Politics » Politics Feature

Rivals for the Turf

Mayor Wharton files for reelection, but he has company.



Describing himself as "a tenant who has improved the property" during his 18 months so far at the helm of Memphis government, Mayor A C Wharton filed for reelection Monday at the election commission downtown.

And a day later, two local politicians with at least some name I.D. allowed as how they wanted to evict the current occupant and take over the property themselves. These were former city councilman Edmund Ford Sr. (whose son and namesake, current Councilman Ed Ford Jr., is a candidate for reelection to his father's old District 7 seat) and Shelby County commissioner James Harvey, who plans to conduct what he calls a "people's campaign."

Both Ford and Harvey made appearances at the Election Commission on Tuesday, the former to file quietly, the latter appearing at the commission's downtown office with a group of supporters in tow but somewhat in advance of his "paperwork," which, he said, would be forthcoming later in the day.

Speaking to the media after his own filing at the election commission, Wharton, who won the mayor's office in a special election in 2009 after the retirement of former Mayor Willie Herenton, boasted that in the short period he has been in office, his tenure has resulted in "thousands of jobs, acres and acres cleaned up. ... We are bucking the national trend."

What he has endeavored to do, said the mayor, who has made a point of industrial recruitment, was to see that there are jobs for people, "make the streets safe so they can get to the job. And when they earn a little money, make sure that the air is clean, make sure there's a playground nearby. ... Most people I know say, 'I want a job. I want a safe community. I want the community cleaned up. I want to be able to relax. I want to have a sense of peace.'"

With a large crowd of supporters arrayed around him and with his wife Ruby Wharton, an attorney, at his side, Wharton said that, before deciding to file again for reelection, "I talked to the Man Upstairs first, then talked to my mother and this lady right here." (When the mayor was told he could not pay his filing fee by check, Mrs. Wharton found the right amount of cash in her purse.)

"I've learned you cannot be all things to all people," Wharton said. "Maybe I do try. If I had to rate myself, that would be a weakness."

He proclaimed his continued zest for his job. "I'm up every morning at 4:30, in the gym at 5:30, can't wait to get down here and stay until 10 at night. I enjoy my job. ... You can't whine. If you're going to be a city mayor anywhere in the United States of America, they didn't elect a whiner, and I ain't going to whine, because I'm doing what I like to do."

• As the week began, the final lineup of Memphis City Council candidates was uncertain on more than one count. The council itself had yet to sign off on a new redistricting plan prepared by counsel Allan Wade but got ready to take up the issue on Tuesday, a scant two days before the filing deadline on Thursday of this week.

Meanwhile, the council scheduled for Friday a special session to determine who would be the interim councilperson from District 7, vacated recently by veteran council member Barbara Swearengen Ware, who retired after taking diversion on charges of official misconduct in bypassing automobile registration procedures. The most active campaigner of the aspirants seemed to be Lee Harris, a law professor at the University of Memphis, who announced he was opening a headquarters.


• By the end of this week, progress may or may not have been made on breaking the stalemate between congressional Republicans and Democrats over a pending vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling, but U.S. senator Bob Corker (R-TN) did his best to give the process a nudge forward last week.

Corker has fairly consistently demonstrated during his five years in Washington thus far that he is not bashful about taking the lead in controversial matters — be they foreign or domestic.

An example of the former is his aggressive insistence, early on, that the United States distance itself from involvement with Pakistan and begin to disengage from Afghanistan. An example of the latter is his sponsorship of the CAP bill to impose a statutory annual limit on federal spending.

And, while he is generally content to work within the context of Republican Party guidelines, Corker has evinced a willingness to break with his party's leadership if he feels strongly about an issue.

Such an issue, evidently, is the current game of chicken going on in Congress regarding the debt ceiling. With time running out before August 2nd, which Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner regards as a drop-dead date for raising the ceiling, the GOP leadership had been stoutly maintaining that it didn't intend to relent on voting to do so without specific major concessions on spending (sans taxes) from the White House.

In a speech on the Senate floor last Thursday, Corker took issue with this strategy. "Maybe the debt ceiling was the wrong place to pick a fight, as it related to trying to get our country's house in order," Corker said. "Maybe that was the wrong place to do it."

And the senator used unusually tough words to describe his frustration with the senators in both parties who are locked into intractable positions. "Basically, most senators in this body are nothing but two-bit pawns as a political fight is under way, basically, to lay out the groundwork, if you will, for 2012 elections. That's what's really happening in this body right now, and I think we all know that."

Corker blamed the current predicament on the fact that "this body hasn't passed a budget in 806 or -7 days," adding, "and I credit both sides for that. ... Yesterday, we voted to move to a spending bill, where we are in essence acting as accomplices to this. ... Anybody who votes to go to a spending bill without forcing the United States Senate to come to terms with a budget is in essence an accomplice to allowing the shenanigans that are taking place right now to continue."

Coincidentally or not, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell ended the week by floating a proposal to authorize President Barack Obama to raise the debt ceiling by increments in tandem with spending cuts to be determined later.

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