Politics » Politics Feature

A Mayoral Battle Royale in Memphis?

If the field develops as expected, A C wharton could get a run for his money.

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Now, this is getting interesting!

Within the past couple of weeks, the roster of candidates for Memphis mayor in 2015 has gotten more complete, more complicated, and maybe more competitive. And there's obviously room for more in all the above categories.

First, there was the announcement, the week before last, of Jim Strickland, the District 5 city councilman whose support along the Poplar Corridor is generally understood to be deep enough to give incumbent Mayor A C Wharton a run for his money.

Then there was the almost simultaneous announcement from Shelby County Commission Chairman Justin Ford that he, too, is considering a run for mayor. Dropping hints of running such-and-such a race is a standard means of raising one's name recognition for all kinds of future-tense political possibilities, but there are several reasons why such a declaration from the 20-something Ford, a second-termer on the commission, has to be regarded as more than fanciful ego-tripping.

First of all, he is a Ford, and that political clan still counts for something. Secondly, he demonstrated with his surprise election this year as commission chairman — an outcome that depended on Democrat Ford's building a bridge to the commission's Republican minority for support — that he possesses an ability to politick.

Then, too, Ford has nothing to lose by running. As he demonstrated by his strong — if ultimately unsuccessful — lobbying two years ago for the commission to redistrict itself according to the old formula of large, multi-member districts, he is interested in obtaining the maximum possible arena for expanding his name recognition.

To say the least, a mayoral campaign would give him that. Meanwhile, a loss would leave him still in possession of his current bully pulpit on the commission. And who knows? If the mayoral field proliferates as it might, the campaign might take on battle-royale proportions with fair chances for several candidates to win.

Councilman Harold Collins, who appointed an exploratory committee last fall, is likely to throw his hat in, and he will have a fair degree of clout, especially in Whitehaven and South Memphis, where Ford also has strength.

Another who is likely to enter the race is the Rev. Kenneth Whalum, former Memphis School Board member and pastor of New Olivet Baptist Church, whose strong showing in last year's Democratic primary for Shelby County mayor surprised even him.

And still another is Mike Williams, whose lengthy tenure as president of the Memphis Police Association over the past several stormy years of confrontation with City Hall have made him a figure to reckon with.

Williams addressed a standing-room-only crowd Monday night at a "Campaign for Liberty" event at Jason's Deli on Poplar. The audience was oriented toward Tea Party concerns about govermental interventions and corporate rip-offs, and seemed receptive to Williams' free-wheeling populist remarks on themes of chicanery in city government, loss of citizen influence, and predatory actions by moneyed interests.

Throw in former county commission Chairman James Harvey, already declared, and you have the makings of a field that could split unpredictably in numerous ways.

Understand: Incumbent Mayor Wharton may be increasingly under fire, but he has serious financial support. He has dedicated followers and a seasoned political organization. And, most importantly, he has the office, with all its potential for commanding public attention. But he isn't taking anything for granted. Nor should we.

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