First, the good news: The Memphis municipal election of 2007 involved some of the more interesting cross-cultural campaigning, in both the racial and the political senses, that we can remember in recent political history. In particular, white candidates made more
overt appeals to black voters than has been customary of late. A high point (if that is the right term) was the extravagant public claim of also-ran candidate John Willingham, a white Republican, that he was the candidate of black Memphians and had no fewer than 13,000 African-American votes locked up early on.
In this case, the very claim — not the reality of it — was the message.
Now, the bad news: The Memphis municipal election of 2007 involved some of the more flagrant appeals to racial divisiveness that we can remember in recent political history. In particular, Mayor Willie Herenton, who knows better, made several calculated appeals to racial solidarity based on the dubious assumption that there are, on the white side of town, any number of ongoing plots against black political power.
In this case too, the claim itself is the message.
Much money has been spent by the various campaigns on TV and print advertising, yard signs, and other appeals to voters. This, too, has a high side and a low side — inasmuch as the truth content of such communications has been ambivalent at best. (Poor Rickey Peete. Besides a bad conscience and the likelihood of prison time, the tarnished councilman has to live with the fact that his name is now proverbial — having been coupled, rightly or wrongly and sometimes with a bare minimum of justification, with this or that candidate in attack ads.)
Then there are the polls — sometimes commissioned in the interests of specific candidates and sometimes not — and under suspicion of being so even when such is patently not the case. The Flyer itself has neither paid for nor commissioned any polls — though we were the first media outlet to release a key poll by Berje Yacoubian late in the mayoral campaign. This fully annotated sampling was promptly doubted by partisans of the major candidate who did less well than his two opponents.
And, sure enough, another poll came along in another news outlet showing a wholly different configuration. For the record, yet a third major poll, commissioned by a TV station, was released this week, and it conformed quite closely in its results to the poll that ran in the Flyer.
Who's right? Early readers of this space will still be wondering — as are we — though many will be looking at it ex post facto and will already know how things came out.
In any case, we rest easy with the fact that, in several of the City Council races, talented and able candidates were abundant, and we presume that voters had enough information at their disposal to be able to sift the real from the shoddy and to make the proper decisions.
We can only hope that such a presumption is not itself presumptuous.