Mayoral Debate Gets Personal, On and Off Camera

Strickland and Wharton mix it up as five candidates appear together on TV; former Councilman makes charge of collusion.

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Though they exchanged cordial glances early on, mayoral candidates Harold collins (left) and Jim Strickland played independent hands Monday night. - JB
  • JB
  • Though they exchanged cordial glances early on, mayoral candidates Harold collins (left) and Jim Strickland played independent hands Monday night.
Even before five candidates for Mayor mixed it up in a televised debate Monday night that included more than a few insults and accusations, things had already taken an overtly, personal turn on social media.

In an online open letter to City Councilman Harold Collins, who would be among the mayoral hopefuls appearing on the telecast on WMC-TV, Action News 5, former City Councilman Edmund Ford Sr. charged that Collins was “working together” with his Council colleague Jim Strickland, also a mayoral candidate, to get Strickland elected.

“How else would you explain how close and friendly you two are?” asked Ford “You two play real nice with one another….[Y]ou are in the race pull black votes away from A C Wharton and help Strickland walk in to be the next mayor.”

Ford’s open letter was on top of the more conventional efforts of his son, current Councilman Edmund Ford Jr., to influence the election outcome on behalf of incumbent Mayor Wharton.

As it happened, during the Monday night debate Collins was fairly even-handed vis-a-vis Wharton and Strickland, at one point making a show of apologizing to the watching audience for what he described as the “Tom and Jerry” antics of his two opponents as they went after each other in no-holds-barred fashion.

For, although Collins did have criticism for the policies and performance current Mayor, as did Memphis Police association president Mike Williams, the main action Monday night was a head-on battle between Strickland and Wharton, in which the Mayor accused the Council budget chairman of being a “Dr. No” who pared down programs of value to the city and Strickland retaliated by saying Wharton had tried to be “Noah” in inflating his administrative staff with two of everything.

The two would frequently accuse each other not only of unfair attacks but of misrepresenting their own positions. Borrowing a warm-up phrase from debate emcee Joe Birch, who had called Memphis “a city on the move,” Wharton would identify his administration with that accolade, while Strickland would sound his customary alarms that the city had become unsafe and was draining population under Wharton.

Meanwhile, Collins and Williams, operating from different ends of the long table that all five contestants stood behind, made reasoned cases for themselves — Collins as a proven Council activist and sponsor of numerous development projects and Williams as a man of judgment and a spokesman for popular wants who could be contrasted with opponents who had already been in a position to improve the city’s outlook and muffed their opportunity.

A fifth wheel of sorts was Sharon Webb, the former School Board member who had run for Mayor previously in the special election of 2009 and, during her only televised debate appearance that year, had drawn a blank while attempting to answer one policy question, saying only, “I don’t know’ after an embarrassingly lengthy pause.

Though she was clearly handcuffed by a panelist’s technical-sounding question on water policy, Webb was better prepared in general Monday night and achieved a measure of passion and eloquence in expressing the idea that “it is time for a woman to take over, it is no longer time for women to be second-class citizens.”

More details and analysis to follow:


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