I moved to Memphis in 1993, a few months after Willie Herenton moved into office as the city's first elected African-American mayor. So my time in Memphis has been similar to the experience of those youngsters in the 1930s and '40s who grew up knowing only one president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Herenton is the only Memphis mayor I've known.
But that's all about to change if the mayor follows through on his latest resignation, set for July 10th. And judging from the number of former bodyguards, er, department heads who are leaving the ship, it appears this time the mayor is serious.
And boy, are we going to miss him. By "we," I mean, the Memphis media. Through the years of his mayorship, Herenton has provided local journalists with a never-ending string of stories. This mayor's outrageous, over-the-top statements and actions through the years have generated countless local newscast leads, front-page headlines for The Commercial Appeal, and cover stories for the Memphis Flyer.
I remember fondly when he told senior editor Jackson Baker that the Flyer "could go to hell." We ran a big picture of His Honor on the cover, along with the direct quote. It was a badge of honor. And fun.
And the fun isn't over. Herenton is leaving the mayor's office to begin what appears to be a serious run at Congressman Steve Cohen's 9th District seat. To kick off the campaign, he offers a rather unflattering one-word description of his opponent in this week's cover story (page 19). It's classic Herenton and sure to be picked up by local and national media.
And even more fun — for citizens and journalists alike — awaits us in the next 90 days, as a clusterflock of candidates jockeys for position to replace Herenton in a special mayoral election. Preachers, businesspeople, local pols, grandstanding wannabes, you name it — people who've been lurking in the weeds for years for the Big Dog to move on see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grab the brass ring. With as many as a dozen potential candidates, the winner could emerge with as little as 15 or 20 percent of the vote.
But, for better or worse, there will never be another Willie Herenton. And no, it won't be as much fun without him.