Politics » Politics Feature


Would-be mayors scramble for position, as a departing Herenton yawns.



The local political world has hardly begun to settle down in the aftermath of last Thursday's bombshell announcement by Mayor Willie Herenton of a July 10th retirement date. And it won't until filing for a hastily scheduled special election on October 8th closes on July 16th.

The mayor's surprisingly early departure put an already accelerated race for city mayor into hothouse mode. Council chairman Myron Lowery, who publicly declared on the previous weekend that he was "not running yet," suddenly was running — and, under the terms of a 90-day interim term granted the chairman by a voter referendum last fall, would be doing so as acting mayor from the time of Herenton's leave-taking until election day.

Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, who announced for city mayor last year, is generally conceded to be the front-runner, though both Lowery and former council member Carol Chumney, who finished second in the 2007 mayor's race, will have a fair share of name identification.

So would former councilman Jack Sammons, who told the Flyer he would probably run. Other likely candidates are current first-term council members Jim Strickland (currently riding a draft boom) and Kemp Conrad, the Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr. of the Memphis school board, Shelby County commissioner James Harvey, Circuit Court judge D'Army Bailey ...

But, hey, names and rumors of names are proliferating even as we speak. Possibilities will be added and/or subtracted from the candidate list right up until July 16th at noon. Though many observers think that the excitement of choosing the first new mayor in 18 years will bring a large number of voters to the polls, one who disagrees is Herenton, who predicts a "low turnout" election.

Herenton's reasoning? "I've raised the bar so high in terms of a Memphis mayoral leadership role that any of the individuals who have indicated their intentions to run won't be viewed as being at the level of leadership capabilities that I exerted. And therefore, I just don't see a great deal of public interest."

• Tennessee's secretary of state Tre Hargett, who formerly represented Bartlett in the state House of Representatives, found himself in an awkward position last week after alerting the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to the contents of an e-mail he'd seen on a blog.

Hargett was taken aback by a comment on Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Tom Humphrey's blog from Bernie Ellis, a Maury County farmer and voters' rights activist. In the course of reviewing the difficulties of implementing the Voter Confidence Act of 2008, the optical-scan provisions of which had barely survived a delaying action in this year's legislature, Ellis, who heads up a group called Gathering to Save Our Democracy, concluded this way:

"Thanks for continuing to cover this story. If your readers will e-mail me (tracevu@bellsouth.net), I will send them several handouts that document the misinformation campaign that is attempting to keep our elections unsafe and tamper-prone. We need to nip this nonsense in the bud, or we need another Battle of Athens (TN) — sooner rather than later."

The Battle of Athens was the name given by historians to an armed revolt by returning World War II veterans against an entrenched political machine's suppression of honest vote-counting in McMinn County. Hargett took the reference seriously enough that, in what his aide Blake Fontenay described as "an abundance of caution," he alerted the TBI.

Two TBI agents subsequently visited Ellis' farm and gave the all-clear. They took back with them this statement from the aggrieved activist:

"Mr. Ellis would like whoever issued the complaint against him to grow a pair of balls, 'man up' ... and call him at any time to discuss any concerns they may have with him or with anything Mr. Ellis has ever said."

• "You can't take politics out of politics." That was the reaction of Memphis lawyer John Ryder, the newly named director of the Republican Party's national redistricting efforts, to a bill by 8th District Democratic congressman John Tanner that would take reapportionment responsibility for congressional seats away from state legislatures and reassign it to bipartisan commissions in each state.

"These proposals always seem to take on new life once the Republicans are in charge of redistricting," Ryder said.

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