June 2009 Archives

No waiting on pensions


Earlier we reported that Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's more controversial appointments would be following him out the door.

There has since been growing speculation that those appointees have to wait a few years to draw down annual pensions.

Public Services and Neighborhoods Director Ken Moody is only 43, while Deputy Director Yalanda McFadgon is 46 and Deputy Director of the Memphis Public Library and Information Center Michael Gray is 51.

City Human Resources director Lorene Essex cleared up that rumor this afternoon, saying the three administrators would receive their pensions immediately following their official resignations.

"They don't have to wait," Essex said.

Moody, a former Memphis State University basketball player who has worked for the city 13 years, earns $118,300. His pension will be about $38,650 annually.

McFadgon is a former Herenton bodyguard and a convicted felon who also oversaw the city's Second Chance program. Last year she was promoted to her current position, in which she makes about $105,900. Her pension will be about $59,900 annually.

Gray is a former Herenton bodyguard who also sold real estate for the mayor before being promoted to deputy director of the library system. He is also a former deputy director in Public Services and Neighborhoods. He makes around $107,302, and his pension will be about $65,740 annually.

Lowery picks old-hands


As Zack McMillin is reporting, names have already started surfacing for City Council chairman Myron Lowery's transition team, if and when he takes over as interim Memphis mayor.

And this Eye on City Hall blogger finds it interesting that the names trickling out so far -- former City Councilman Jack Sammons and current Councilman Bill Boyd -- have such extensive history in local government.

Lowery has confirmed he will run in the special election to replace Mayor Willie Herenton, if he resigns in July.

And so far, his picks send a different message than the call for change some of the other mayoral hopefuls have made.

Sammons, a four-term former councilman, is rumored to be Lowery's pick for chief administrative officer - although Lowery has only confirmed that Sammons will be part of the team.

Sammons, 53, who runs a hair-product company, served 16 years on the council before deciding not to run for council re-election in 2007. He told The Commercial Appeal that he wanted to step out of public life and spend more time with his family.

But it didn't long for him to step back into the spotlight. When former City Councilman Scott McMormick stepped down last summer to take a job with the Plough Foundation, Sammons stepped in as his temporary replacement.

A longtime critic of Herenton, Sammons has also long held mayoral ambitions. And though he has never run for city mayor, he ran as an independent candidate for the 1994 county mayor's race.

Meanwhile, Boyd, 73, has arguably deeper roots to local government -- his great-great grandfather, Marcus B. Winchester, was the first mayor of Memphis.

Before his election to the council in 2007, Boyd was actively involved in the local political scene and served three terms in the county assessor's office, starting in 1976.

Lowery letter


One more step in the pending resignation of Mayor Willie Herenton has been taken.

City Council chairman Myron Lowery has sent a letter notifying the Shelby County Election Commission of a vacancy in the office of the mayor.

"Please begin the process and preparations for a special election to be held within 90 days," said Lowery, who will take over the office of mayor upon Herenton's departure.

The City Council will also approve a resolution July 7 that recognizes a vacancy in the office of mayor. The Election Commission plans to meet July 9 to set a date for the special election.

Although Herenton could change his mind up until his replacement is sworn in, Lowery is expected to take the oath of office at noon July 10.

Hackett reaction


Dick Hackett, the last man to win a special election for mayor in Memphis, believes that the condensed election schedule provides big advantages to more well-known, well-financed, well-organized candidates.

"It gives a distinct advantage to someone with name recognition slash track record slash campaign organization," said Hackett, who won a 1982 special election after Wyeth Chandler's resignation. "If you have to buy name recognition it takes money and you only have a short time span to raise money. That makes it difficult for a less well-known public figure."

In other words, advantage A C Wharton, the county mayor who enters the contest with a healthy campaign finance war chest, an established organization and a name that has always done well in public-opinion polls.

Hackett said that seeing people out at intersections this morning campaigning with "A C" for mayor paraphernalia reminded him of 1982, when his supporters spread out across Memphis to give the "Hackett" brand early visibility.

Hackett said he was also helped by having just run a successful race for County Court Clerk.

"So we just did not break stride," Hackett said.

Neighborhood applauds Herenton's achievements


A day after Willie Herenton announced his resignation, residents from his childhood neighborhood in South Memphis expressed mixed reactions about the five-term mayor's decision to step down.

While every resident interviewed in the Gaston Park area - where Herenton was raised and later won more than 80 percent of the vote in 2007 -- applauded Herenton's achievements, many said perhaps the time has come for the 69-year-old to retire.

"He should enjoy what time he's got left," said B. Steel, 59, a South Memphis resident who watched Herenton's rise, from a strong student at Booker T. Washington High School, to an intimidating boxer and later as the city's first black mayor.

Dabbing himself with a towel on a sweltering afternoon, Steel said Herenton has served his neighborhood well. From early on, the community recognized the mayor, known affectionately by his boxing nickname, "Duke," as a success and helped "keep him out of trouble."

Steel said during his tenure, the mayor has revitalized South and North Memphis, remodeling the city's housing projects and upgrading the parks.

Yet, after 18 years on the job, "I feel his spirit is gone," he said.

James Williams, 31, agreed that "it's time for a change." Williams, who was seated outside the Gaston Park Community Center where Herenton used to box, said Herenton made a difference in Memphis, but "he's been here long enough and it's time for him to do something else."

Others weren't as willing to watch Herenton go.

Justin Walker, 21, said he was shocked by the resignation. "Who we got left now?"

Standing next to a bronze statue of Herenton across from LeMoyne-Owen College, Walker said he works at FedExForum and often sees Herenton watching the games from his private suite.

"He's tall, but he's down to earth," Walker said. "He keep it real.

Lowery: Changes coming


While City Council chairman Myron Lowery has said he won't rock the ship of state too much after he takes over as interim mayor, he said today he would pursue some personnel changes at City Hall and try to jump start two major redevelopment projects.

Lowery said he hopes some members of Mayor Willie Herenton's administration voluntarily retire, as Herenton indicated some would Thursday, so he doesn't have to replace them.

While not revealing names, Lowery said he doesn't believe some city divisions have operated as competently and as efficiently as taxpayers deserve and that he was prepared to fire top city leaders.

"If they don't leave, then yes I will be taking action," he said.

Lowery also said he would try speed up Bass Pro Shops proposed redevelopment of The Pyramid and an effort to transform the Fairgrounds.

"Those have been hanging there for a long time," Lowey said.

Quitting to save pension?


In the resignation fallout, speculation lingers that Willie Herenton quit now to save his pension because he feared he would soon be indicted. A grand jury has been investigating Herenton's business practices for months, and the thinking is that quitting now could allow him to keep his pension.

Under a 2006 state law passed in the wake of the Tennessee Waltz corruption scandal, a public official must forfeit retirement benefits if he or she is convicted of a felony "arising out of that person's official capacity, constituting malfeasance in office.''

Some observers have suggested that quitting before an indictment could abort pension forfeiture, although the law doesn't speak to that.

David M. Himmelreich, general counsel for the Tennessee Ethics Commission, said in an e-mail that the question was outside his jurisdiction. He suggested the state Attorney General might have issued a written opinion on the matter, though no such opinion could be located on the AG's Web site.

Prominent Memphis defense attorney Leslie Ballin reviewed the law this week and said it appears resigning would not keep an official from forfeiting a pension if the official is convicted of a felony corruption offense.

Godwin denies interest


One of the names circulating as a possible mayoral candidate among the political insiders who gathered at City Hall on Thursday was Memphis Police director Larry Godwin. County Commissioner Sidney Chism, for one, said people had been encouraging Godwin to think about running.

Reached today, Godwin said he had not given the idea a thought.

"Let me simply say that to hear my name mentioned, I am flattered," Godwin said. "Let me tell you right now I am concentrating on only one thing, and that is to reduce crime. I am the police director and I am going to continue to be the police director.

"That's where I'm focused right now. I haven't met with anybody. I don't have plans to meet with anybody. I wouldn't know where to start to even consider it. I don't know how to be a politician. I don't know how to form a committee."

"Even hearing it, I am flabbergasted," Godwin said

The campaign has begun


As if Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton did not already have enough built-in advantages in making a run in the special election for mayor of Memphis, his established campaign infrastructure means a huge head start over other candidates and potential candidates.

While many are contemplating running, Wharton had supporters hitting various intersections in Memphis passing out "A C" paraphernalia. Wharton's Web site is already up with links such as Issues, News, Priorities, Still Working and offers his vision for why he wants to be the city's mayor.

Although former City Council member Carol Chumney has been actively campaigning, a Web search for her name does not immediately include a campaign Web site. The only other declared candidate at this point is Myron Lowery, the City Council chair who will become mayor on July 10 after Willie Herenton's resignation, and he does not yet have a mayoral campaign infrastructure established.

Lowery to retain seat


Myron Lowery plans to retain his City Council seat while he serves as interim mayor and it doesn't appear that there is anything in the City Charter that would prohibit him from doing so.

"The charter is silent about that," said council attorney Allan Wade, who said he will research the issue more and deliver an opinion early next week.

A charter referendum passed in 2008 said "in the event the office of the mayor becomes vacant" the chairman of the council, Lowery, shall serve up to 180 days if there is a general or municipal election scheduled to occur within that 180 day period. If there is no election scheduled, then a special election shall be held within 90 days of the vacancy. It never mentions that the council chairman has to vacate his seat.

In 1982, Wyeth Chandler resigned to take a judgeship and council member J.O. Patterson Jr. replaced him to become the city's first black mayor. Patterson returned to his council seat.

"Precedent has shown that the position is not vacant," said Lowery.

"You don't give up 18 years of experience on the City Council to serve as mayor for 90 days," he said. "While I clearly expect to win the election, if I don't I will return to my duties as council chairman."

Lowery said Thursday, the day Mayor Willie Herenton announced he would resign July 10, was the busiest day of his life in public service.

"I had over 400 e-mails and 150 phone calls," he said.

Even though a number of directors responsible for running important city divisions are expected to retire along with Herenton, Lowery promised that people will still get their trash picked up on time and that it will be a smooth transition of power.

"Our city will continue to operate normally," said Lowery.

Pensions approved


The same day Willie Herenton announced his upcoming retirement, the fifth-term mayor and two of his close associates quietly had their pensions approved by the city pension board.

The pensions of Herenton, retiring Chief Administrative Officer Keith Mc Gee and former bodyguard Tony Elion were approved Thursday after they were added to the pension board's regular agenda.

Herenton will receive a yearly pension of about $75,000. McGee's will receive a yearly pension of around $60,784. Elion, a police lieutenant assigned to provide security for Herenton, was last year named as public works deputy director over waste management. That move should provide a nice bump in his pension -- in his security role he earned a base salary of $59,132.65 while his new position pays $100,897 - although numbers weren't immediately available.

In recent months the Herenton administration has been proposing some changes to the city's pension system, including increasing scheduled return multiples, or increases, for workers with 16 years or more of service. Herenton has been in office for 18 years.

In addition to the pension changes, Herenton and McGee in February were urging the council to approve a buyout package for city employees. During a Feb. 20 City Council meeting, McGee fought hard during a nearly two-hour debate to have elected officials, division directors and deputy division directors included in the buyout plan.

After the council approved a buyout that did not include the three additional categories, Herenton dropped the plan

Sammons running?


Another name for the mayoral special election's definitely maybe list -- former City Council member Jack Sammons.

"I've always had an interest in serving as mayor, and this may be a rare opportunity for me, but there's a lot of good candidates considering and these people are all good friends," said Sammons, a local businessman served on Council for 16 years before retiring at the end of 2007. "I will either run or be actively helping somebody before the (end) of July."

Although the logistics of the special election are not definitely determined, the Shelby County Election Commission said Thursday it expects the filing deadline will be around July 16 and the withdrawal deadline a week later. The election is expected to be held on or near Oct. 8.

Sammons said his decision could be based, in part, on who else decides to run. Current first-term City Council members Jim Strickland and Kemp Conrad are both seriously considering a run -- in addition to Sammons, that's three white males campaigning in a city where the electorate is tilted heavily toward African-American voters and women.

Sammons, Strickland and Conrad would also figure to base a platform on fiscal discipline in a city that has not shown a penchant for rewarding politicians who cut spending nor much history punishing those who vote against spending cuts.

With Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton already cranking up his impressive political operation to run, finding a way to mount a viable challenge to Wharton could prove difficult.

"Those of us that are interested at some point have got to calculate who has the best opportunity to win," Sammons said. "Certainly, Mayor Wharton could be considered the early favorite, but he's not unbeatable by any stretch of the imagination."

Carol Chumney, who got nearly 35 percent of the vote in her 2007 challenge to Herenton, is yet another white candidate who has already declared her entry into the race. And Sammons and other potential candidates well know Chumney has no intention of leaving the contest.

"Carol's not electable," said Sammons. "Memphis has a history of perennial candidates. There's one on every ballot here and that's what Carol has evolved into."

Chumney, however, would point to her impressive showing in 2007 against Herenton -- she believes that she would have beaten Herenton if former MLGW director Herman Morris had not also been in the field -- and to her 2003 Council race in which she defeated both Strickland and Republican George Flinn despite being at a huge funding disadvantage.

"The people will not be fooled this time," Chumney said on Thursday. "They know they have the power to put into office the mayor of their choice. They are going to turn out and put Carol Chumney in as mayor."

Attorney opinion confirms Wharton can remain in office

A Shelby County attorney's opinion has confirmed that Mayor A C Wharton will not have to step down in order to run in a special election for Memphis mayor.

Wharton said earlier today that he doesn't intend to resign while campaigning, despite speculation that he would have to because of a provision in the county charter requiring that the county mayor "devote his full time to the performance of his duties...."

But a 2007 opinion by County Atty. Brian Kuhn said a sitting mayor can still campaign, so long as no campaign activities take place "during normal work hour."

Also, neither county property nor employees can be used for political purposes, unless employees volunteer their time off hour.

Kuhn wrote that only federally-funded officials are prohibited from campaigning for political office. The county mayor's salary is not federally funded

City Council not surprised by resignation

Members of the Memphis City Council said they are not surprised by the news of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's intentions to resign, effective July 11.

And, by and large, they are confident of City Council Chairman Myron Lowery's ability to take the reigns in the interim.

City Councilman Harold Collins said the mayor has been telling city officials for months of his plans, "so I'm not shocked."

And, not losing sight of Herenton's legacy amid talk of successors, Collins said the controversial mayor served the city well in the last 18 years. It was Herenton who spoke at Collins' Memphis State graduation in 1986 and first sparked his interest to get involved in city politics.

"He challenged us as college grads to get involved in our civic duty and public service," Collins said. "That inspired me."

Collins called Lowery a "wonderful chair" and said he doesn't believe any city services will be disrupted.

Councilman Bill Morrison called Herenton's vacancy a "great opportunity for our city."

"The mayor has done a good job," he said. "He's been there for a long time. He's moving on, and I think everyone wins."

Morrison said Lowery is "going to do a fantastic job" in the interim.

But Councilman Edmund Ford Jr.'s reaction to Lowery was more measured.

"He has 18 years of experience legislatively and he' been the chair and we'll just have to see what happens at the end," Ford said. "It's not like he's not qualified."

When does Herenton actually step down?

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton said at his press conference that he was resigning effective July 10. His letter to City Council chairman Myron Lowery says he's resigning effective July 11.

So which is it?

Herenton's final day as mayor of Memphis will be July 10, a Friday. His resignation would go into effect, then, July 11.

Strickland, Conrad join those interested in special election

Council members Jim Strickland and Kemp Conrad both said they are strongly considering running in the special election for mayor, and will spend time over the next several days talking to family, friends and business associates before making a decision.

Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr. and County Commissioner James Harvey have told The Commercial Appeal in recent days they are not interested in running in a special election, but are strongly considering a bid in the 2011 city election.

Strickland has gained lots of fans - including several hundred on a Facebook page aimed at persuading him to run - for his leadership trying to cut the budget, for helping force the city to hand over control of the rape crisis center to the city and for advocating to relax police residency rules.

In both his losing 2003 bid against Carol Chumney and his winning 2007 Council run, Strickland raised impressive amounts of money and said today that fundraising is a primary factor.

"You have to figure out whether you can raise enough money to be a viable candidate against Mayor Wharton, who already has a lot of money," Strickland said. "That's the bottom line."

Conrad, the former chair of the Shelby County Republican Party, built a broad coalition running races for council super districts in 2007 and 2008, and he admits there is some appeal to running.

"You've got to come to the table with a base, but you cannot be one-dimensional," Conrad said.

Rep. Blackburn: "end of an era"

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., whose district reaches into the Memphis suburbs, said Herenton's resignation "marks the end of an era."

"Mayor Herenton presided over dramatic changes in his 18 years leading Memphis," she said. "I will fondly remember working with him and his staff on projects important to the city, and I thank him for his service."

Special election likely in mid-October

A special election to fill Willie Herenton's mayoral post will likely be held in mid-October, said Bill Giannini, chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission. No date will be set until the City Council officially recognizes the date of the vacancy in the mayor's office, he said.

"Once they officially recognize the vacancy, then it's 90 days from there," he said.

If the council recognizes the vacancy date as July 10, the day Herenton says he'll leave, the qualifying deadline for candidates would be July 16, the deadline for candidates to withdraw would be July 23, and the date of election would be Oct. 8

Wharton won't resign to run in special election

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton confirmed his plans today to run in the special election for City of Memphis mayor, saying he has the infrastructure in place to wage a successful campaign.

And Wharton, who first announced his plans to run for mayor in November, said he will not have to resign his seat as county mayor in order to run.

"I do not have to step down and I will not step down," said Wharton, who is finishing his second term.

He also dismissed criticism from potential opponents that he, with a background in county politics, doesn't have enough experience in the city.

"That's not a credible claim," Wharton said. "It's the skill sets that matter. It's vision," he said. "Our greatest need isn't someone who knows where the store room is in City Hall, but someone who knows the vision we need and how to pull the people together on a broad basis."

Wharton has been fundraising for months and will pose a challenge to other contenders - particularly those who are just now stepping into the race. "Everybody knows the way we work over here in county government," Wharton said. "We've been pretty much in campaign footing everyday."

Wharton also applauded Herenton's legacy and the "vast changes he has made in the quality of life for so many folks, particularly in the area of the quality of our housing stock, the downtown revitalization, and maintaining the city on a sound financial footing when other cities are in much more dire straits than we are."

But Wharton remained mum on whether he would support Herenton in his upcoming bid for congress.

"The first rule of politics is to run one race at a time," he said. "So I'm going to run my race."

Carpenter interesed in replacing Herenton

Charles Carpenter, who so successfully guided Willie Herenton's mayoral runs as campaign manager, confirms that he is very interested in running in the special election and will make a decision about running within a week.

"Certainly I think Mayor Herenton has done an excellent job and is the best mayor the city of Memphis has ever had," Carpenter said. "The person who comes in after Mayor Herenton to lead the next Memphis is going to be very crucial. I have received a lot of encouragement to seek that position."

Carpenter, a lawyer, has experience in the financial arena, but would not get into any possible strategies. He did say he was very interested in whether Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton would enter the race, and said it is his belief that the County Charter would prohibit Wharton from running for city mayor while holding the office of county mayor.

"I think the issue is that in the county charter, the mayor has to devote his full time and attention to the office," Carpenter said.

If Carpenter is correct, that could create a scenario whereby Wharton resigns as county mayor, meaning the interim mayor would be current County Commission chair Deidre Malone. The County Commission would then need to select someone to finish out the full term as mayor

Herenton resignation doesn't faze Cohen

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen said that Mayor Willie W. Herenton's pending resignation and pledge to run for congress won't have any bearing on how Cohen will do his job.

"I just do my job," said Cohen. "I mean that's all I can do, and that's all the people of the 9th District expect me to do."

He said he was on the House floor, voting, until 10:50 p.m. Wednesday night and was up at 8 a.m. today to take some people on a White House tour before presiding over hearings before the House Commercial and Administrative law subcommittee.

"He can campaign all he wants and it's not going to make a whole lot of difference as far as the way people look at me," he added. "Re-elections are usually referendums on the incumbents and I've been doing a good job, according to the people I've talked to and the polling data we've got. And I'm doing a good job based on my own analysis -- and I'm going to keep doing it.

Wharton confirms intention to run in special election

Although County Mayor A C Wharton has already announced his intention to run for Memphis mayor, his spokeswoman confirmed that he is, in fact, interested in running in the special election to replace Herenton's seat.

"(Wharton) has made it known that he is interested in running in the special election if there is one that is called for," said spokeswoman Rhonda Turner, shortly before Herenton's announcement today.

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Joyce Avery said this afternoon that she's "absolutely" ready to step into the role of interim mayor if Wharton wins the special election.

"Certainly, any way that I can serve the community I will," said Avery, 70, a Republican representing a suburban district.

If she becomes interim mayor, her priorities would include bringing in new businesses as well as providing money for schools, the Sheriff's department and health care entities such as The Regional Medical Center at Memphis, she said.

Avery said she probably wouldn't run for a new four-year term as mayor once the interim period is up next year, but won't rule it out. "I have learned to never say never," she said.

Daniel Connolly contributed to this report

Support growing for Strickland

City Councilman Shea Flinn hinted at support for his colleague, Councilman Jim Strickland, who is rumored to be considering a run for Memphis mayor.

Flinn was coy in his support for Strickland, but said "he has a lot to offer."

When asked how a candidate could compete with County Mayor A C Wharton, who months ago began fundraising, Flinn said he didn't know how much Wharton had raised.

"I don't think this should be a campaign that's necessarily all about money," Flinn said. "I think, you know, you get any experienced politician, they've raised money before. This is not their first rodeo. We could see some newcomers come in. Again, we don't know what the field is going to look like, but we know what Memphis needs, which is generational change."

As for the rumors that Strickland, a Democrat, is more conservative and leaning toward Republican, Flinn said party politics don't matter at a local level.

"There's no Democratic or Republican way to take out the trash or have the trash picked up."

Momentum for Strickland is already brewing on Facebook where local blogger Tom Guleff has started a "Draft Jim Strickland for Memphis City Mayor" page. The page has 708 members as of today and, according to its founder, it recruited more than 500 members in less than a week.

As Guleff writes on the page: "That's pretty special for a grassroots movement. But, what's more special is the generational change occurring in the leadership of this great city that cannot wait any longer..."

Notice how Guleff and Flinn both used the phrase "generational change." Could it be a new campaign slogan?

Resignation could set off political dominoes

There's lots of speculation about who will become the next mayor of the city - and the next county mayor.

Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism said if Mayor A C Wharton, a Democrat, wins a special election for Memphis mayor, the chairman of the County Commission would take over until the commission appoints an interim mayor. The interim would serve until the county mayoral race in 2010.

The commissioner most likely to take over - should Wharton win -- would be Republican Commissioner Joyce Avery, who is the current vice chair and is in line to become the next chairman in September. She would succeed current chairwoman Deidre Malone, who is already planning a bid for county mayor.

Chism, who had previously lobbied to become chairman instead of Avery, said he's backed off on those efforts.

But, he added, he would not turn down the interim mayor position, should the opportunity present itself.

"I am saying I will not politic for it," Chism said. "I am not trying to seek that position. Joyce is set up to be that."

He added that with the county's massive debt and other difficult issues, "that interim mayor over there is not such an attractive job

Herenton confident about Congressional race

While candidates are lining up to succeed Herenton, the five-term mayor is already setting the tone for his own upcoming congressional race. In his resignation speech, Herenton spoke confidently about his chances at winning the 9th Congressional District seat.

After his speech, he was overheard saying he didn't expect there to be much of a race against U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen - despite early polls showing Cohen with a healthy lead.

"It's going to be a beat down!" Herenton said.

Cohen was not immediately available for comment.

Special election to be held within 90 days

A special election to fill Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's seat will most likely be held in late September or early October.

City Council chair Myron Lowery said after reviewing the charter, the special election will have to be held within 90 days.

Mayoral candidate Carol Chumney said the election commission told her they need at least 80 days to prepare, meaning the election will have to fall somewhere between 80 and 90 days from now.-Alex Doniach

Wharton, Chumney add names to special election

The political jockeying to become Herenton's successor has already started, only moments after the five-term mayor announced his resignation this morning.

So far prospective candidates include Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, City Council Chairman Myron Lowery and former City Councilwoman Carol Chumney. Others rumored to be strongly considering a run include Herenton ally Charles Carpenter and City Councilman Jim Strickland.

Lowery said the special election could be held anywhere from 90 to 180 days from now.

Chumney, who lost the race for Memphis mayor in 2008, showed up at the end of the press conference and made herself known as a candidate for mayor.

Although Chumney has been out of the public eye since her failed bid, she spoke confidently about her ability to position herself as the best candidate for the job. She said she has had time to be a private citizen and has gotten a different perspective on government. She's also trying to position herself as the candidate for change, saying she's "the only one that can bring clean honest government. I'm the only one that can clean up the city."

Meanwhile, Lowery is taking the opposite approach. He will take over as interim mayor when Herenton resigns and plans to run in the special election.

He's positioning himself as the candidate of experience. He was sworn into the City Council in 1992, the same day Herenton was sworn in as Memphis Mayor. "No other candidate can say that."

"I will be the best candidate because of my history of experience with the city. No one brings the amount of experience dealing with the city of Memphis that I bring."

Both Lowery and Chumney expressed confidence in their ability to beat Wharton, who has already announced plans to run for Memphis mayor.

Lowery said, unlike Wharton, his experience has been working full-time for the citizens of Memphis.

Chumney said the public is sick and tired of the same old business as usual.

Lowery will tackle Bass Pro, Fairgrounds as interim

City Council Chairman Myron Lowery has taken the podium and said, "Our city will move through this transition in a good fine way."

Lowery will take over as interim mayor and said he will talk to the Shelby County Election Commission about when the city will hold a special election. He believes it will be held between 90 and 180 days from now.

Lowery said he plans to run.

"There will be a transition," he said, adding that City Hall employees will aid with the transition. "I am not going to make any drastic moves by myself."

Lowery said he will take the reigns on important matters such as Bass Pro's tentative plans to lease The Pyramid. He'll also figure out the status of the Mid-South Fairgrounds' redevelopment.

Lowery is talking but most of the attention is still focused on Herenton over to the side of the room.

Lowery asked for other employees to join him, but only councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware has joined him

Herenton: Good time to "move on"

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton is defending his achievements as mayor. He's leaving office with a surplus, he said. He's expanded the city's capital investments. He individually thanked many of his cabinet members and closest employees.

He said there will be announcements of other retirement in his administration. But he said he will be working to try to bring closure to a number of important city matters. Big ticket items like The Pyramid and The Mid-South Fairgrounds will be put on hold.

He's now answering questions from reporters and even bantering. Commercial Appeal reporter Amos Maki asked if he was still planning to finish his book.

Herenton responded: "Amos, you're going to be in that book. I have a section on media bias and the mayor."

Everyone in the room laughed.

Herenton said frankly he felt his time had come. During the course of his tenure as mayor he came to work everyday, he said.

"I came to work everyday. I go to work everyday. Vacations or Sunday I never take. But the challenge, I don't know how to explain this. It was just time for me..... You don't have the zeal to face it everyday and I'm the kind of guy, I got to climb mountains.

This was getting to be routine for me and then, I'll be honest with you too, I saw some trend lines and I don't want to speak disparagingly. I saw trend lines in relationship between the administration and the City Council...I knew at some point would probably evolve and not be positive. I didn't need to be part of it. I saw the trend lines with regards to the future fiscal crisis the city is going to face. I wanted to leave, quite frankly, at the highest point. I am leaving when there is 89 million in the bank. We balanced the budget, virtually no layoffs. The incoming administration is going to be in for some major challenges. This is a good time you know for me to move on."

Herenton describes tenure as "progress"

Herenton's tone is soft and nostalgic. He even thanked members of the news media - a rare moment! He's talking about his administration's achievements, and is focusing heavily on the strides he's made for African-Americans. He mentioned the work of Robert Lipscomb, his director of housing and community development, who has transformed the city's housing projects. He also thanked the employees of City Hall and the strides made at increasing diversity here. He noted that when he took office, the administration was mostly white. Now, "There are so many black people, they are running over each other," he said, to laughter.

Herenton hopes that African-Americans in Memphis can see him as "someone who looked like them who made a contribution."

He held up a black and white photo of a young Herenton. He said he hopes this is a reminder to the kids in public schools that challenging life circumstances can be overcome with hard work and faith in God.

And "shake the haters off, you got to keep doing that," he quipped, in a nod to his unofficial slogan in the 2008 mayoral race.

"But make progress," he said. "Make progress. That's what my tenure has been about. It has defined the odds of making progress."

Herenton will resign effective July 10

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton just announced his resignation, effective July 10. He called his tenure as mayor the highlight of his professional career. He will go into business with his son, Rodney. He's still planning to run for congress against incumbent Steve Cohen. He says he doesn't want to serve as mayor and run for congress at the same time.

He quoted the book of Ecclesiastes before his announcement:

"To everything there's a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven. There's a season and there is a time. It is now a season and a time for me as a mayor of the great city of Memphis to announce to you today that effective July 10, 2009 I will resign my tenure as mayor of the city of Memphis."

City Hall buzzing with resignation rumor

Members of the news media and curious City of Memphis employees are lingering in the hall of mayors at Memphis City Hall. We're all waiting for Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton to take the podium at 11:30 and announce his rumored resignation. No one is positive what Herenton will say, but new information is buzzing around the room that Herenton has already called City Council Chairman Myron Lowery and told him that he will be resigning. Lowery would take over as interim mayor in that scenario. Lowery is rumored to speak after Herenton makes his announcement. 
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