- Toby Sells
So, Memphis has a new mayor-elect. While many people were surprised at last week's election results, those with access to various local political insiders were not. Polling numbers had been bandied about sotto voce for weeks, numbers that suggested Jim Strickland had a substantial lead over two-term incumbent A C Wharton. But none of the polling numbers I heard suggested a result in which Strickland would basically double Wharton's percentage of the total vote.
The easy analysis was that Strickland got the white vote while the three African-American candidates split the black vote. And while it's true that Strickland's 42 percent represented only a plurality of the electorate, I think when our crack (ahem) Election Commission finally comes up with the precinct and ward breakdowns, we'll learn that the results were not so black and white.
Fourth-place finisher Mike Williams, for example, had substantial white support among his constituency, which included the Save the Mid-South Coliseum crowd, Memphis Animal Services activists, the Memphis Police Department, and the anti-pension-cut true believers.
Wharton, too, had white support, especially in Midtown progressive circles and among the business community that financed his campaign. And Strickland's camp is claiming that the numbers will show that their candidate had a decent slice of the black vote. We shall see, sooner or later. Probably later.
There will be at least six new faces on the Memphis City Council, including a couple of young, white newcomers who were heavily funded by family and business interests. Midtown's District 5, for example, home to the city's most liberal populace, will be represented (after a runoff election) by one of two Republicans: Worth Morgan, a poor lad from the wrong side of the tracks, or Dan Springer, who was backed by county Mayor Mark Luttrell, who announced last week that he would manage the local campaign for presidential candidate and professional Christianist sleazeball Mike Huckabee. Ugh.
What happened was that the three progressive candidates in District 5 (Chooch Pickard, Mary Wilder, and John Marek) split the liberal vote, opening the door for Morgan and Springer (both of whom are probably decent fellows, truth be told). But to say they represent progressive interests is probably a stretch.
I was saddened by the cheap shots that former Mayor Willie Herenton took at Wharton after the election. Wharton is a consummate gentleman, full of grace and humor. His concession speech, which I witnessed, was big-hearted and generous. He handled defeat like a winner. He represented the city with class, and we were lucky to have him, especially after enduring Herenton's tumultuous final years in office. Wharton should leave with his head held high. He has a lot to be proud of.
And I credit Strickland with an equally gracious victory speech. A smooth transition benefits all of us. My hat is off to both men for the way the campaign ended.
Change is inevitable in politics, and change has happened in Memphis. I have confidence that the city is still on the upswing, and I'm hoping Mr. Strickland can keep the best initiatives of our outgoing mayor in place and still make the kind of changes that will fulfill his campaign pledge to more effectively fight crime and blight.
I wish him the best.