairman Myron Lowery would become interim mayor if it happened in 2009. Lowery and Rhodes College professor Steve Wirls probably know more about the city charter and its complicated succession rules than anyone in Memphis (except George Brown who, like Lowery, was on the Charter Commission; Wirls was an adviser). In a special election, a simple plurality in what would probably be a crowded field of candidates would send the winner to City Hall. If Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton makes good on his stated intention to run for city mayor (he is term limited from running again for county mayor), then the county mayor's job could also be up for grabs, depending on whether Wharton resigned to run for city mayor and, of course, whether or not he would win it. The next scheduled city election is in 2011 while the county election is in 2010.