Summing up: To no one's surprise, Memphis mayor Willie Herenton won a record fourth term last week, garnering almost 70 percent of the vote (72,043) while his closest competitor, Shelby County commissioner John Willingham, finished with 25 percent (25,656).
Turnout was low for the election (23.4 percent, including two weeks of early voting), both because of the lack of suspense in the mayor's race and most other races and because of rainy weather for the last two hours that the polls were open on Thursday.
Two races for the District 5 City Council seat and the District 1 school board seat, both open will require runoff elections on November 13th. The council race will be contested between state Rep. Carol Chumney, who had 38 percent of the vote (6,578), and businessman/physician George Flinn, with 31 percent (5,207). A third candidate, lawyer Jim Strickland, came close with 26 percent (4,479) but suffered from relatively meager name recognition despite running a spirited race.
Both survivors promptly began courting Strickland: Chumney for an endorsement and Flinn for benevolent neutrality. Strickland himself was keeping his own counsel.
Businessman Scott McCormick, who ran a low-key but well-financed and organized race, got a resounding vote (16,881) in the crowded field of candidates for Super-District 9, Position 1, ousting long-term incumbent Pat Vander Schaaf (10,046), who clearly fell victim to the same voter discontent that saw her ex-husband, Clair VanderSchaaf, deposed from his seat last year.
In the week that former Juvenile Court clerk Shep Wilbun was indicted, the presence of the squeaky-clean current clerk, Steve Stamson, at the winner's victory party underscored the new-broom aspect of McCormick's victory.
McCormick, the endorsee of the Shelby County Republican Party, experienced surprisingly little drainage from his vote totals due to campaigning by two other active Republican candidates, Arnold Weiner and Don Murphree, and by an independent candidate, businessman Lester Lit, who evidently had peaked weeks earlier. Third-place finisher Lit (8,656) may have actually garnered votes that ordinarily would have gone to Vander Schaaf, a moderate Republican whose party membership is largely nominal.
The District 1 school board runoff matches lawyer J. Bailey, son of Shelby County commissioner Walter Bailey (3,340), against FedEx administrator Willie Brooks (3,082), who has support from several public officials. The two are separated by a razor-thin margin, as were incumbent city court clerk Thomas Long (40,049) and his major challenger, former radio talk-show host Janis Fullilove (39,464). The latter race, however, was citywide and thus doesn't qualify for a runoff under judicial rulings which limit runoffs to district elections in which no candidate receives a majority in the first balloting.
An expected close race for the council in District 1 between incumbent E.C. Jones and challenger Wyatt Bunker failed to develop, with Jones (6,575, 55 percent) winning easily over Bunker (4,238, 35 percent). Bunker was clearly hurt by last-minute reports that he claimed legal residence in a mini-storage facility.
For Kemp Conrad, chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party, Thursday's results were something of a vindication. Of six GOP endorsees running for council positions (three of whom, incumbents Tom Marshall and Jack Sammons in Super-District 9 positions and unopposed incumbent Brent Taylor in District 2, were gimmes), only Bunker fell short. And Conrad, who had withstood criticism from Willingham and the commissioner's partisans concerning the chairman's noninvolvement in the mayor's race, might well have taken satisfaction from the mayoral challenger's disappointing showing one which he predicted before, during, and after Willingham's challenge to the incumbent.
Citizens who attended Monday's meeting of the Shelby County Commission acquired a good deal of revealing information. They learned that FedEx pilot Cletus McDonel, a petitioner on Monday, runs a nine-minute mile. They learned that Commissioner Walter Bailey is a professed fan of Shakespeare. And they learned, perhaps most importantly, that a power struggle exists on the commission between veterans and rookies, or between haves and have-nots, or, as one dissatisfied commissioner evidently would have it, between slaves and their masters.
McDonel's running statistics figured into proceedings only in that the Windyke resident, there to protest a new cell tower being voted on, measured the distance between his home and the potentially intrusive tower as "well less than a mile." He knew, he said, because it took him only seven minutes to run to the site and nine minutes to do a full mile.
Although McDonel cited technical procedures that allowed cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to substitute smaller and more numerous relay devices instead of towering structures of the sort proposed Monday by Tower Ventures, he and other complainants failed to sway the commission, which voted to approve the construction in southeast Shelby County of a cell tower whose height will be something over 125 feet.
The new tower, which was spoken for by representatives of the Nextel and Sprint cellular-phone companies, is designed to fill in an area of weak or spotty reception just now, one which contains the sprawling FedEx complex.
The only nay vote on the tower matter came from first-term commissioner Joyce Avery, who belonged to a somewhat larger minority on the major point of contention Monday. Ostensibly, the argument was over whether veteran commissioner (and recent commission chairman) Walter Bailey or Deidre Malone, another first-termer, should chair the commission's education committee.
Although the committee chairmanship itself was something of an issue in that some commissioners, notably David Lillard, yet another first-termer, feared that Bailey might be too active a proponent of city/county school consolidation, the real challenge was to the existing power structure of the commission. After all, Malone, who was slated to be Bailey's vice chairman within the committee structure proposed two weeks ago by Chairman Marilyn Loeffel, is a consolidation proponent too.
But Malone, a Democrat, has formed a working partnership with fellow freshmen Bruce Thompson and David Lillard, both Republicans and both eager, like her, to challenge the powers-that-be.
For most of the past year, Thompson had floated a candidacy to become chairman instead of Loeffel, who was chairman pro tem during the chairmanship of Democrat Bailey and was slated to ascend to the chairmanship as a matter of routine. As it turned out, she was elected unanimously last month, but only because Thompson realized he was shy of enough votes to defeat her and withdrew.
Lillard, for his part, has been a constant goad to the veterans on the commission especially Bailey and longtime budget chairman Cleo Kirk on the issue of revamping the body's established budget procedures.
It was Lillard who made a motion Monday to amend Loeffel's committee assignments so as to name Malone chairman of the education committee, with himself, an opponent of consolidation, as vice chairman. An offended Bailey, after noting that he was an admirer of the Bard, called the whole thing a matter of "Shakespearean cloak-and-dagger maneuvers" and said the newcomers' "machinations" had put the commission "in a state of perpetual unrest."
Bailey got some backup, notably from Commissioner Joe Ford, who defended the prerogatives of Chairman Loeffel and called the challenge from Malone et al. "embarrassing." But Malone had her backers, too; besides Lillard and Thompson, they included Avery and Tom Moss, suburbanites who may have been influenced by a desire to have at least one anti-consolidation commissioner represented in the leadership of the education committee.
On the issue of bucking tradition, Thompson said pointedly that he and the four other first-term commissioners were elected precisely because change was needed and added, of Bailey's remark about newcomers fomenting unrest, "I choose to take that as a compliment."
Though Malone lost the vote and lost even her own motion to be excused from serving as vice chairman to Bailey on the education committee ("It's slavery," she protested audibly), she along with Thompson and Lillard is likely to be the fount of many a future challenge to seniority and its privileges.
This fight has just begun.
"I've just got to keep on running. Folks say the campaign is over. No, it is not. I just have to keep on running. Otherwise, the problems will catch up with me."
That thrust, delivered tongue-in-cheek by Mayor A C Wharton at Tuesday's meeting of Memphis Rotarians at the Cook Convention Center, is as good an epigram as any for the administrative style of the well-intentioned charmer who presides over the increasingly ragged financial picture of Shelby County. Wharton didn't solve any problems Tuesday. (Who has lately?) But he delivered several forthright judgments. Among them:
Passage by the County Commission of a rural school bonds issue to build a new high school at Arlington was arguably "one of the smarter things we've ever done," even though it may have "chiseled in stone" a precedent for separating the destinies of city and county systems.
Overall, the use of TIFs (tax increment fees) and PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) to attract industry to Shelby County are "a good deal that ... keep us in the hunt," even though county trustee Bob Patterson reckons the annual tax loss to the county at $34 million.
The state's appropriation of the lion's share of $50 million in federal funds attracted to Tennessee by programs of The Med is "dead wrong" and must be subject to change.
The "adequate facilities tax" on new developments Wharton proposed last year remains a good idea, and, of those who oppose it, the mayor said, "It's one-time-money. If somebody's operating on that kind of margin, they've got other problems."