Carol Chumney ended her campaign for city mayor at 10 o'clock Thursday night, in the same aggressive spirit that distinguished her term on the Memphis City Council. Promising to "work with Mayor Herenton any way I can" in her concession speech, she nevertheless took the opportunity to launch a final volley at the city leadership, saying, "We have sent a message that Memphis deserves better."
The parting shot at Mayor Herenton rallied the crowd of more than a hundred close supporters and volunteers gathered in the Peabody's Continental Ballroom, most of whom hadn't seen their candidate in person since the election results were announced on television. For many, it was clearly a cathartic end to a long and exhausting day.
Earlier, as the first few precinct reports trickled in by word of mouth, the mood at Chumney's election night party was buoyant, if slightly tense, and continued to remain so even as the early returns showed Mayor Herenton with a significant lead. But by the end of the night, with the outcome all but certain, any trace of that early hope had given way to sore discontent.
"I'm disappointed in the people of Memphis," said longtime Chumney supporter Zenia Revitz. "I can't believe that they didn't open their eyes and see what's going on in this community." Her reaction may have best captured the mixed emotions felt by those present, as she quickly qualified her remark by adding, "So far, that is. We're only at 50 percent," referring to the number of precincts still uncounted. No one at the event was willing to fully give up the chance of a turnaround until it became unmistakably clear that none would come.
Another strong supporter, Joan Solomon, summarized what many at the party saw as a flawed election process, stating, "Everyone who voted for Morris was voting for Herenton."
A Rasmussen poll commissioned by WHBQ Fox-13, taken just days before the election, showed that in a two-way race against Herenton, either Chumney or Morris would have won with a comfortable majority. Together, the two candidates provided the embattled mayor with the chance to win a fifth term with 42 percent of the vote.
The message of the Chumney campaign was strongly populist, and as such, their election strategy was centered around volunteer support. Noting in her concession speech that she was "outspent probably about two to one," the councilwoman credited "hundreds of volunteers" with a large measure of her success. Campaign manager Charles Blumenthal was also quick to praise the campaign's unpaid workers, calling the operation "a well-oiled machine," adding that out of 14 full-time staff, only four were paid.
Indeed, it was a different campaign from what one usually sees in Memphis. It began with little money and very little financial support from the business community. What fund-raising momentum there was didn't come until the final month of the race. Chumney's largest donations came from labor unions and trade associations, with most of the city's old money going to Herman Morris.
Also remarkable was the fact that compared with the two other major candidates, few current or former elected officials endorsed Chumney, with only two notables present at the election night event. State representative Mike Kernell, long an ally and friend of Chumney's, was there, along with freshman Shelby County commissioner Steve Mulroy, who appeared with her onstage. Otherwise, the rest of her support appeared to come from family, friends, activists, and more than a few political neophytes.
While there were more whites than blacks at Chumney's final campaign stop, Chumney was pleased by the support she received from predominantly black neighborhoods. "There were some [African-American] precincts where I was running at 30 percent," she said. "It made me feel good."
After the loss, Chumney was upbeat but expressed disappointment in the low turnout: "The people who didn't vote should be kicking themselves because this was their chance to make a change."
Ineligible to run for mayor and City Council at the same time, Chumney is out of public office for the first time in many years. After finishing the remainder of her council term, she said she plans to return to her private law practice, but she was otherwise undecided on any future political plans.
"Who knows?" she said. "We'll see what the future holds."