Willie Herenton on the Specter of Voter Crossover



Ex-mayor Herenton laughs it up Saturday with Chism and Mike Gray
  • JB
  • Ex-mayor Herenton laughs it up Saturday with Chism and Mike Gray
Willie Herenton has the mike and is using it to broadcast his grievances loud and large over the speaker system at his friend Sidney Chism’s Saturday kickoff event in the Plaza Shopping Center mall on south Elvis Presley Boulevard.

“…We got nothing we need to apologize for,” he is concluding. “We didn’t put people in chains and bring them over here against their will.” This and similar remarks make up the peroration of his introduction of county commissioner Chism, who is running for reelection, and when he turns the microphone over, Chism continues in that vein:

“No, we got nothing to apologize for.” But it turns out there is something that requires an apology, or at least an act of atonement.” We got to clean up what you messed up. Yeah, you got to clean up what you sho’ messed up!”

Both men are talking about the same thing — the need, as they see it, hoping that the rest of the city’s African-American population agrees, for a reversion to black occupancy of the 9th District congressional office won by then state Senator Steve Cohen, at least partly with Herenton’s help, in 2006. Herenton, who contends he is defending the principle of equal representation, is now determined to unseat Cohen, whom he has referred to publicly as an "asshole."

It is Chism’s event, and the well-known political broker has enough clout to attract a passel of other candidates and office-holders to his event: interim county mayor Joe Ford, for example, whose mayoral campaign occupies the space next door to Chism’s and who shortly delivers a testimonial to his erstwhile fellow commissioner.

But Herenton is the reigning celebrity here and has already altered the character of the event merely by his presence. And, though his public stemwinder is over with, he hasn’t got everything off his chest.

He heads over my way, and, after a few comments on how his run for Congress is going — “I’m campaigning hard. I’ve been working every goddamned day!” — he begins to dilate on “media bias” against him, citing as the latest instance of it the final paragraph of an “In Brief” item by The Commercial Appeal’s Bartholomew Sullivan in that morning’s paper.

The offending passage comes at the end of some matter-of-fact graphs about Herenton’s having filing his petition for office on the preceding day and a short statement from the former Memphis mayor on his desire to serve in Congress as “a continuation of public service.”

Then Sullivan notes that, on the same day as Herenton’s filing, District Attorney General Bill Gibbons had given up the ghost on his lagging gubernatorial campaign, thereby, Sullivan notes, “potentially freeing some GOP voters to cross party lines and vote in the Democratic primary.”

Well, I comment, the observation seems true enough. Cohen has always enjoyed some Republican crossover (paradoxically, given his simultaneous reputation as the leading liberal light in these parts). And Gibbons’ withdrawal as a favorite-son candidate for governor in the Republican primary would surely facilitate the fact.

“But who’s crossing over?” Herenton demands. I agree that most of the crossover voters, if such there be, will, in fact, be white. At that, the former mayor — who in his middle years as mayor, especially in his 1999 re-election campaign against Joe Ford, could claim a generous share of white and Republican votes himself — looks vindicated.

“If I say it, I’m playing the race card. To me that’s the race card!” he proclaims.

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