Opinion » Viewpoint

Memphis: The Week That Was

Election myths, heavy weather, and spending $8.28 per vote.


First, some old news which is actually new news. Final spending reports for October's mayoral race were filed last week. Willie Herenton spent $579,000 without, to my knowledge, buying any television commercials. The mayor's biggest expenditure was for "temporary payroll to campaign staff," the description of scores of payments in the $200 to $500 range, mostly for help on election day and just before that.

Herenton got some 70,177 votes, which means he spent roughly $8.28 per vote. In 1991, when he was first elected and got 122,596 votes, he spent probably $100,000, or $1.22 per vote. Inflation or declining yield, you make the call.

Herman Morris spent $511,000 to win 35,158 votes, or $14.53 per vote. Carol Chumney spent $257,000 to get 57,180 votes, or $4.49 per vote, winning the "thriftiest" and "most cost-effective" categories, if not the election.

So what else did Herenton spend his money on? Well, his form says he spent $56,000 on billboards, $47,800 on radio ads, and $35,000 on consultant Reginald French. He has about $124,000 remaining in his campaign account.

Notes from Election Day in and around Memphis. The free-spending mayoral race was in sharp contrast to Tuesday's presidential preference primary. You need a shovel to clear away the Ford ballots and other endorsement ballots, brochures, and signs around South Memphis polling places in a hotly contested local election, but the primary was the cleanest -- in terms of trash -- election that I have seen in 25 years. No ballots, no campaign workers, no monitors, no signs at the half dozen polling places I visited. Nobody was throwing around money for day workers. Voters were on their own.

At polling places near the N. J. Ford & Sons Funeral Home, Monumental Baptist Church (where Hillary Clinton spoke two weeks ago), and LeMoyne-Owen College it was eerily quiet. "It shocked me that there are no pamphlets," said Sharon Brown, election officer at Orleans Elementary School. "People have been coming up asking for them." At Pyramid Recovery Center, election officer Marva Norman said voters were asking where all the campaigners were. "I don't know," she said. "Maybe they think it's not important enough."

This is supposed to be a campaign that energizes a new generation of young idealists because Barack Obama is black and Hillary Clinton is female. Granted, some classes had been cancelled, but at historically black LeMoyne Owen College there was not a sign, literally or figuratively, that it was election day.

The campus has been quiet," said Antonio Hudson, 21, from Memphis who is for Obama. "I like his outlook on health care and how he talks, basically."

Clinton got clobbered in Shelby County (68,516 to 27,914) despite her visit, but still won Tennessee handily. Obama, who will get a proportional share of the state’s 85 delegates, did not campaign in Memphis. The eventual Democratic nominee, whomever it is, would be wise to make a stop in Memphis. Tennessee appears to be winnable this year. Bill Clinton won it in 1996 thanks to huge margins in inner-city Memphis. Al Gore lost Tennessee in 2000, and would have won the election if he had carried his home state.

George W. Bush won Tennessee again in 2004. In 2006, Harold Ford Jr. came within three percentage points of beating Republican Bob Corker in the statewide senate race.

"She would be wise to come back to Memphis," said election commissioner O. C. Pleasant, after Hillary Clinton was declared the winner in Tennessee. "All she has to do is ask Gore. He didn't come, and look what happened to him."

The election commission office downtown, normally crowded with reporters and the curious on election night, was all but empty because of the storm, save for sheriff's deputies and election workers bringing in their voting tabulations from the precincts. The only suspense was whether the county's balky computers would spit out final unofficial results before midnight.

Endorsements? Not a factor. Herenton went with Clinton, and Steve Cohen wound up endorsing Obama at the 11th hour. But endorsements are more about the endorser than the endorsee.

Did the storm in West Tennessee hurt Obama more than it hurt Hillary? The conventional wisdom is that it did, because black blue-collar workers with day jobs could not get to the polls after the storm came in around 5 p.m.

I think the conventional wisdom is condescending and wrong. There were 13 days of early voting, at considerable trouble and expense, for the convenience of the very people who supposedly were disenfranchised by the storm. Nearly 31,000 people in Shelby County took advantage of it. Of those who voted early, 40 percent were black, 36 percent were white, and 24 percent marked "other."

By party, 69 percent were Democrats and 31 percent were Republicans. On election day, another 117,000 people voted. Whether you were an early bird voter or held your fire to see who had the momentum, you had 13 days and 9 hours to get to the polls before the tornado sirens started going off.

I think voters took heed at six o’clock," when the sirens were going off, said elections administrator James Johnson. I think so too. Obviously, it was dangerous if not impossible for some people to get out Tuesday evening, but not everywhere. I visited polling places at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church and Trinity Methodist Church in Midtown around 6 p.m., and there were election workers and a handful of voters at both places. The turnout was about 25 percent, which tells me that 75 percent don't give a darn, not that they give a darn and couldn't get to the polls.

The Green Party was on the ballot in Arkansas, which was an accomplishment in itself. The only person I know who lives in West Memphis, Abbott Widdicombe, voted for the Green Party in the Arkansas presidential primary last week. He marked "uncommitted" because he was trying to show support for the Green Party, not individuals. If it's close in November, he's going with the Democrats.

Widdicombe owns Tom Sawyer's Mississippi River RV Park, but he wants no part of the former Arkansas governor nicknamed Huck. "I'm trying to harness the power of the river to generate electricity here," he says. "I want to anchor propeller-driven generators in the bottom of the river at low water to generate water for the park."

Just wondering... Aside from picking a President, what about First Lady (or First Lad, as columnist Maureen Dowd said)? Quite an array on the two sides ... I bet Huckabee voters correlate with Jeff Foxworthy fans, and even closer with people who own a Jeff Foxworthy CD ... Suggestion of the week: Let's put a nice Ferris wheel on the tip of Mud Island this summer, along with a sign that says "FREE COOL WATER," and see if anyone comes. It could be a low-cost test for a theme park... Plug of the week: My friend and former UPI and CA colleague Rheta Grimsley Johnson has a new book out called Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana. Buy it. She is as honest, talented, funny, and hardworking as they come... Other people I wish would write a nonfiction book are Fred Smith, Tom Jones, Angus McEachran, Willie Herenton, Tim DiScenza, Jackson Baker, Vasco Smith, Kathy Bates, and Jack Powell... How cruel that a tornado hit the Hickory Ridge Mall. Just what the mall and the struggling neighborhood didn't need... Hardcore campaign workers strike me as some of the most humorless and ruthless people in America... Getting high, as in observation decks in tall buildings, isn't what it used to be. I remember when the revolving restaurant, Diane's, in the 100 North Main Building downtown and The Pyramid's apex were sort of a big deal... There are not ten people in Shelby County who can explain the Democrats' delegate selection process, excepting delegates... A lot of people don't appreciate how hard television and daily newspaper reporters work when big news breaks, but they should now. And weathermen on days like Tuesday... I can't get excited about NBA trades, Shelby Farms, text messages, speculation about speculation, and February.

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.

Add a comment