July 2009 Archives
City Attorney Elbert Jefferson Jr. was escorted out of City Hall this afternoon, according to multiple sources in City Hall.
Jefferson's forced exit came only hours after Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery asked for his resignation. Jefferson later refused Lowery's request.
In a press conference following his swear-in, Lowery said he had offered Jefferson the opportunity to step down with a generous severance package and the ability to stay on and advise on a temporary basis.
"He declined to accept that," Lowery said, adding that by this time "he may have left the building.
Lowery has named Veronica Coleman-Davis, the U.S. attorney for the western district of Tennessee from 1993 to 2001, to head of the city's legal department. The appointment will require approval of the City Council, which meets Tuesday.
Jefferson, 45, was elevated to the city's top legal spot in 2007, after serving as deputy city attorney since 2002. He replaced city attorney Sara Hall.
Jefferson's relationship with the City Council has been tumultuous at times, with many council members expressing skepticism over Jefferson's legal interpretations. There has been speculation Lowery would immediately replace Jefferson.
Lowery said today that he asked for the attorney to step down because "I feel we need better leadership in the legal department of this city."
"The legal department has almost been a black hole for dollars," he said. "I think we spend too much money on attorney fees, I think our city attorney has allowed this to happen without adequate controls on this. I'm looking for strong controls."
Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery has taken the podium. He's much shorter than Willie Herenton but no one has adjusted the microphones - they're at his eye level.
Yet Lowery speaks in a clear, commanding tone.
"It's a new day at City Hall," he said.
Lowery says change is a good thing even if some are troubled by it.
"With new life and new individuals comes hope and promise," he said.
Lowery said as mayor, he hopes to promote a philosophy of customer service "a customer-driven government."
"I'm going to promote ethical leadership in government," he said. "I will be honest with the government. If our financial situation is looking bad, I'll tell you the truth."
He says in his administration, they'll be "work horses, not show horses."
"You will not get a lot of catchy phrases from me, but you will get a lot of hard work," he said.
He touches on his goals for the next 90 days, including redevelopment of The Pyramid and the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
Now four former mayors are taking a photo - Bishop J.O. Patterson, Dick Hackett, Herenton and Lowery.
Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton has taken the podium and is giving some gracious remarks. He congratulated Myron Lowery and wished him the "utmost success."
"It's a tremendously important leadership role fraught with all kinds of perils," Herenton said. "At the end of the day, the citizens expect the city to work. The infrastructure has got to be made strong. The garbage has to be picked up."
Herenton said he feels certain Lowery and his staff can keep the government working.
Lowery is now being sworn in. His wife is standing by his side.
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton has taken the podium and is giving some gracious remarks. He congratulated Myron Lowery and wished him the "utmost success."
"It's a tremendously important leadership role fraught with all kinds of perils," Herenton said. "At the end of the day, the citizens expect the city to work. The infrastructure has got to be made strong. The garbage has to be picked up."
Herenton said he feels certain Lowery and his staff can keep the government working.
Lowery is now being sworn in. His wife is standing by his side.
Crowds are starting to gather in the Hall of Mayors in anticipation of Memphis Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery's swearing in.
Willie Herenton, now a private citizen, has already made a low-key entrance at the side of the room. He's surrounded by a few well-wishers but not the throngs of people and TV cameras that tailed him at Thursday's retirement banquet.
Other notables in the room include former Memphis mayor Dick Hackett, former interim mayor J.O. Patterson, MLGW President Jerry Collins, City Councilman Shea Flinn and former councilman Scott McCormick.
Former Memphis mayor Dick Hackett will be appearing at interim Mayor Myron Lowery's swearing-in ceremony today.
Former mayor Willie Herenton is speaking at the ceremony. And Bishop J.O. Patterson Jr., the city's first black mayor, will give the invocation at the 3:30 p.m. event in the Hall of Mayors at City Hall.
Pretty historic stuff.
Interim Mayor Myron Lowery is at his first public event.
Lowery is attending a fund-raising event for Philander Smith College at the Hilton Memphis in East Memphis.
Philander Smith College is a private, historically black college in Little Rock, Ark. Lowery is a long-time supporter of historically black colleges and universities.
Interim Mayor Myron Lowery has sent invitations for his swearing-in ceremony, which will be held at 3:30 p.m. today at City Hall's Hall of Mayors.
The event is open to the public.
With Willie Herenton formally out of office, former City Councilman Edmund Ford Sr. is ready to make a decision about whether to run for Memphis Mayor.
"I'll let everyone know Monday," Ford said.
Private citizen Willie W. Herenton is expected to speak.
To watch the live feed, check out the video player under the advertisement on the right side of this blog.
Interim mayor Myron Lowery has asked for the resignation of City Atty. Elbert Jefferson, Jr., according to multiple sources.
After serving as deputy city attorney since 2002, Jefferson, 45, was elevated to the city's top legal spot in 2007, taking over for Sara Hall.
As is often the case with city attorneys, Jefferson had many battles with the City Council, and there has been speculation that Lowery would immediately replace Jefferson. A majority of council members have been highly skeptical of Jefferson and some of his interpretations of council legislation. A replacement for Jefferson, should he resign, would likely be appointed and confirmed by the City Council on Tuesday.
Last year, Jefferson accused Lowery in public - without any proof - of leaking a confidential Request for Proposals for a Red Light camera system. Jefferson said the city's technology partner, Affiliated Computer Services, said Lowery leaked the RFP to a competing company, but Jefferson never confirmed it and said he didn't know who Lowery supposedly leaked that RFP to.
An embarrassing moment for Jefferson came in 2007 when The Commercial Appeal reported that Jefferson, who oversees litigation against delinquent city taxpayers, had not paid his own taxes, even though he walks by the tax office every day on his way to his office.
At the time, Jefferson said he had forgotten to pay the taxes because he was so busy working for the citizens of Memphis. Since 1999, the city had to sue him six times to collect property tax debts.
We're learning more about interim Mayor Myron Lowery's swearing-in ceremony.
Bishop J.O. Patterson Jr., the city's first black mayor, will give the invocation. Lowery will be sworn in by United States District Court Judge Bernice Donald. Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, will give the benediction. Former Mayor Willie Herenton will speak and so will Lowery.
Incoming city chief administrative officer Jack Sammons, a former city councilman, is on the seventh floor and Lowery is settling to the mayor's office.
Former mayor Willie Herenton is back at City Hall today, removing items from the seventh-floor office he occupied at City Hall for more than 17 years.
Dressed in blue jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, citizen Herenton and former bodyguard Michael Gray have been loading personal materials into Gray's Ford-F150 pick-up truck in the garage.
Herenton officially retired at midnight and former City Council chairman Myron Lowery became interim mayor until a special election is held Oct. 27.
Council staff is busy moving council vice chairman Harold Collins into the chairman's office. The council will now have to elect a new vice chairman.
Interim mayor Myron Lowery will be sworn in this afternoon in the Hall of Mayors at 3:30 p.m.
Lowey arrived at City Hall this morning just after 8 a.m., after working until late last night on the city's storm response. Lowery began getting updates and overseeing storm response before he officially took over as mayor just after midnight.
After a day filled with applause, cheers and a few shed tears, all's quiet in City Hall once more.
A few guys are down in the Hall of Mayors, picking up chairs and loading them away on a cart. The floors have been swept, and the buffer sits. The room looks just like it did this morning, but the atmosphere has changed. King Willie really retired, folks.
Up in the media room, reporters type furiously. Deadlines are looming and this story's one for the history books.
The news gods haven't been all that friendly to outgoing Mayor Willie Herenton of late.
When Herenton announced his retirement on June 25 at City Hall, later that afternoon the shocking news broke that pop star Michael Jackson had died in Los Angeles.
And almost immediately after Herenton finished his farewell speech at City Hall today, heavy thunderstorms and damaging winds rolled into the Memphis area, sending every local television station into continuous weather mode and pushing Herenton's retirement speech out of breaking news.
Is somebody up there trying to tell the departing mayor something?
-- Otis Sanford
City Council Chairman Myron Lowery has just stepped into the Memphis mayor's seventh floor offices, with floor to ceiling windows facing the river. Members of the media were allowed to follow in for a photo op but were quickly ushered out.
Lowery gave Willie Herenton a letter of his own. Herenton accepted the letter and thanked him.
"Now let's get down to business," Herenton said to the interim mayor.
The 5 p.m. meeting is the first conversation Herenton and Lowery have had regarding a transition in City Hall. It solidifies Herenton's exit and for Lowery, it provides some clarity about what comes next. Lowery said in an interview before the meeting that he had no idea when his swearing-in ceremony would actually take place.
While Herenton was making the rounds following his afternoon retirement speech, Lowery was seated in his quiet fifth floor offices waiting on Herenton's call. Herenton had promised to reach out and meet with Lowery to discuss city business before his July 31 exit.
After a month of uncertainty over whether he'd become interim mayor or not, Lowery seemed relieved, if not excited about his 90-day stint as mayor.
Lowery said he's still hoping to make inroads on redevelopment of The Pyramid and the Mid-South Fairgrounds. He also knocked down rumors that he would fire hundreds of city employees. He promised to give more specifics after his meeting with Herenton.
Lowery said even though the saga following Herenton's exit was rocky at times, when Herenton handed him his letter of resignation earlier in the day, Lowery thought "he's doing it his way."
He added that Herenton's speech was one of the best he's ever heard the mayor give.
"I thought he handled his farewell with dignity," Lowery said.
Willie Herenton is now speaking with members of the media. He's pensive, calm and almost nostalgic.
But he's still taking shots at the media - specially at The Commercial Appeal.
"I think it's been exceptionally tough for me because of my style," Herenton said of his 17-plus year tenure. He added that it's been hard because The CA has used more ink on him than all previous mayors.
"I don't think any other mayors have been treated as bad as me," Herenton said. "I've never seen such blatant bias of a treatment of an elected official. And you guys, you've been unrelenting. I guess I create news for you."
Herenton said he viewed this mayoral position as a servant job.
"You get some gratification out of seeing your community grow. I'm real proud about how we turned public housing around... that's a source of pride for me. I'm proud of FedExForum. I'm proud of the growth of Downtown... "
"I'm not so proud of the fact that we didn't consolidate the governments," Herenton added. "I've had some successes and perhaps some failures."
Herenton said throughout his tenure, he hasn't governed on the basis of politics.
"Most politicians will always make a decision to get some votes. I don't do that," Herenton said. "I don't do things to get votes."
Yet Herenton said he still wins elections. "I'm a real competitive guy."
He said he'll win this upcoming congressional race, saying he's a better candidate than incumbent Rep. Steve Cohen.
"The people who have donated to Cohen are gonna waste a whole lot of money," Herenton said. "I don't need all that money."
Willie Herenton is now talking about the list of priorities he'll pass on to interim Mayor Myron Lowery. Fighting crime, single source funding for schools, consolidated education, tourism, better convention centers all top Herenton's list for priorities.
Also on the list? Unifying the racial divide.
"This city has never been unified," Herenton said. "Unifying people in Memphis along racial lines. We've got to always work toward that. But don't come 18 years later and say you were unified and I divided you."
The room erupted in applause.
"Don't talk about Willie Herenton being divisive," Herenton said. "When a community predicates unity on a winning basketball team. ... that's amazing to me. Now I love the University of Memphis basketball, I love it. But it is amazing to me that people consider a basketball team as a racial unifying thing for Memphis. You know what you need to be unified on? Getting our kids educated equally. ...Cleaning up the slum so people got decent places to live. You ought to be unified on making sure that there are no barriers to employment and promotions. And you need to be unified on some black folks making some money. Those are the things that unify you and make you a better community. Those are the things you need to unify on."
Herenton knocks accusations that he's stepping down because he cut a deal with somebody or because he's in trouble.
He's saying his mother, Ruby Harris, is part of the reason he's stepping down. She's had to watch him get smeared through the press.
He said he had to "keep it real" with her and let her know he had everything under control.
Herenton said his mother said "Boy I pray for you and your bodyguard every day. I said,'Mama keep praying! Keep praying!"
He said his mother is happy to watch him step down.
"Now Sidney Chism (County Commissioner and longtime ally) is not happy because he wanted me to be a politician forever," Herenton said in a nod to a faithful friend.
Herenton then said if he offended anyone "I'm man enough to say to you today, I apologize."
"We love you mayor herenton!" yelled a woman in the audience.
Herenton then gave Myron Lowery the long-awaited formal letter of retirement.
"I couldn't give you that letter when you all were kind of demanding it," Herenton said to wild applause.
He's saying to Lowery, I would be honored to have a meeting. CAO Keith McGee will also meet with Lowery
Herenton talks of his legacy in terms of breaking racial barriers.
The city was founded in the 1800s but it took until 1991 for a black man to take the city's reigns.
"The city was founded in 1826, but of all the mayors, none of them look like me," Herenton said, pointing to the white portraits of former mayors hanging on the walls around him.
"When you look around this wall, nobody looks like me, so suddenly in 1991, African Americans and about 3,000 or maybe more whites who believed in me, said we can change the course of history in Memphis. And we broke that historical barrier," Herenton said to big applause.
Herenton said racial division still exists in Memphis.
"It's here, it's real," Herenton said. "Racial polarization is deep in Memphis, deep."
Herenton said by calling out the racial divide, he's keeping it real - a nod to his campaign slogan for his upcoming congressional bid.
"Keep it real," Herenton said. "Some people call that ghetto. I said you may not understand, but the people I communicate with, they know what that means. Keep it real."
The audience applauded.
"Can I get that again?" Herenton said to the crowd. "Keep it real. We're going to talk about that in a few months from now."
There's no question, this is a room full of Herenton faithful.
When Herenton takes the podium, members of the audience start to chant: "Four more years! Four more years!"
Herenton is not defensive at all and strikes a conciliatory tone. He begins by praising God.
"Thank God for life, for all of the opportunities he has afforded me to serve the great city of Memphis."
Herenton introduces his mother, 87-year-old Ruby Harris.
"There's a lady here who happens to be my mother. I'm going to make a number of references because I want to have a dialogue with my mother," Herenton said, in a gentle tone.
A Herenton aide then brings out a dozen roses for Harris.
"I want you to enjoy them, while you can smell," Herenton said to his mom, sitting in the front row.
As he always does, Herenton then thanks his loyal supporters.
He talks about Frank McRae, who gave the invocation. He commends McRae for, during the Civil Rights Era, standing up to the city's white leaders for the mistreatment of sanitation workers.
"It was this Caucasian preacher who knew that sanitation workers deserved to be treated with dignity," Herenton said.
He's still thanking his cabinet members.
He said when he meets with City Council Chairman Myron Lowery later this afternoon about the transition, he's going to underscore the importance of a chief administrative officer. He commended his own CAO, Keith McGee.
There's little doubt now that Herenton is actually going to retire.
More on the speech to come...
The event has gone off program!
In a surprise speech, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton has taken the podium to speak on Henton's legacy. He said he's written down his comments because his wife reminded him that he has "a tendency to say some crazy things."
Wharton, who has announced his intention to run in the special election to replace Herenton, is unfailingly flattering to the Memphis mayor and his legacy, calling the five-term mayor his "neighbor."
"I happen to be living in this neighborhood," Wharton said. "I was allowed to move into this neighborhood because a few years before I was able to move in, another fellow came in who stood taller than I do, who was a pioneer and knocked down the doors so I could move in a few years later."
He read a list of accomplishments under Herenton, including the improvement of the city's public housing stock, the Memphis Zoo, the expansion of Graceland.
Wharton suddenly became a preacher. He started quoting songs and poems and galvanized the audience.
Wharton said a poem by Harlem renaissance poet Georgia Douglass Johnson reminds him of Herenton: "I shun no hardship, I fear no foe, the future calls and I must go, I charge the line and I dare the spears as I go fighting down the years."
Wharton said for those who want something more contemporary, Frank Sinatra summed it up: "Yes there was a time, I'm sure we knew when I'd bit off more than I could chew; but through it all when there was doubt, I ate it up and I spit it out.... I did it my way."
The audience actually started singing along. The room erupted in applause.
Now Rick Masson, Herenton's former chief administrative officer, has taken the podium.
He attempts a joke: "This is big, this is big, I think this is bigger than Jay Leno leaving," he said.
Masson said he met Herenton on the job. And he said the list of Herenton's accomplishments did not happen by accident.
"See some of the amazing accomplishments that occurred over the last 17 or 18 years, it's no accident," Masson said.
"It is ultimately about leadership, folks. It is about leadership and this man wrote the book on that. I think everyone would have to agree," Masson added to applause.
Masson credits Herenton with making some highly-criticized decisions that turned out in the city's best interest, including Downtown revitalization, AutoZone Park and the new main branch of the library.
"He stood firm and today we have what is undoubtably one of the best libraries in this region," Masson said.
Masson said it's up to the supporters to remind people of Herenton's accomplishments because Herenton is "such a great PR guy, he won't do it." The audience laughed.
Masson said he's proud to be Herenton's friend.
The room has settled and former chief administrative officer Keith McGee has taken the podium. McGee tells the media about a question-and-answer session later in the City Council chambers. They also pass out a program "Retirement Celebration; Mayor Willie W. Herenton."
Pastor Frank McRae's invocation will be followed by an "expression" from Rick Masson, executive director of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, and from Memphis Minority Business Council president Luke Yancy.
Herenton will speak, followed by a benediction from Dr. James Netters, pastor of the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church.
McRae is talking about former mayors, from Crump to Herenton.
He said he's sworn Herenton in many times.
"Today we're swearing him out of office, at least that's the report but I'm not sure," McRae joked.
"He's been the first African-American to be elected mayor of the city," McRae said to big applause. "It's difficult to be first because a lot of people don't know where the pitfalls all are."
McRae is cracking more jokes, about employees shedding tears about losing their jobs and about those Memphians who will be dancing in the streets. Mostly McRae's tone is nostalgic.
"So long to the champ, it's been an interesting time together. Mayor, we love you," McRae said and the room has erupted in applause. "He's been the tallest and the longest and the first African-American mayor."
Herenton is walking into the room now. He's flanked by Shelby Commissioner Sidney Chism and a body guard.
The crowd is cheering. The room is now packed with supporters.
As people continue to file into the Hall of Mayors, one of the pastors who called for Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton to delay his retirement said this is a sad day for Memphis.
"It's been a rainy day today and I think it's a rainy day for Memphis," said assistant pastor Stanford Hunt of Beulah Baptist Church in Orange Mound.
Hunt joined a chorus of pastors a few weeks ago, asking Herenton to stay in office for at least another few months.
Hunt said he's nervous about the transition with Council chairman Myron Lowery leading the city as interim mayor.
"I'm not a supporter of Myron Lowery, I don't appreciate any man who bends over," Hunt said. "He's a butt kisser and that's my terminology for it. ... He goes along with the flow and doesn't think for himself. I just don't see him as a leader."
Herenton, on the other hand, is a leader, Hunt said. "I still don't think that we have appreciated this man as we ought to have."
There's probably 50 to 100 people here now milling around. Most of Herenton's cabinet members and appointees are here now, too, including former MLGW head Joseph Lee.
While Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and his three controversial appointments walked away with a pension today, a Memphis firefighter injured on duty was told to wait a month.
James Coleman was only a recruit in 2004 when an injury during a training exercise left him brain-damaged, said his attorney Jeffrey Rosenblum. Coleman sued in 2004 and 2006 settled with the city government, which kept the disabled firefighter on the payroll until June.
Rosenblum came before the city's pension board today to claim Coleman's on-the-job injury annual pension, around $30,000.
But the pension board told the attorney to come back in a month.
"The city moves slowly," Rosenblum said.
Not for all, apparently.
City Councilmen Jim Strickland and Bill Morrison are here, as well as some of the pastors who asked Herenton to delay his retirement weeks ago.
Now we're just waiting for the mayor himself to make an entrance.
Sitting on the bench just inside the doors of City Hall, 69-year-old Memphian Georgia A. King, also known as Queen Akua, signs a farewell card for the Mayor.
"Thank you so very much," the front reads. And inside, "You can't help it -- it's just your nature to be kind and gentle. I'm so grateful."
King was invited to the Mayor's reception because she was a civil rights pioneer, she said. Her deep purple African garment was tailored with golden trim, complete with a hat. King said she was sad to see Mayor Willie Herenton -- "Doc," she called him -- go.
"I think over much prayer he has made this decision," she said. "I hate to see him leave, Oh, I really hate to see him leave. But I'm also glad he'll be able to work with his son. He can groom his son to be able to continue to carry the torch, as a part of his legacy."
A steady stream of people walk through the doors now, only half an hour until the reception is set to begin.
A third controversial Willie Herenton appointment just had his pension approved. Michael Gray, a former Herenton bodyguard and who was last year named the deputy director of the library system, had his $65,740 annual pension finalized. Gray is 51.
The city's retirement board approved these pensions without discussion. In addition to the full board, City Atty. Elbert Jefferson is sitting in the room.
The pension board also made final the approval of Tony Elion's pension. Elion, a former Herenton body guard who last year was named the Public Works deputy director over waste management, will get $49,989 annually.
We're blogging live from the city's pension board meeting. And within a minute, the board just approved the minutes from its last meeting, finalizing Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's roughly $75,000 annual pension.
Two of Herenton's controversial appointments, former Public Services and Neighborhoods Director Ken Moody and Deputy Director Yalanda McFadgon, also had their pensions approved.
Both who were surrounded by controversy after problems surfaced at the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center.
Moody, a 43-year-old former Memphis State University basketball player who worked for the city 13 years, earned $118,300 annually. His yearly pension will be about $38,650.
McFadgon is a former Herenton bodyguard and a convicted felon. Last year, McFadgon, 46, was promoted to her current position, in which she earned about $105,900. Her pension will be about $59,900 annually.
Moody and McFadgon announced their retirements shortly after Herenton announced his resignation on June 25.
To watch the live feed, check out the video player under the advertisement on the right side of this blog.
Later in the day, we'll also be posting edited videos on the blog from events at City Hall today.
Only two officers stand behind the doors and metal detectors as people enter City Hall, but more are on the way.
Mayor Willie Herenton's 2 p.m. reception is open to the public, but everyone who walks in will be screened. The lobby security will have "zero tolerance for irate citizens ... anybody that creates a disturbance," said one officer.
Finding a parking space was hard enough at 9 a.m. It might be double difficult this afternoon..
As staffers arrange City Hall's first floor for Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's sendoff, Herenton is preparing his seventh-floor offices for the next administration.
On a recent visit, the mayor's suite was dotted with moving boxes. A receptionist said just now the mayor has been hauling boxes down to a moving truck in the garage all morning.
City Council chairman Myron Lowery just addressed the entire council staff in anticipation of his ascending to the seventh-floor mayor's office after Willie Herenton retires.
"Anybody want to give me any ideas or parting advice?" asked Lowery, who was dressed in black polo shirt.
"Put on a tie," joked one council staffer.
Lowery said he was going home to change and prepare for this afternoon's events. Then he turned more serious and thanked the hard-working council staff.
"I just wanted to say thank you to the staff, which has been tremendous," said Lowery.
It's just past 11 a.m. and city staffers are still rolling in carts of party materials - plastic plates and forks, napkins and cups. Cake and punch will be served at the 2 p.m. sendoff for Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton. This event, held in the Hall of Mayors where most city press conferences are held, is a decidedly more upscale event.
Tables, decorated with white orchids, have been set up around a podium for the speakers.
The mood has also started to shift. The quiet of this morning has given away to anticipation. Members of the media are rolling in cameras and cables.
Longtime radio host Mike Fleming is seated on a bench, calmly watching the commotion around him. Fleming, who first crowned Herenton with the "King Willie" moniker, remembers a vintage Herenton. During a radio interview, a playful Herenton showed up wearing an actual crown.
City Council chairman Myron Lowery suggested Wednesday to a reporter that LeMoyne-Owen College should set up a room to house the materials Mayor Willie Herenton has collected during his historic tenure as the city's first elected black mayor and first black superintendent of Memphis City Schools.
We're hearing now that Herenton may donate many of the materials he has been moving out of his seventh-floor office to LeMoyne-Owen, the mayor's alma mater and the city's only historically black college.
Herenton's staff has talked with City Housing and Community director Robert Lipscomb, one of Herenton's closest aides who also serves as board chairman of LeMoyne-Owen, about the matter and an announcement could be made this afternoon.
On mayor Willie Herenton's last day in office, we're getting a clearer picture of how the transfer of power to City Council chairman Myron Lowery will take place.
Herenton is holding a 2 p.m. farewell reception in the Hall of Mayors at City Hall. Dr. James L. Netters Sr., Herenton's pastor at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, will speak at the mayor's farewell reception this afternoon. Other long-time Herenton supporters are going to speak as well.
Former city chief administrative officer Rick Masson, now executive director of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, visited Herenton yesterday afternoon and could make an appearance at City Hall this afternoon.
After the reception, Herenton will address reporters in City Council chambers. After that, Herenton is supposed to meet with Lowery, who will become the city's 66th mayor until a special election is held Oct. 27.
As members of the media file into City Hall, city employees have also just started moving chairs in the Hall of Mayors in preparation for the 2 p.m. retirement party.
Allison Fouche, the mayor's new spokeswoman (Toni Holmon-Turner has been taken off the post), is directing the party planning. Holding packets of black and yellow table clothes, Fouche said the mayor will speak at 2 p.m., followed by a series of friends and pastors who will speak on the mayor's five-term legacy.
Then, Herenton will move into the City Council chambers to answer questions specifically from the media. Fouche is asking for questions now to give Herenton an idea about what to prep for.
It's about 10 a.m. and City Hall is quiet. The first floor's Hall of Mayors -- the site of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's 2 p.m. retirement party-- is empty. No banquet tables or chairs, nothing that would indicate a party for hundreds in only a few hours.
Upstairs on the fifth floor, the council offices are also eerily quiet. City Council chairman Myron Lowery is seated at his desk, responding to emails and scheduling his calendar for next Tuesday's National Night Out, an anti-crime event. The presumed interim mayor-to-be is munching on breakfast - a bacon sandwich and apple juice - and waiting for Herenton to reach out and tell him his plans.
Herenton is expected to leave office today after a 2 p.m. retirement party in his honor. Invitations for the affair are taped near elevator doors in City Hall and city employees are encouraged to attend.
But Lowery has still received no word from the mayor.
"I just got in and haven't talked to him," Lowery said.
Lowery isn't making assumptions. His desk is still covered in City Council material, his office still lined with his diplomas and posters. He makes the point that he hasn't started moving his office to the seventh floor yet. Herenton keeps people guessing and Lowery won't attempt to presume what Herenton will or will not do today.
"I can only deal with what happens," Lowery said. "I haven't had my meeting with him yet. So I'm not rushing to get upstairs. If I get upstairs, it's because Herenton has left."
Moments later, City Council administrator Lisa Geater runs into Lowery's office. The seventh floor - the mayor's suite - is transferring calls about the retirement party down to the Council offices. People want to know if the party is open to the public. Where should they park? Geater said she's directing people to park on Mud Island.
Lowery is exasperated. "He's got a switchboard open," he said. "We're not prepared to deal with this, this is his event."
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton -- the city's first elected black mayor - announced his retirement on June 25, pledging to run for U.S. Congress in 2010 and go into business with his son, Rodney. Herenton, 69, had originally planned to step down July 10 but later delayed his retirement until July 30, spurring confusion and speculation about whether he would leave office at all.
This is the second announced resignation for Herenton, a South Memphis native and former boxing champion who went on to win an unprecedented five terms as mayor.
He resigned the first time in March 2008 but later changed his mind after a failed pursuit for the Memphis City Schools superintendent's job.
A lot of confusion surrounds Herenton's written intent to retire. When he announced his retirement on June 25, he submitted a formal letter of resignation stating his intent to leave office July 10. But two weeks later, Herenton replaced that letter with another announcing his decision to delay his exit until July 30. Still later he sent a sparsely-worded third letter "rescinding" all written correspondence surrounding his resignation plans. The lack of formal correspondence would pose a problem for the Memphis City Council, the body tasked with declaring a vacancy in the mayor's office. See below.
The City Council
The Memphis City Council is formally tasked with declaring a vacancy in the mayor's office. Such a vacancy sets in motion the process for the Shelby County Election Commission (see below) to organize a special election. But without a formal letter from Herenton, the Council faced a major problem when, in mid-July, it set about discussing a resolution declaring a vacancy. On July 21, the Council went ahead with declaring a vacancy anyway, after a tense 7-6 vote, prompting the Election Commission to later set dates for a special election. Herenton decried these actions, calling them "premature." He later called members of the council and commission "perverted" and racist for pushing him out of office.
The Shelby County Election Commission
The Election Commission is required to organize and hold a special election to replace Herenton. But without Herenton's plans in writing, the commission struggled to set definitive dates and start planning the election, which could cost city taxpayers in excess of $1 million. Still, after the council declared a formal vacancy, the commission met on July 22 and set an Oct. 27 date for the special election. The filing deadline for candidates will be Sept. 17 at noon. Some commissioners called the timetable premature, but others said dates were important as long as commission employees did not start work on the election until after Herenton's official departure.
The Mayor Pro Tem
According to the city of Memphis charter, City Council Chairman Myron Lowery will become the interim mayor if and when Herenton steps down. It didn't take long, however, for Lowery, a five-term councilman, to rub Herenton the wrong way.
Shortly after Herenton's announced resignation, Lowery started prepping for his 90-day stint as the city's leader, introducing his transition team and announcing projects he'd like to tackle such as development of the Mid-South Fairgrounds and The Pyramid.
At one time it was rumored that Herenton would delay his retirement to block Lowery from serving in the mayor's seat. Lowery has announced his intention to run in a special election to replace Herenton.
News of a vacancy in the Memphis mayor's office has piqued the interest of more than a dozen would-be candidates, and jockeying for the seat started only moments after Herenton first announced his retirement. Lowery and former mayoral candidate Carol Chumney jumped in the race at City Hall on June 25. Herenton's longtime campaign manager Charles Carpenter followed suit weeks later. But by far the candidate with the biggest head start is Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, who announced his intention to run in the mayor's race last fall and has so far raised more than $88,000, according to election finance filings. Other declared candidates include Memphis City Schools board commissioners Kenneth Whalum Jr. and Sharon Webb, Shelby County Commissioner James Harvey, professional wrestler Jerry Lawler and perennial candidate Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges. Undecided candidates include former city councilman Edmund Ford Sr., former mayoral candidate Herman Morris, City Councilman Kemp Conrad and City Court Clerk Thomas Long.
In a tell-tale sign that Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton is actually leaving office tomorrow, word comes to us from Twitter.com that the five-term mayor is clearing out his taxpayer-funded Cadillac Escalade.
According to Memphis police and fire employee Kevin Walker, Twitter name "PoliceTech," he cleared the "mayor's equipment" out from the vehicle Tuesday afternoon, including police lights and a radio.
When asked the significance, Walker replied the mayor must be leaving "or at least giving up the escalade."
If the mayor clears out the company car, do you think this means he's actually leaving?
Your Daily Mayoral Retirement Update comes from Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism, who confirmed earlier today that Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton still plans to retire tomorrow.
Herenton is serious about his run for U.S. State Rep. Steve Cohen's Congressional seat and he's ready to focus on his campaign for the 2010 election, Chism said.
Chism, who is serving as Herenton's campaign manager, said they're already moving furniture into Herenton's South Memphis headquarters on S. Third Street. The headquarters will be ready to open its doors in the upcoming weeks.
"We gonna beat up on Cohen bad," Chism said of the campaign.
Herenton has not yet raised any money compared to Cohen's $752,003, according to recent federal election commission filings. But Chism said they'll rely largely on support from Herenton's strong, South Memphis base. Those voters have given the five-term mayor unwavering support in the past 17 years.
As for strategy, Chism said they'll emphasize the need for African-American representation in Washington.
"We're going to drive that home and let the people decide," he said.
The campaign slogan will be "Keeping it Real."
The city pension board will finalize approval of Herenton's roughly $75,000 annual nest egg Thursday at 1 p.m., but the city's first elected black mayor will not become a private citizen until he is separated from the city's payroll on Friday, according to Human Resources director Lorene Essex.
Herenton is planning a 2 p.m. farewell reception Thursday in the Hall of Mayors at City Hall.
"It's basically for city employees and there will be some guests making some remarks," said city spokeswoman Toni Holmon-Turner, who added that Herenton will also make some remarks.
City Council chairman Myron Lowery, who will become interim mayor if Herenton leaves, hasn't made any plans yet for a swearing-in ceremony because he still hasn't talked with Herenton.
"I have not yet had my meeting with the mayor," said Lowery.
"After that happens, I will make a specific decision on what will happen," he said. "I have made no plans to have a private ceremony."
....comes with a little extra enthusiasm.
In a response to the regular query about the Memphis mayor's retirement status, spokeswoman Toni Holmon-Turner replied via e-mail.
"He is retiring !"
We know these updates are getting a tad on the redundant side, so we appreciate Holmon-Turner's added flair this morning.
With Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's promised resignation only two days away, foes and friends have taken to Facebook.com to air their views.
A search of Herenton pulls up close to 30 groups on Facebook, ranging from "Although I'm not a big fan, I don't necessarily hate Willie Herenton" to "Willie Herenton for Mayor of Lexington, Ky."
"Lexington took our coach. It's only fair for them to take our Mayor, too. Don't you agree?" reads the group's description, in a knock to former Tiger's Coach John Calipari, now head basketball coach in Lexington.
Most of these groups - which date back to his reelection in 2007 -- tend to attract like-minded members.
"Goodbye Willie Herenton" says now that Herenton has decided to resign and run for congress "let's hope that his ego doesn't make him want to change his mind....AGAIN!"
The group lists a vintage video of The Sweet rocking "Little Willy." ("Willy, Willy, won't go home!")
"Memphians against Herenton" lists 1,171 members "united to remove 'King Willy' from office." One member links to a special Willie Tribute page. "We won't miss you, not one bit; Hey, Ho! You Need To Go!"
In response to that page, another Facebook user created a "Memphians for Herenton" - with 13 members - that reads "I saw there was a group called 'Memphians Against Herenton,' and I couldn't help but become uncontrollably enraged. Willie Herenton has done wonders for this city. Personally, he is a role model."
There's been some speculation in recent days that Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton would push his July 30 resignation date.
When asked if the five-term mayor was still planning to step down July 30 as promised, spokeswoman Toni Holmon-Turner replied by e-mail only that "He is retiring."
No word yet on when...
Memphis City Councilman Jim Strickland will not be running in the race for Memphis Mayor.
Strickland, a first-term councilman and attorney, sent an e-mail and Facebook message to friends and supporters this morning announcing the news.
Strickland had seriously considered a run after Mayor Willie Herenton announced his retirement June 25, speaking at a candidate forum and even conducting a poll earlier this week.
Supporters created a "Draft Jim Strickland" group on Facebook, which as of today has 1,143 members.
But Strickland decided against a run, saying it is "not the right time for me to launch a campaign."
Here's the letter that went out:
Dear Friends --
Thank you for the encouragement and support during the last several weeks as I seriously considered entering the special election Mayor of Memphis. I truly appreciate the faith and confidence you have in me.
After speaking with supporters, community leaders, and other Memphians throughout our city, I have decided not to run for Mayor at this time. I reviewed all aspects of the upcoming race and concluded that it was not the right time for me to launch a campaign for Mayor.
But make no mistake about it. I am still committed to our city and to work with the City Council to improve city services and the quality of life in Memphis for everyone. I will continue to push to make reduction in crime our number one priority. I look forward to working with our interim Mayor, as well as our next Mayor who will be elected in October.
I will always be appreciative of your efforts on my behalf, your encouragement, and your support. I am humbled by it all.
Center City Commission president Jeff Sanford has caused a stir with comments made yesterday decrying the "race-card politics" in Memphis.
From a luncheon at The Peabody, reporter Wayne Risher caught Sanford, a former City Councilman from 1977 to 1983, saying race-card politics, with practitioners from across the racial and political spectrum, "continue to spoil the image of Memphis from coast to coast, and among some who would otherwise do business here, some who would otherwise live here."
"And though we often speak of it obliquely in polite circles, I don't need to tell anyone in this hall today that the dangerous mixture of race and politics is still poisoning our civic discourse," Sanford said.
Sanford didn't call out Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton by name, but his comments were well timed.
Earlier that morning, Herenton was quoted by Reporter Amos Maki calling members of the City Council and Election Commission "perverts" and racists for moving ahead with plans to hold a special election.
Sanford later said a special election for city mayor could be "a special moment in time, an opportunity to begin turning the history that has divided us into a future that will finally unite us."
So, what do you think? Are Memphis politicians too casual about pulling the race card? Or, are elected officials just telling it like it is?
In Herenton's case, it could simply be called "keeping it real" ... which just so happens to be his campaign slogan for his 2010 congressional run against Rep. Steve Cohen.
For the first time, Shelby County campaign finance disclosure statements will be available on the Internet.
In an unprecedented move, the Shelby County Election Commission is posting scanned copies of candidate disclosure forms on its Web site, ShelbyVote.com.
These forms contain valuable information about candidates, including amount of cash in a candidate's campaign war chest and names of contributors. Previously, voters and members of the media could only see these forms by physically going to the commission office's Downtown.
Election Commission administrator Richard Holden said the purpose of posting these forms online is to "make the election commission as open and transparent as possible for all voters in Shelby County."
While the election commission has long had the ability to digitize these forms, Holden said he wouldn't reason a guess as to why it never happened.
"I will not try to guess somebody else's motives," he said.
Holden, a Republican and former election commissioner, was elected in May to serve as the commission's administrator. The five-member commission elected Holden in a party line vote. He replaced longtime administrator James Johnson.
No, we're not talking about Jerry "The King" Lawler, who's announced plans to run in the special election to replace retiring Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
Down in Tampa, Fla., Lawler's old wrestling nemesis Dennis McCord, better known as "The Universal Heartthrob Austin Idol," has just thrown his hat in the ring to become the city's next mayor, according to the Miami Herald.
McCord told the Herald he was inspired by Lawler's bid for mayor and decided to run for mayor himself.
"Being a politician would be a huge disadvantage. People are fed up with lies and deception, and it's time someone stood up and told the truth," McCord said.
"Every where you turn, the spin doctors are at work for their own agenda. I will take a stand to get Tampa back on top where it belongs, and hopefully other cities will stand up and take notice."
Lawler and McCord were once famous rivals, according to Wikipedia:
"In a famed 1981 angle, Idol dressed up as a Mexican wrestler in a mask. He presented the 'Top Rated Wrestler in Mexico' award to Lawler on TV, then sucker-punched Lawler in the process. Afterwards, Idol delivered a memorable interview vowing to clean up Memphis and getting rid of Lawler. Idol famously defeated Lawler in a Cage Match with the assistance of 'Wildfire' Tommy Rich, who hid underneath the ring for the entirety of the match, causing Lawler to lose his hair."
Relive those good old days with this appropriately titled YouTube clip, "Austin Idol is furious with Jerry Lawler due to Lawler trying to throw fire into his eyes."
Add another name to the rat race of prospective candidates vying to replace Memphis mayor Willie Herenton.
Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges (pictured below) announced his candidacy in an E-mail to The Commercial Appeal earlier this week.
"I am behooved to learn that you have mentioned a number of people in your article who are running for mayor however you have deliberately deleted by name from the list," Hodges wrote.
Not that he's made his candidacy well-known. But perhaps we should have just assumed he'd toss his name in the ring. He's run for either mayor or City Council in at least the last three municipal elections.
The 61-year-old Hodges, who on his MySpace profile calls himself the "ambassador of the planet Zambodia" who came to Earth 333 years ago, said he's the "only candidate to be that makes sense to lead this city out of the devastation that we are experiencing."
Hodges went on to say Memphians have reached out - "my email exploded because of the overload from concerned citizens."
He also mentioned that part of his platform would include legalizing hangings in Court Square for those who commit "henius crimes."
A call to his cell phone was not returned.
...comes from Reporter Amos Maki, who this morning watched Mayor Willie Herenton load materials from his 7th floor office into a pick-up truck.
Herenton, who called members of the City Council and the Election Commission "perverted" and racist for planning a special election to replace him, also reconfirmed plans to run in the 9th Congressional District race against Rep. Steve Cohen.
His campaign slogan? "Keeping it Real."
Herenton seems to have a knack for identifying those pertinent campaign catch phrases that really capture the essence of his fight.
He kept foes at bay in his successful 2007 mayoral bid with the phrase "Shake the haters."
In prior elections, when Herenton beat his opponents three to one, his campaign signs simply read "Herenton" in a bold, red font.
Election commissioners have just set a timetable for the special election to replace Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
The special election will be held Oct. 27, meaning the filing deadline for candidates will be Sept. 17 at noon. Declared candidates will have until Sept. 24 at noon to rescind their candidacy.
Election Commission administrator Richard Holden estimates the election will cost around $1.07 million and will require about 1,500 employees.
Because of the high cost of special elections, commissioner Brian Stephens asked that no commission employee start work on this until after July 31. He did not want to waste taxpayer money should Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton decide not to step down next Thursday as promised.
The Shelby County Election Commission just voted to set a date to hold a special election to replace Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
The election will be held Oct. 27.
We're blogging live from the Shelby County Election Commission meeting. The commission is in the midst of a debate about whether to set a date for a special election to replace Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
The City Council approved a resolution on Tuesday declaring a mayoral vacancy effective after July 30.
Before the meeting tonight, Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini distributed a letter from Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton challenging that vote. Herenton wrote to City Atty. Elbert Jefferson today, saying he was concerned with the ethics of the vote because City Council Chairman Myron Lowery voted in favor of the resolution, even though he stands to gain financially from the outcome. He'll get a raise once he becomes mayor pro tem.
"It is my belief that a member of the public could reason that a vote on a matter that triggers direct financial gain to a councilmember voting on a matter, should warrant that council member declaring a conflict, complying with state law or recusing himself or herself," Herenton wrote.
He ended the letter: "Ultimately, I have not waived my right to rescind my retirement. Consequently, I believe that any action by the Memphis City Council and the Election Commission is premature."
Giannini said before the meeting that this letter has no bearing on how the commission votes tonight.
Shot 10 days before Mayor Willie Herenton's presumed retirement, watch him sound off on his recipe for the city's success, unfinished city business and his July 30 departure.
In the video below, Councilman Joe Brown argued that members Myron Lowery, Jim Strickland and Kemp Conrad should not vote on the minutes because they are potential candidates in the special election and, thus, have a conflict of interest. They voted anyway.
The Shelby County Democratic Party might host convention to pick a candidate to endorse in the special election to replace Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
With as many as 15 possible candidates in the race - most of them Democrats -- Democratic Party Chairman Van Turner said it's important for the party to back one so Democrats don't split the vote. Candidates A C Wharton, Carol Chumney and Charles Carpenter are all Democrats.
The city election, however, is non-partisan.
"We would want to promote one Democrat and at least have one person we could focus our efforts on and get that person in," Van Turner said.
By Aug. 6, the party should know how it will go about selecting this endorsee, Van Turner said.
Possible methods include:
Hosting a people's convention in which only registered Democrats would be invited to hear the candidates speak and vote on their pick. The winner of the event would win the party's backing.
Host a fundraiser for the party and conduct a straw poll where guests vote on a preferred candidate. The winner would win the party's endorsement.
Partner with another organization to host a forum, let the candidates talk, answer questions and then vote on a candidate of choice. The winner would win the party's endorsement.
"Although the mayor's race is non-partisan," Van Turner said, "most of the candidates in the field are Democrats, and the danger in all of this is you would have several Democrats running against one another. From a party standpoint, that's not entirely healthy."
Chumney, an outspoken former city councilwoman and state representative who made a name for herself criticizing business-as-usual politicians, wrote a $30 check to the Firecracker 5K benefiting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital that was returned for insufficient funds.
"I just took care of that," Chumney said Monday morning. "Every once in a while it happens."
Chumney, a candidate in the upcoming special election to pick Mayor Willie Herenton's successor, said she has multiple checking accounts and funds from one account weren't transferred to the account used to write the check.
Chumney, 48, finished 12th in her division in the race.
...comes from the Mayor himself.
While we normally rely on spokeswoman Toni Holmon-Turner for the latest on Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's resignation plans, Herenton told a gaggle of reporters at the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church this morning that he's still planning to go next Friday.
"I don't know why you guys don't believe me!" Herenton said.
Herenton said he has a lot of complex issues to sort out. Also, he's not planning to submit a formal retirement letter in writing seemingly to spite the people who doubt his promised exit.
"The reason for that is it kind of bothers me that people think that [ I ] would renege on [my] word," he said.
The letter also said recipients would soon be getting an invitation for a farewell party in the Hall of Mayors at City Hall July 30 at 2 p.m.
Herenton has said he is retiring to join his son, Rodney, in a financial services firm and to run for the 9th Congressional District seat held by Rep. Steve Cohen, sentiments that were echoed in his letter to supporters.
"Serving my hometown as mayor for the last 18 years has been a very rewarding and very challenging experience," Herenton wrote in the letter. "I gave my best."
"It's now time for me to close this chapter and open another one in the private sector," he said. "I'm also considering a race for the 9th Congressional District in 2010."
A declared vacancy in the Memphis mayor's office could become official as early as next week, even if Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton doesn't submit his promised retirement in writing.
If the City Council approves the minutes of the prior meeting on Tuesday, a resolution declaring a mayoral vacancy would come into effect. This could pave the way for the Shelby County Election Commission to start planning a special election.
Two weeks ago the council approved a resolution in a 7-6 vote that declared a mayoral vacancy on July 30, the possible date of Herenton's departure. That resolution didn't take effect, however, because the council failed to approve the meeting's minutes in a 6-7 vote.
City Councilman Bill Boyd was the missing vote, saying he supported the mayoral vacancy but didn't want to rush approval of the minutes without giving Herenton two weeks to write his letter. "What's the rush?" Boyd said. "Everyone seems like it's a big rush, but I just don't see it. What's two weeks difference?"
But Boyd said he plans to approve the minutes this Tuesday because he's spoken with Herenton, who said he isn't planning to turn in a letter at all but will retire on schedule.
"He promised me that he was leaving on the 30th," Boyd said earlier today. "That was his date of resignation. So we can move forward from that point, plan based on that and get on with the regular business of the city."
Election Commission Chairman Bill Giannini said if the minutes are approved Tuesday, the election commission can proceed with planning a special election when they meet Wednesday afternoon.
"We can't make any moves until those minutes have been approved and they send us official notice," Giannini said.
Reporter Zack McMillin has compiled the latest information on all the declared candidates, as well as those considering running, in the possible special election to replace retiring Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
As we do every day, we e-mailed Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's people, and spokeswoman Toni Holmon-Turner confirms that it's still wise to keep the calendar clear on July 30.
CA reporter Amos Maki: "July 30?"
Toni Holmon-Turner: "I know of no changes."
But still no new letter making official the resignation/retirement/call-it-what-you-will.
Although he would later soften his stance, attorney and declared Memphis mayoral candidate Charles Carpenter said in his Wednesday radio appearance with Thaddeus Matthews that it was "a shame" so many people are insisting on running if and when a special election occurs.
"It really is a shame that we have all of these candidates that are running for mayor because many of them are not serious about it," Carpenter said. "And maybe by the time that the filing deadline and the withdrawal deadline is there, some or many of them will step aside."
It was the very first point made in the appearance on KWAM-AM 990 by Carpenter, who was the campaign manager for retiring Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's five mayoral campaigns and whose law practice has benefitted greatly as counsel for the city on many big financial deals. By Thursday afternoon, Carpenter changed the focus when asked about the crowded field, saying that "my entry into this race is to win."
"I don't know how as a candidate we can control that," Carpenter said. "Whatever the motivation for a candidate to enter this race, the citizens of Memphis will have to see through that and make a determination who is going to be the best candidate to be the next mayor.
"I'm not going to waste my time trying to figure out who is getting into the race and who doesn't."
Click the jump to see a list and analysis of declared candidates and those considering a run.
In response to reports about his meetings with prospective candidates for Memphis Mayor, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton issued a statement this evening.
Eye on City Hall reported earlier this afternoon about a meeting with County Commissioner James Harvey, in which Harvey said Wharton invited him to partner on an economic development project.
On his Web site, Wharton posted this statement:
"I have and will continue to meet with individuals who represent our local business, civic and political communities - candidates and non-candidates alike - to share my plans and vision for the future prosperity of our city. At no point during any of my talks and conversations, however, have I asked any individual to not enter the Memphis Mayor's race or to leave the race if they have already committed to run. Also, I have not offered any candidate or any business or community leader anything other than an opportunity to share in my hopeful vision for our great city. I am doing this for a number of reasons; first, it's the right thing to do. Also, I deeply cherish my reputation as an individual willing to cross all lines to try and bring a shared vision and harmony for our community. I look forward to continuing to speak with and hear from people from across Memphis as we chart the course forward."
Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton reached out to another candidate this week in the growing special election to replace Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
County Commissioner James Harvey, who has officially become a candidate, said when he met with Wharton Wednesday at the Little Tea Shop, the county mayor did not explicitly ask him to drop out of the race. Instead, Wharton proposed the two collaborate on an economic development project in an area of Harvey's interest.
"We had a little discussion about potentially my not running in the race and instead working on a special project with the mayor addressing some of the under-served issues with small business," said Harvey, a former mortgage lender and chair of the commission's economic development committee.
"We didn't talk about any special deal, we didn't talk about being compensated," Harvey added. "We talked about a business partnership that was in the interest of the growth I would like to see."
Harvey gave no indication that Wharton's "proposal" would be enough to lure him out of the special election.
"At some point I may change my mind, but right now I'm in the race," Harvey said.
Wharton did not return calls seeking comment.
The meeting at the Little Tea Shop occurred one day after Wharton said he was "troubled" by the growing field of potential candidates - as many as 15 -- who could split the votes in the special election to replace Herenton. He said Tuesday that he would be open to meeting with fellow candidates to discuss best plans for the city.
Harvey said Wharton is smart to try for a partnership with him. The county mayor might have the backing of the business community, but "the people in my district are not ranting and raving for AC."
Harvey won 4,724 votes in the 2006 Democratic primary (his general race was uncontested), a base which, Harvey says, could siphon away votes from Wharton in the South Memphis district.
"Mayor Wharton has been smart trying to partner with some of the candidates in the race so at the end of the day there's only one," Harvey said.
"There are no changes that I am aware of," said Herenton spokeswoman Toni Holmon-Turner, in an e-mail to Reporter Amos Maki.
With the July 30 change of power looking more likely by the day, what's keeping Herenton from submitting his written intent to retire?
As Washington Correspondent Bartholomew Sullivan has reported, the fundraising battle is already on in the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary.
As of Wednesday evening, Steve Cohen's fundraising machine had already raked in $752,003 compared to Willie Herenton's $0, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
So far, poker players have backed Cohen, and numerous Memphis heavy-hitters including former congressman Harold Ford Sr. (no surprises there), Beale Street impresario John Elkington and developers Henry Turley (the Cohen campaign treasurer) and Jack and Ron Belz.
The race isn't on until August 2010, but if Cohen's early fundraising is any indication, this is going to be one expensive campaign.
A year away from the election, Cohen's campaign war chest is already close to what he raised in his battle against former congressional candidate Nikki Tinker last year.
When Cohen beat Tinker in August 2008, he had raised nearly $1 million. As of late July, we reported his total collections to be $817,711 compared to Tinker's $378,756.
Herenton isn't completely broke, however. According to the Shelby County Election Commission, he had $96,638 available in his mayoral re-election campaign account in February although he will not be able transfer that money to his congressional bid.
Charles Carpenter agreed Wednesday afternoon to do what, so far, no mayoral candidate we know of has ever done -- spend not one, not two but three hours in studio with radio talk-show host Thaddeus Matthews.
That Carpenter, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's campaign manager going back to 1991, was able to fill the three hours on KWAM-AM 990 with detailed plans outlining his vision for the city indicates how serious he is approaching his run. In fact, he very much sounded like a man who may have known for some time that there would be a special election worth preparing for. One example: Matthews and his callers often pressed Carpenter to explain how he would expand economic opportunities for all, and Carpenter at one pointed cited a Brookings Institute study showing that Memphis "ranks No. 38" in the country in economic strength and expounded on it.
As he did in launching his campaign on Beale Street last week and at a forum of builders and contractors, Carpenter emphasized not his obvious connection to Herenton but his legal background (including how he started as a defense attorney, partnering with then-young Leslie Ballin as they tried their first case together) and business and finance experience. And he seemed eager to share his background, having risen from a humble beginning near Beale and Danny Thomas to graduate from internationally-respected institutions like Howard University and Notre Dame Law School. That combination of a life experience that allows him to relate to the poorest Memphians and an educational and professional pedigree that makes him comfortable in the most elite of circles appears to be a double-whammy Carpenter realizes distinguishes him from most other declared or potential candidates.
"I am very serious about becoming the next mayor for the City of Memphis because the city is poised for greatness," said Carpenter, who must have used the word "consensus" a couple dozen times. "But we need a leader to move the city forward as opposed to a politician. And a leader will understand the finance, the business opportunities, the opportunities to make Memphis an international city as well as home for many of the national Fortune 100 corporations."
Matthews challenged Carpenter to prove he was not what the host called a "safe Negro" (at one point, "what I call Uncle Tom handkerchief-head wearing Negroes") pandering to white business interests, but his language was noticeably toned down. The insults Matthews aimed at City Council chairman and prospective mayor pro tem Myron Lowery, especially, were much more subdued than when Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton appeared on his show.
Former City Councilman Edmund Ford Sr. won't make any promises about a possible run for Memphis mayor.
At least not until Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton puts his promised resignation in writing.
"I don't need to worry about it right this minute," Ford said Wednesday about putting together a mayoral campaign. "Call me back when the mayor decides he's ready to go."
More from Bartholomew Sullivan, The CA's correspondent in D.C., on the "Herenton for Congress" campaign committee. See the earlier post below for more details on documents so far filed by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's congressional campaign team.
The campaign's custodian of the committee's records, William H. "Bill" Watkins Jr., of the accounting firm Watkins Uiberall PLLC is a former chairman of the Tennessee Board of Regents and served as treasurer of Republican Tom Leatherwood's campaign committee when he made an unsuccessful primary run against U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn last year.
At least two Memphis mayoral candidates have blasted Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton - and his so-called attempts to "manipulate" the media -- for saying he's "troubled" by the crowded field of candidates jockeying to replace Memphis mayor Willie Herenton.
In a press release this morning, candidate Carol Chumney, a former mayoral candidate and longtime city and state legislator, said a crowded field is "expected in a democracy and demonstrates the fact that the race is 'wide-open with no clear frontrunner.'"
Wharton on Tuesday expressed concern about the growing field of candidates and said it would be preferable for the next mayor to be elected by "mandate" from the people and not in a "fluke" situation should candidates split the vote.
Chumney responded: "While there are some who would prefer to circumvent the will of the people in a democracy with back room deals, ultimately there will be an election and the people will have their say," she said.
Chumney went on to note Dick Hackett was elected Memphis mayor in a special election with a crowded field and went on to serve 10 years; Herenton also won in a margin of about 100 votes and later served 18 years.
She did not note, however, that the city's runoff provision was still in place when Hackett won the first time - he beat J.O. Patterson in a runoff in 1982 -- or that Herenton and Hackett were the primary candidates in the 1991 election.
Chumney concluded her statement by blasting Wharton's position in the race: "He knows he doesn't have a mandate of the people in this election and instead has to try to manipulate the press and the process."
This isn't the first time Chumney the candidate has raised issues with the media. After her defeat in 2007, Chumney expressed belief that the media contributed to Herenton's victory.
In her statement today she did not go so far as to accuse the media of being manipulated by Wharton.
But another candidate, Memphis City School Board commissioner Rev. Kenneth Whalum, Jr., wasn't so shy. Whalum has said numerous times that the media, specifically The Commercial Appeal, is pulling for Wharton.
He reiterated this belief in a comment on The Commercial Appeal's Web site Tuesday, saying the paper is apparently "reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally anxious for our county mayor to become our city mayor."
Whalum has also been critical of Wharton's campaign tactics, last week accusing Wharton of skipping a campaign forum in order to avoid being on equal footing with other candidates.
In an e-mail Tuesday Whalum blasted Wharton's statements on the crowded field.
"Where I'm from they call that HUBRIS :-)," he wrote.
Whalum also wrote that he got a call from a Wharton "emissary" last week asking if he'd be willing to "sit down and meet."
Bartholomew Sullivan, The Commercial Appeal's correspondent in D.C., sends along an update on details of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's congressional bid.
The Herenton for Congress campaign committee has named as its treasurer Ricky E. Wilkins, a lawyer who has known the mayor for 25 years and has done more than $2 million in legal work for the city, most recently auditing businesses on Beale Street. The custodian of the committee's records is William Watkins. The treasurer for many years for "The Committee to Re-Elect Dr. W.W. Herenton, Mayor" was Stephanie Dowell.
Under House ethics rules, Herenton is required to file a financial disclosure statement with the House clerk 30 days after he has raised $5,000. As of Wednesday, he had not filed a financial disclosure statement. Cohen filed his annual financial disclosure statement on May 15.
We decided to email this morning, so as not to take time away from the packing in the seventh floor mayoral office.
CA reporter Amos Maki: "Mayor still retiring July 30?"
Mayor Willie Herenton spokeswoman Toni Holmon-Turner: "Nothing has changed as far as I am aware."
So there you have it: 15 days, or half a month, left before the office has its first new resident in nearly 18 years.
Not to increase name recognition.
Not to make sure the issues they care about are addressed.
Not just because a special election would allow them to run while staying on Council (a City Council member cannot run for mayor and re-election at the same time).
"My concern is to figure out if I can win," said Strickland. "If I figure out I cannot win then I will not run. Now, there will never be a 100-percent guarantee, but if there is a path to victory, then I will probably run."
Strickland, a 44-year-old attorney, is repeating a potent catchphrase that he insists targets no one politician but is hard not to be perceived as a shot at declared candidates Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton and City Council chair and prospective mayor pro tem Myron Lowery: "We cannot change Memphis for the next generation with leaders from the last generation."
Strickland has appointed a treasurer, so he can raise money for his exploratory effort, which most often is a signal that a candidate needs money to fund a poll. Some who have spoken to Strickland say he must be realistic in assessing his actual appeal throughout Memphis, not just in his District 5 and certainly beyond the impressively large but unmistakably homogeneous group of Facebook supporters (more than a few of whom are not Memphis voters).
Conrad, a 35-year-old partner in a commercial real estate firm, knows like Strickland that in politics, losing is beyond disappointing -- it is crushing. Strickland lost to Carol Chumney in a 2003 race for City Council despite a huge fundraising advantage, and Conrad, former chair of the Shelby County Republican Party, lost a crowded Council race for Super District 9, Position 2 in 2007 (he won a less-crowded race last year).
Conrad doesn't buy the "nothing to lose" argument. Putting family, friends, business partners and supporters -- and himself -- through an intense 90-day campaign for the third consecutive year gives Conrad pause.
"That is the most selfish thing someone can do," Conrad says. "There is no glory in second place. If you lose by one vote, there's nothing good about it. If you are not in it to win it and ask people for their hard-earned money and ask people for their time and ask people to leverage relationships -- if you are not in it to win it and going to go through all that, then you need to have your head checked."
That said, there is an enticing argument for Conrad -- as the only bona fide Republican known to be considering a run, if he can hold a substantial portion of his base and lock down Republican votes, it is easy to envision a competitive scenario.
Can he do that? Strickland, long a loyal Democrat, has attracted Republican support for his stands on public safety and fiscally conservative budgets he has proposed that did not pass.
Conrad and Strickland each say they feel no urgency, especially with Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton having delayed his retirement until the end of the month. They will continue searching for paths that might lead to victory -- and not to a political dead end.
Earlier this week, City Hall reporter Amos Maki wrote about the departure of two of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's controversial appointments, director Ken Moody and deputy director Yalanda McFadgon, in the city's public services and neighborhoods division.
Memphis Public Library and Information System director Keenon McCloy -- whose appointment last year also garnered criticism -- has been tapped to lead that division on an interim basis.
While controversy seems to trail Herenton's appointments, at least one reader has said he misjudged McCloy and her deputy Michael Gray's leadership abilities. Gray, Herenton's former bodyguard and a former city division director, has also resigned his post.
When McCloy, the former public services director, was promoted in January 2008 to replace longtime library director Judith Drescher, some accused Herenton of cronyism. McCloy did not have a library science degree or library administration experience. Meanwhile, Drescher retired unexpectedly after 23 years heading the system.
Herenton dismissed the criticism in February 2008, saying: "I'm one chief executive officer who does not play friendship or partiality or rewarding supporters with top level positions. The individuals I appoint are qualified."
The mayor's position would be further tested a year later when Moody, a former Memphis State University basketball player, and McFadgon, a former bodyguard and convicted felon, became key players in recent problems at the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center.
Back to McCloy, the library fallout continued and a total of eight high-ranking library employees wound up leaving along with Drescher. The Tennessee Library Association even sent Herenton a stinging letter criticizing the shakeup.
After a while, however, the public outrage subsided and McCloy's name stopped appearing in the news. In late June, one reader, Memphis resident Chris Matz, wrote that despite his initial skepticism of McCloy and Gray's appointments, in the last 18 months, he's watched their "exceptional leadership." He said he was wrong to make snap judgments.
"Watching them work and seeing how the MPLIC staff has responded to their guidance has been remarkable," Matz wrote.
This Eye on City Hall Blogger is not sure of Matz's relationship to either McCloy or Gray. But amid the confusion going on at City Hall, maybe this is one transition that won't prove to be as chaotic.
Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton says he's "troubled" by the growing field of candidates who could split the vote in the race for Memphis Mayor.
And though Wharton said he would not start asking people to get out of the race, he would welcome the opportunity to sit down with fellow candidates and make a decision "that's in the best interest of the city."
"Without regard to race, gender, ethnicity or anything, I am troubled by the large number of candidates," Wharton said. "Memphis is a major city; it would be preferable to elect the next mayor in a manner that shows he or she has a mandate to lead and that he or she was not chosen by way of a fluke."
As the special election to replace Mayor Willie Herenton becomes more real - Herenton is expected to step down in two weeks - candidates are thinking about what a crowded field could mean in a city election with no runoffs.
First-term City Councilman Jim Strickland, who is still undecided about whether to launch a campaign, told reporter Zack McMillin that he hasn't received pressure not to run. But conversations with other candidates or potential candidates can have an "odd" feel to them.
"A lot of times when you have conversations with candidates, and I'm not saying conversations I've had were exactly like this, but a lot of times one candidate wants the other candidate to get out of the race," Strickland said. "It's a very odd conversation and I'm not sure it's a very productive conversation. It is the right thing to do and the polite thing to do to listen to another's viewpoint."
Strickland said he has talked to Carol Chumney, a declared candidate, "once or twice," and last Monday he and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton -- also declared as a candidate -- had a brief conversation where they agreed to meet at a later date. He's also reached out to prospective candidate and former Councilman Edmund Ford Sr.
Wharton said he would like to sit down and talk to Strickland, but he made it clear he does not intend to discuss "some clandestine strategy of how would he squeeze somebody out," Wharton said. "We would sit down and discuss the best plans or visions for the city.
Meanwhile, Councilman Kemp Conrad, also a prospective candidate, would not tell reporter Amos Maki whether he had been approached by Wharton campaign volunteer, Bobby Lanier. But Conrad said it would not affect his decision.
"Calls from a surrogate of any campaign doesn't mean a hill of beans and it won't change my mind in the slightest," Conrad said.
Lanier, a longtime Wharton ally and former county employee who was forced to retire in 2004 following a pension scandal, later told Maki that he just called Conrad to ask what he was going to do. "I never asked him to get out," Lanier said.
For those of you who want to see more of the candidates, videographer Lacey Winters has compiled longer videos for each candidate who spoke. You can view them by going to our video page, or by clicking on each candidate below.
Kenneth Whalum Jr.
The Shelby County Election Commission's headaches can be summarized in an e-mail sent this morning: "The Shelby County Election Commission, Operations and Technology Committee, scheduled for July 14, 2009, 4:30 p.m., 980 Nixon Drive has been canceled and rescheduled for Wednesday, July 22, 2009, at 3:30 p.m."
That's all a long way of saying the Commission continues in the mode of hurry up and wait. Commission chairman Bill Giannini said today the lingering uncertainty over the retirement plans of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton made it necessary to move the meeting.
"We need to meet after the City Council meets on the 21st anyway, so we just decided to move it to the 22nd instead of getting everybody together today," Giannini said. "We are also in the middle of a move over to the courthouse. It's also hard on the staff to have them all go to the ops center (at Shelby Farms) this week and next week."
Until Herenton has officially retired (he promises July 30 is the magic day) and the City Council has passed a viable resolution declaring the office of mayor vacant, the Commission must wait before beginning to plan for what promises to be a wide open and crowded special election. Assuming July 30 becomes the official retirement date, the election would be held likely the final week of October, with the Commission's preference either Tuesday Oct. 27 or Thursday Oct. 29. Right now, the City Council resolution, read literally, calls for an election held on Friday, Oct. 30 -- Halloween eve and a getaway day for Memphians who travel on weekends.
"We will probably send a little nudge over to the Council to say, 'Hey, guys, FYI, you know you've got it on a Friday right now,' " Giannini said.
For the Commission, this was supposed to be a very light election year after several years of exhausting election seasons. The Commission had hoped the mostly fallow year would allow them to improve planning, technology and organization -- some of it mandated by law.
"This will definitely set us back and cause us to reprioritize on a short-term basis," Giannini said. "It's nothing that would affect future elections. It's just some things we were hoping to do out of want, not out of need."
The retirement delay, Giannini said, also likely means the filing deadline will fall sometime in mid-September -- "Six Saturdays before the election," he said -- with the withdrawal deadline following a week later. As soon as the retirement date is final and the election is scheduled, however, candidates will be able to begin pulling petitions and filing. There will also be early voting, likely at the same satellite sites used in past elections.
"One bright side of the delay," Giannini said, "is that he's given us a little more time to prepare."
As of today, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton is still retiring.
That's the latest from spokeswoman Toni Holmon-Turner, who confirmed this morning that Herenton's last day is still July 30. The mayor is also still clearing out his seventh floor office at City Hall.
"If anything changes I'll let you know," said Holmon-Turner.
Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton may be in the midst of a high-stakes campaign, but today he's at the commission working his day job.
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton has not yet resigned, but lately Wharton's name only seems to only surface in relation to the mayor's race.
Today, however, he's still county mayor. He's been required to sit through almost the entire County Commission meeting because his chief administrative officer, Jim Huntzicker, is off.
"It's business as usual," Wharton said before the meeting today, clutching a cup of black coffee.
Wharton quipped that he's able to multi-task, unlike some other well-known candidates -- namely former presidential candidate Senator John McCain who famously took leave from his campaign to attend a federal budget session.
"I don't have to drop everything to run a campaign," Wharton joked.
As we just reported, Commissioner Joyce Avery was just elected chairwoman of the Shelby County Commission in an 8-0 vote.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Sidney Chism was elected as chairman pro tem in a 7-6 vote. He beat Commissioner Henri Brooks to the seat.
Both votes followed relatively tense debates and both were significant because they determine the county's interim leadership if county Mayor A C Wharton wins a special election to replace Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
Avery won the votes of Commissioners James Harvey, Sidney Chism, Wyatt Bunker, Steve Mulroy, Mike Carpenter, Mike Ritz, J.W. Gibson and George Flinn. The other commissioners "passed" when asked their vote.
Interestingly, Malone did not win votes from either Democratic Commissioner Matt Kuhn or Henri Brooks, both of whom had nominated her.
Kuhn spoke in favor of Malone, saying she would be the person he'd want to serve as interim mayor should A C Wharton win the city mayor's race.
But he got a slight reprimand from Woodstock resident Terry Roland, who has run for numerous seats and speaks often before the commission. He was the only constituent to speak out today.
Roland said Avery is "very dear to our area."
And then he turned to Kuhn: "Matt, remember that you're representing an area of people, District 4, and I would think that they would want her in this leadership position."
Kuhn, the former local Democratic party chair, was part of a controversial vote a few months ago in which the commission's Democratic majority elected him to fill the seat of Republican Commissioner David Lillard.
District 4, Avery's district, traditionally votes Republican. At the time of Kuhn's election, he said he would work to represent his new constituents. He also said the issues commissioners deal with are often not partisan.
Kuhn "passed" when it came time to vote.
Meanwhile, Chism won the votes of himself, Joe Ford, Mike Ritz, Joyce Avery, Wyatt Bunker, Mike Ritz and George Flinn.
Chism played an interesting role in the behind-the-scenes wrangling for commission leadership, first expressing interest in the chairman's seat months ago.
Brooks today called out Chism for jumping into the pro tem race late. She said when she'd expressed interest in running for the pro tem seat a few months ago, no other Democrats had said they would run against her. She asked the Democrats who had pledged their support to keep their word.
Shelby County Commissioners have started the process to select a new chairman.
Commissioners are making nominations for who they'd like to see as the next chair.
Commissioner Sidney Chism, a Democrat, has just nominated Republican Commissioner Joyce Avery, saying even though the local Democratic party has asked him to support County Commissioner Deidre Malone, he gave his word to Avery.
Other Republican commissioners also gave Avery a nomination, with the exception of Commissioner Mike Carpenter, who "passed" when asked who he was nominating.
Meanwhile, Democratic Commissioners Matt Kuhn and Henri Brooks nominated Malone, saying they think Avery would be a good chair in a normal year.
"But this is a question that for me has implications not only for chairman but our leadership as a community," Kuhn said.
Kuhn said he would like to see the same leadership that is currently piloting our county "in a time when we have unrest in a lot of places."
Avery, the presumed chairman to-be, sounds upset, saying this debate "dumbfounds me."
"It looks like nothing more than a power play to me," she said, adding that this debate is premature because Mayor A C Wharton hasn't won the City of Memphis mayor's seat.
Malone said she didn't ask to be nominated but is willing to serve.
"I've never stayed home or run away from a vote," Malone said, in a direct hit to Avery, who has missed a few meetings.
"What we're dealing with is a climate of uncertainty and change," Malone said in a determined voice.
"My leadership is needed now more than every before," she said.
Commissioner Steve Mulroy, a Democrat, said this is a tremendously important vote.
But he feels uncomfortable voting for Malone because "we do have a tradition," and he doesn't consider this enough of an "extraordinary circumstance" to break tradition of alternating political parties in the chairman's seat.
"There's really not a lot of damage one person can do as acting mayor in 30 days," he said, later adding that he supports Malone in his heart and wouldn't be upset if she were elected chair.
If Jerry Austin does come back to Memphis to help Carol Chumney run her campaign in the City of Memphis special mayoral election, it will be welcome news for political junkies. When the veteran Democratic campaign strategist worked for Steve Cohen in 1996 and 2008, his analyses of local and national dynamics were always insightful and often prescient.
Austin said today from his home in Cleveland, Ohio, that the wide-open nature of the mayoral election, with no runoff provision, makes him believe Chumney must be considered one of the frontrunners, given her consistent base of support going back to 1990 and her 35-percent showing in the 2007 mayoral race. But Austin also said Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton "would be considered everybody's front-runner for obvious reasons." Austin said he once had a candidate win in a field with nine candidates by taking 32 percent of the vote, "which is humongous," and could see someone getting elected with less than 30 percent.
As for the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary that will feature Cohen against retiring Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton next summer, Austin said right now he would advise a strategy similar to the one followed in 2008. "His strategy is simple -- 'I'm the Congressman,'" Austin said. "When you are the Congressman, the election is about you and your record. The challenger has to say what he would do better. The challenger in this case doesn't have any idea what he would do better because that's not how he thinks. He just thinks, 'I want to be the Congressman.'"
Austin said that Herenton's declared entry into the race has already been of enormous benefit to Cohen because "he now has some people supporting him he normally wouldn't have."
Austin and Chumney have talked but she has not hired him. See previous post below.
As of today, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton is still retiring.
That's the latest from spokeswoman Toni Holmon-Turner, who confirmed this morning that Herenton's last day is still July 30. The mayor is also still clearing out his seventh floor office at City Hall, even though it is "not empty" yet, Holmon-Turner said.
But the resignation that looks more real by the day is not official until it's in writing, according to City Councilwoman Wanda Halbert (left), who last week called the City Council's vote declaring a July 30 mayoral vacancy "unethical."
Halbert said today she'd still like the city's ethics compliance office to review whether the council "overstepped its level of authority granted by the United States Constitution."
She's asked city attorney Elbert Jefferson about spurring that inquiry.
Halbert said the seven members who voted in favor of the vacancy overstepped their role as legislators by circumventing the administration. Since the latest vote, the council has become divided because "some people love him and some people hate the mayor," she said.
But, Halbert said, "it's not about our personal opinions about the mayor. It's about the office and the authorities of both the legislative and executive body. The man rescinded his stuff. And I mean we can't do anything until we know when he's planning to leave."
Speaking of Halbert, the Internet is buzzing today about whether Halbert will consider a run in the special election to replace Herenton, if and when he steps down.
Halbert said even though a "diverse group of constituents have asked me to consider it," she's not discussing a mayoral campaign at the moment.
National Democratic campaign guru Jerry Austin, who helped guide Steve Cohen's resounding 9th Congressional District primary victory in 2008, may be coming back to Memphis politics sooner than expected. Reports that Austin will work as Carol Chumney's campaign manager in the City of Memphis's special mayoral election are "premature," according to Chumney, but Austin confirmed that he did spend some time in town recently talking to Chumney about managing her campaign.
"We ended up saying your job right now is raising money and raising volunteers and raising interest," Austin said Monday from Cleveland, Ohio, where he lives.
Austin said he told Chumney, a former legislator and one-term City Council member: "You're not spending money now. When you get to that point, let's talk again. Perhaps we can work something out."
Austin said he had not previously met Chumney, but that nationally-renowned pollster Celinda Lake, who also worked for Cohen, is doing some work for Chumney and encouraged them to discuss the possibility of working together. According to Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports, Cohen paid Austin $10,000 per month, plus Downtown living expenses. Chumney raised more than $200,000 in her 2007 bid for mayor, which was far less than her two main competitors in that race, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and former Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division president Herman Morris (she finished second, with 35 percent of the vote).
Chumney said she will not comment on specifics of her campaign team until it is finalized. She said there was a very successful campaign event Saturday afternoon at a backyard barbecue with "150 or more" people. "We had people from Boxtown to Cordova ," Chumney said. "It was the first of many backyard parties and neighborhood events we'll have across the city. Our support is continuing to grow."
Chumney said she expects to have a campaign website up later this week where she will post video, photos and transcripts of her remarks.
Shelby County Commissioners are expected to select their new chairman in a few hours, a vote that could determine the county's next mayor (presuming a chain of events starting with the promised resignation of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.)
As reporter Daniel Connolly wrote this weekend, Republican Commissioner Joyce Avery, the current vice chair, was the presumed shoo-in. That is, until rumors leaked that Democrat Deidre Malone may compete to keep her chairman seat for a second year.
Malone has already made it known she's considering a run for Shelby County mayor. And if Herenton resigns and sitting county Mayor A C Wharton wins a special election to replace him, the commission chairman will take over as interim mayor.
If Malone becomes mayor even temporarily, she could gain some notable advantages, including lots of name recognition, when she campaigns for the 2010 county mayoral race.
Surely Commissioner Sidney Chism, a Democrat, thought about that when he was quoted in support of Avery, saying "it's not right for us to break our commitment to Commissioner Avery, whether she's a Republican or a Democrat."
Chism, who a few months ago considered his own run against Avery for commission chairman, is a longtime supporter of Harold Byrd, who is also considering a run for county mayor. Byrd has said Chism was among a group of business and civic leaders encouraging him to jump into the mayor's race.
Maybe we should start calling Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton the "Repeat Rescinder."
Lately, the five-term mayor has gotten a bad rap for flip-flopping on his resignation plans. He "resigned" as mayor in 2008 and then changed his mind, and now he's delayed his latest resignation plans.
But those living in Memphis in the '80s may recall the first resignation he later rescinded.In 1987, Herenton resigned from his job as superintendent of Memphis City Schools. And then he changed his mind.
After years as superintendent, Herenton took a job as head of Atlanta's public schools in the fall of that year. But on Oct. 15, 1987, he decided to stay in Memphis.
According to The Commercial Appeal archives, Herenton compared his situation to that of a single woman courted by a rich man. She promises to marry the rich man, then realizes her heart lies with the poor man, "who won't even take you to McDonald's," he said at the time.
Herenton said he was so committed to Memphis that he felt good about staying.
"I still believe I would have greater opportunities in Atlanta than in Memphis. But because Memphis is so important to me, I'm staying," Herenton said.
Articles from the time say it was well known that Herenton was being talked about as becoming Memphis' first black elected mayor. He was elected to that office four years later.
(Herenton is pictured at left acknowledging applause on Oct. 15, 1987, after telling a group of city and school officers that he had decided not to move to Atlanta. Photo by Michael McMullan/The Commercial Appeal files)
Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton is already taking heat from other candidates in the presumptive race to replace Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
Wharton chose not to attend a candidate forum today, telling the forum's organizer that appearing would not be the most strategic move for his campaign.
As to be expected, candidates who did appear were critical of Wharton, including Memphis City School commissioner Kenneth Whalum Jr.
Whalum said Wharton is right, "it couldn't have been in his best interest to appear with the rest of us, particularly me."
Whalum says he's a threat to Wharton and often reiterates that he won 83,939 votes in the Memphis city limits during his 2006 school board race. Wharton won more -- slightly more than 116,000 -- in his countywide race for mayor in 2006, but that was out of a larger pool of voters both in and outside of Memphis.
As long as Wharton keeps his distance, Whalum said, the two-term county mayor is able to maintain "the aura of being the mayor, without having to be on equal footing as the other candidates."
But Whalum believes savvy voters will figure out that Wharton has few credentials in terms of being "an inside-the-city force."
Wharton, who spoke with CA reporter Zack McMillin this afternoon, said he expects direct shots at him to "intensify" as the race heats up.
Short of calling Wharton the early front-runner, most observers and other candidates believe he enters the race with notable advantages, including a strong organization, money and name recognition.
Wharton said he will appear at other forums, but ultimately he'll decide which ones are the best for his campaign. Also, he called this forum a little premature because we still don't know all the candidates vying for the city's top spot.
Say this for Charles Carpenter -- the press conference launching his mayoral campaign began at 11 a.m. sharp, just as the press release said it would.
Rare is the political event in Memphis that actually begins on time, and it meant several reporters missed the opening 10 minutes. Which meant Carpenter, a Memphis attorney who was the longtime campaign manager for current Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, got to answer questions he had already addressed, like whether he believes the mayor really will retire at the end of the month (he definitely does).
Most of the questions fired at Carpenter involved Herenton either directly or indirectly, and one TV reporter asked Carpenter specifically if he felt the next mayor should be "a black person."
"The next mayor should be the best candidate, that can have a vision pulling people together to move our city forward," Carpenter said. "Because we have serious issues with our community. Crime is spiraling, unemployment is spiraling. We're not growing, we're not bringing in new opportunities. That needs to change."
The closest Carpenter came to directly criticizing Herenton came near the end of the press conference.
"The leadership we have has proven they cannot get the job done. Period," Carpenter said. "So now we have to have new leadership, new vision -- a comprehensive approach. We are not going to be divisive. We are going to bring everybody in because it is all of our problems. It's not just one part of the community's problems, it's all of our problems."
The candidates' forum at the University of Memphis' Holiday Inn was the first time would-be candidates for the Memphis mayor's race have shared the same stage since Mayor Willie Herenton announced his resignation.
And while some said the forum was too early (Herenton rescinded his written promise to resign and the election commission won't set a race date), the organizer, County Commissioner Mike Carpenter said he had actually started organizing the event when Herenton's last day was still July 10.
But the prevailing wisdom, Carpenter said, is that there will be a city mayor's race at some point "and that the folks we had here today are likely to be candidates when that race happens. I think it was substantive and I don't think it was too soon."
As for a missing County Mayor A C Wharton (see earlier post), candidates generally felt he should have been there. "Any group that asks me to speak, I'd go to speak and I wouldn't take into account whether it was strategically beneficial for the campaign," said City Councilman Jim Strickland. "He should have been here."
Standing in front of historic Church Park and across from the historic Beale Street building where he practices law, Memphis attorney Charles Carpenter today opened his campaign for the City of Memphis' special mayoral election by trying to distinguish himself from retiring Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
For Carpenter (pictured here at today's forum), who managed all five of Herenton's mayoral campaigns, the task over the next three months will be finding a way to persuade voters that his slogan, "A New Beginning," is not just empty rhetoric. With links to Herenton that also extend to a grand jury investigating whether the mayor mixed public and private business that violated the law, Carpenter sought to make the case that his legal and business skills -- mixed with a compelling Memphis success story -- are exactly what the city needs.
"I've been involved in the campaigns of Mayor Willie Herenton -- one thing that shows us is that I'm a winner," Carpenter said. "Another thing it shows us is that I've managed the campaigns while he's managed the city. The campaign will allow us to come out to the community to show who I am."
He added that he would make economic growth and business development a central campaign theme: "Being a businessperson, we see the world differently from educators, from bureaucrats, from other people who work in different areas."
Carpenter made it clear that he believes Herenton will retire by the end of the month and a special election will be held (likely sometime in the final week of October).
Carpenter grew up just a few blocks east, between Lauderdale and Beale, went to South Side High School and earned degrees from Howard University and Notre Dame Law School. His legal practice has helped complete financial deals -- mostly with municipalities -- that add up to billions of dollars.
But what mainstream name recognition he owns is largely because of his association with Herenton. That, he said, will begin changing very soon. The plans he announced include two campaign headquarters, a network of staff and volunteers generating support in the community and a robust online and social networking strategy.
Carpenter sounded very confident about his ability to raise as much money as any of declared or undeclared candidate, and when asked about Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton -- who is also running -- he criticized him for seeking another job with time remaining in his current office.
He did not specifically criticize Herenton, though he was clear he did not "except" the mayor from more general criticisms of politicians for "how they operate and the poor results" they have obtained.
Asked about his April appearance before a grand jury investigating a land deal involving Herenton and one of his clients, Carpenter said: "My testimony before the grand jury was as a witness. I've testified and that's the end of it as far as I know."
Asked about the criticisms that Herenton was a divisive mayor and ran polarizing campaigns, Carpenter said: "I have never had a campaign, so now my ideas are going to come forward, my energy is going to come forward, my intelligence will come forward, my experience will come forward. Fair-minded citizens will then be able to look at me and judge me by the facts, not on innuendo, not on presumption, not on something that they think. But based on my character, my abilities, my vision and my commitment to move this city forward."
More on the candidates at the Holiday Inn forum:
City Councilman Kemp Conrad said he hasn't officially declared his candidacy and is only still thinking about a run. He also said he's come here today to thank ABC members because they supported him in his past council race.
Conrad underscored the crime problem, holding up today's CA with the story about the East Memphis shooting. He talked about the city's other ills, including the high tax rate and the population drain - "people are voting with their feet, they're leaving the region."
He's also saying our infant mortality rates were higher than third world countries including Vietnam and El Salvador.
"I refuse to accept this," Conrad said.
City Councilman Jim Strickland, who also said he's still contemplating a run, says hope is down in Memphis and the population is shrinking.
He stuck mainly to policy initiatives, including his plan to fight crime. He's also in support of single-source funding for education.
He didn't have a speech planned, he said, because had not planned to attend the event today, thinking originally that he'd be tied up in court. (He's an attorney).
Memphis City School board Kenneth Whalum Jr. took the podium and turned this hotel ballroom into his church.
Unlike some of the other candidates, he did not read from notes and spoke with a captivating cadence. (It's evident he's a pastor).
It appears he's positioning himself early on as the straight talker, taking numerous digs at City Council chairman Myron Lowery and a few at The Commercial Appeal. (He's the guy the CA loves to hate, he said).
Perhaps distinguishing himself from the others, Whalum said he doesn't have a platform yet "because there is no race. I haven't written out my speeches, there's no race. And if there is a race, I plan to win it."
He said his views are rooted in common sense. And "common sense is not very common, especially among politicians."
As for the digs at Lowery, who will take over as interim mayor if Herenton resigns, Whalum teased him for his eagerness to take on the mayor's seat for 90 days. Whalum then started quivering.
"'I'm going to be the mayor, I'm going to be the mayor,'" Whalum said, imitating Lowery.
"You know I'm right!" Whalum said, and the audience chuckled.
Candidates vying for the Memphis mayor's seat are lined up now in a ballroom at the University of Memphis' Holiday Inn for an early mayoral forum.
Mayor Willie Herenton has not yet stepped down, but some candidates are clearly campaigning as if they are already on the trail. Sitting on the stage are Herenton ally Charles Carpenter, who just announced his candidacy, former council woman Carol Chumney, school board commissioner Kenneth Whalum and prospective candidates and councilmen Kemp Conrad and Jim Strickland.
The forum is sponsored by Associated Builders and Contractors, which is headed by County Commissioner Mike Carpenter. Most of the speeches so far have been basic stump speeches - what the candidates see as problems with the City and what they will accomplish once in office, etc.
Some highlights so far:
Chumney underscored her years of legislative service (she served as both a state and local lawmaker) and repeated her motto - she's the "clear choice for change." She made a few promises, including a pledge to fight crime ("get it down") and also keep taxes at bay. Chumney kept her comments short sweet -- and loud. Her volume increased the longer she spoke.
Carpenter took the podium next, speaking about three times as long as Chumney. His main task appeared to distinguish himself from Herenton, whose campaign he managed five times.
He said "we have missed cooperative, inclusive team work with a common goal and common direction." He directly addressed the Herenton connection, saying he was only an "advisor" to Herenton. "I thought he was the best candidate at the time and I supported him, but he was the CEO and he made the decisions."
Carpenter added that "it would be different with a Carpenter administration because I will be making the decisions."
It looks like Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton (pictured below) is trying to separate himself from the rat race of candidates vying to replace Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
No special election has been scheduled to replace Herenton. In fact, the mayor hasn't officially stepped down and even rescinded all written statements indicating he would.
But County Commissioner Mike Carpenter's business, the Associated Builders and Contractors, is still planning to host a candidate forum this morning at the University of Memphis' Holiday Inn.
So far the candidates, and would-be candidates, planning to attend include former city councilwoman Carol Chumney, Memphis City School board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. and City Councilman Kemp Conrad. Herenton ally Charles Carpenter (who is no relation the forum's host) also said he's planning to attend after his 11 a.m. press conference.
City Council members Jim Strickland and Myron Lowery were tied up with a trial (Strickland is an attorney) and a National League of Cities meeting in Denver (Lowery).
Wharton had planned to go, but around 9:30 p.m. last night he backed out, telling Carpenter that an appearance with the other candidates was "premature and inconsistent with his campaign strategy." Wharton also said he was unaware of the event's format, even though his staff had been provided with the details for more than a week, according to Carpenter.
Carpenter said he didn't invite pro-wrestler Jerry Lawler, who announced his intention to run yesterday. "I don't consider him a serious candidate -- only a spoiler," Carpenter said in an e-mail this morning.
What do you think, is it premature to host a candidate forum for an election that doesn't actually exist yet?
This is not his first time in the political ring. Lawler was one of 15 candidates in the 1999 Memphis mayoral election, finishing third behind winner Willie Herenton and runner-up Joe Ford and netting just under 12 percent of the vote.
His campaign slogan? "For the people!"
Carpenter (pictured here, to right of Herenton) was the very successful manager behind all five of Herenton's mayoral campaigns, and before Herenton announced his intention to run for Congress, he could be seen in City Hall showing Carpenter, a close confidante, the copy of a press release an hour before delivering it to media.
Carpenter's release invites media and others to join him Thursday morning for "a special announcement regarding his decision to enter the special election for Memphis mayor."
The release is on letterhead with a professional CHARLES CARPENTER MAYOR logo. The campaign slogan is an interesting choice for a man so closely identified with the five-term mayor: "A New Beginning."
A call to a number on the press release was answered with "Carpenter for Mayor," but Carpenter said he would be unavailable for interviews until Thursday.
So what does this vote actually amount to?
The resolution is the city council's way of formally accepting Mayor Willie Herenton's resignation and declaring the office vacant as of midnight on July 30.
It also lets the election commission know to start prepping for a special election to be held within 90 days of the declared vacancy.
Council attorney Allan Wade said that in his opinion, once the minutes are approved (they were not approved this meeting), this resolution would legally bind Herenton to his resignation date.
The problem is that Herenton rescinded his written letter of resignation Monday evening. So, the only evidence the council has that Herenton is actually going to step down July 30 are statements made verbally.
Wade said this could complicate matters if Herenton changes his mind. He had encouraged the council to hold off on approving the resolution until receiving a written statement.
"In my opinion, that's not subject to the kind of proof you would want in a court of law," Wade said.
The City Council just approved a resolution declaring a mayoral vacancy as of July 30, although there is still no written proof that Mayor Willie Herenton will actually resign.
The 7-6 vote came after a impassioned debate about whether to take the five-term mayor at his word - he has said he's still planning to step down.
Certain council members, particularly councilwoman Janis Fullilove, argued that the council should wait to act and give Herenton the opportunity to back down. Councilwoman Wanda Halbert called the vote an ethical violation, while councilman Joe Brown said he's concerned about getting sued.
It's still unclear what the resolution will actually accomplish because council attorney Allan Wade and city attorney Elbert Jefferson said the mayor still has the ability to back out on his promise to step down. He has not submitted a written letter of his intent to resign.
Voting to declare the office vacant were council members Jim Strickland, Bill Morrison, Bill Boyd, Reid Hedgepeth, Myron Lowery, Kemp Conrad and Shea Flinn. Voting no were council members Brown, Fullilove, Halbert, Edmund Ford Jr., Barbara Swearengen Ware and Harold Collins.
Before the vote, Brown asked whether some members of the council, specifically Lowery, should be able to vote on a resolution declaring a vacancy in the mayor's office.
Brown argued that Lowery, who will become mayor pro tem upon Herenton's retirement, will gain something if Herenton steps down.
Council attorney Wade disagreed, saying council members didn't force Herenton to retire.
"They aren't forcing him to go anywhere," Wade said. "He puts it in motion, then it's fair game for anybody to act on it, even if they benefit from the vote."Council members are still talking about the issue even the vote has been taken
The City Council has finally taken up Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's "retirement." And so far the discussion basically amounts to a room of people trying to guess what Herenton's next move will be - whether he will actually resign on July 30, or not.
Council attorney Allan Wade said the mayor's July 6 letter rescinding his June 25 retirement means the city has no written guarantee that the mayor will retire.
Therefore it would be premature to vote on a vacancy in the mayor's office July 30, Wade said. He wants some written guarantees before the council declares a vacancy.
"There are just too many holes in it," Wade said. "The record is screwed up, that's what I'm trying to tell you. If you want to go on the verbal and see what happens, that's your choice. I would prefer that that last letter be clarified in writing."
Certain council members are saying the council should wait and give the mayor the freedom to make his own decisions.
"What is the rush?" said Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware. "Anything we do will be out of order. At whatever point the mayor decides to leave, that's the point we take action."
Councilwoman Janis Fullilove said it would actually be unfair to strip Herenton of his right to change his mind.
But others say the council should take the mayor at his word - he's said on TV, to a spokesperson and to members of his administration that he intends to retire July 30.
"We are in positions of public trust and it's important that the public knows we're committed to our positions," Councilman Shea Flinn said. "...It's well within his rights to continue to serve or retire. But if he says he's going to retire, he needs to mean he's going to retire. We're taking him for his word and how that is unfair to him is just puzzling."
Councilman Bill Boyd went further, calling Herenton's actions an embarrassment.
Herenton "resigned" in 2008, and then changed his mind. So far in the last two weeks he's resigned and changed his mind two different times.
Boyd said it appears Herenton is playing games with other people seeking his office, or with past enemies.
Either way, "his actions have been an embarrassment to his city," Boyd said. "I think that should be said.... It's embarrassed me. I think he should live up to his word."
Boyd called for the council to take action encouraging the mayor to do as he says.The discussion is ongoing
In an interview with WMC-TV Channel 5 reporter Nick Kenney, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton affirmed that he would be leaving office before the month ends.
Kenney, who said he happened to run into the mayor in a City Hall elevator, asked him the key question in the third-person parlance preferred on the seventh floor: "Is the mayor retiring?"
"I have every intention of retiring July 30, 2009," Herenton said. "Absolutely."Herenton said in the interview that several "major contracts" needed extra time to be completed, but that he has emphasized to his directors that "I'm out of here after July 30."
Take Larry Godwin's (below in a 2008 file photo) name off the list of people contemplating a run in a City of Memphis mayoral election.
"It's time to put this thing to bed -- the bottom line is I am not running for mayor," said Godwin, who was appointed director by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton in the fall of 2004. "I took three days off, and after talking to Nina (his wife) and listening to good friends and good advice, I was flattered but I can best serve the city in this capacity.
"The only job I want is the one I have, and that's director of police services of the City of Memphis. There's really not another job for me."
Godwin, 57, said after taking three days off that he is "coming back with renewed energy and resolve." He said he had no extra insight into whether Herenton would indeed resign at the end of this month, but is taking the mayor at his word that he intends to retire.
After an hour of head-scratching about what Mayor Willie Herenton has planned, City Atty. Elbert Jefferson said he still thinks the mayor will retire.
"I have heard nothing from the mayor which would indicate that he doesn't intend to retire as of the 30th," Jefferson said to members of the media outside the City Council's committee room.
Jefferson said if asked, he would inform council members of Herenton's plans during the full meeting at 3:30 p.m.
At that time, some council members say they plan to move forward with a resolution declaring the mayor's office vacant as of July 30.
Councilman Jim Strickland said despite the confusion earlier, "I think the mayor has been pretty consistent -- at least in the last 24 hours -- that July 30 is his date and I think we're going to get confirmation from the administration officially."
Once it becomes official, Strickland said the council can move forward with a resolution telling the Election Commission to start organizing a special election 90 days after that.
Strickland, an attorney who is considering a run for Memphis mayor, had earlier in the day pushed to approve the resolution declaring a vacancy. At the time, he had been criticized by Councilman Joe Brown of "hoodwinking" the council into voting for a resolution that would directly benefit him and his bid for mayor.
Strickland later said, with a laugh, that he's "never hoodwinked anyone. I'm above board. What you see is what you get."
Brown, however, might not the only council member opposed to declaring a vacancy today.
Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware said any council action now is premature.
Ware, who said she voted for Herenton in the last election, said a vacancy does not exist until it's official. And she read a Monday-night letter from Herenton, which rescinded his June 25 resignation, to mean that Herenton was not setting a date for his retirement.
"I read the last letter to read that, 'I keep my options open,'" Ware said.
A City Council meeting to determine whether Memphis Mayor Willie
Herenton is planning to resign ended in confusion with nothing
The executive session was designed as the forum for the council to approve the mayor's vacancy either on Friday or July 30, the five-term mayor's second resignation date.
But members of the City Council were not sure whether Herenton was actually going to resign at all, after the director of human resources said she received a letter from Herenton asking her to rescind all letters of intention to resign related to his pension.
Some council members said they still wanted to declare the mayor's office vacant July 30, while others said that would be premature.
The meeting ended when councilman Harold Collins suggested that they couldn't take a vote without knowing whether Herenton was resigning on July 30 or not at all.
"I submit to you that if we get the mayor or his second, because he doesn't have a CAO at the moment, to tell us what this means, then we could take some action today," Collins said. "Otherwise I don't feel comfortable taking action."
City Atty. Elbert Jefferson left the meeting to presumably get some definitive answers.
He was followed by a swarm of reporters, who lingered in the hallway unsure of what was going on.
A secret meeting between Jefferson, human resources director Lorene Essex and another city attorney in the hallway did nothing to quell the confusion.
Jefferson then left reportedly to prepare a statement.
And it was at that moment that the elevator doors swung open, showing a stunned-looking mayor, who wouldn't provide any comment to the cameras and tape recorders waving in his face.
"Are you going to retire?" barked one TV reporter.
"People want to know if you're going to retire," said another.
"I don't want to talk to you right now," Herenton said. "Have a good day."
"Why don't you want to tell anything to the citizens?" another reporter said.
"I'm not talking to the citizens right now," Herenton said.
Everyone is still sitting around the hallway waiting for Jefferson to come back with some answers.
A press release emailed to The Commercial Appeal would appear to
finally clear up all this confusion about whether Memphis Mayor Willie
Herenton really does intend to resign.
From the press release for "Disney's A Christmas Carol" train tour that Walt Disney Pictures is sending to Memphis on Aug. 4 is this sentence: "We are having a special VIP Preview Party/Ribbon Cutting Ceremony (between 7am-9am) on August 4th involving Mayor Wharton, Mayor Lowery, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, FedEx Executive/ Chamber Chairman Tom Schmitt, amongst other city dignitaries, and Disney spokespeople."
So there you have it, straight from Disney -- that'll be "Mayor Lowery" on hand helping Disney promote a Jim Carrey movie set for release in November.
Wonder if someone needs to let Disney know our politicians don't always stay on script?
A City Council committee meeting around 2 p.m. today could produce fireworks as some council members say they want to leave the meeting with answers regarding Mayor Willie Herenton's presumptive resignation.
"I'd like to get something done today if possible," said City Councilman Jim Strickland, who is considering a run in the special election to replace Herenton.
Council members were originally scheduled to approve a resolution today declaring a vacancy in the mayor's office on Friday, as originally planned.
But with the mayor delaying his date of resignation, council members are now wondering what, if anything, can be finalized.
Strickland said he originally thought Herenton's original letter of resignation (which he rescinded on Monday) was legally binding.
He wants to see some legal evidence in the charter that it's not.
He'd also like some definitive answers about whether Herenton actually intends to resign.
"I would prefer some certainty," Strickland said.
A group of pastors said earlier today that they opposed a special election to replace the Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton in part because it will cost too much.
Election commission officials said such an election could cost anywhere from $750,000 to $1 million.
But what would that mean for homeowners?
A penny on the city's $3.25 tax rate produces slightly more than $1 million a year, which would more than pay for the election.
Adding a penny to the city's tax rate means a homeowner who lives in a $200,000 home would pay $5 more per year in taxes - from $1,625 to $1,630. Adding only $.75 cents would cost a $200,000 homeowner $3.75 on their annual tax bill - from $1,625 to $1,628.75
So, Memphis taxpayers, is it worth $5 or less to have a chance at selecting a new mayor?
Memphis City Schools board member Sharon Webb told The Commercial Appeal that she plans to run in the City of Memphis special mayoral election -- if it does indeed happen.
Webb had previously run successful underdog campaigns to serve on the Memphis Charter Commission and to unseat Carl Johnson on the school board.
So add Webb to a field that is getting more and more crowded.
Declared candidates: Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, Memphis City Council chair and assumed mayor pro tem Myron Lowery, former legislator and City Councilwoman Carol Chumney, Memphis City Schools board member Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr. and Webb.
All but declared: Memphis City Court Clerk Thomas Long, former City Councilman Edmund Ford Sr., attorney and Herenton campaign manager Charles Carpenter.
Strongly considering: First-term City Councilmen Kemp Conrad and Jim Strickland, former Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division president Herman Morris, Memphis Police Department director Larry Godwin and Memphis wrestler Jerry Lawler.
References to the crowded field often bring laments from anti-Herenton quarters about why Morris and Chumney "selfishly" chose to battle to the end in the 2007 race, with the presumption that if one or the other had not run Herenton would have been defeated and this resignation drama and potential special election would not be happening.
However, that assumes that Chumney would have gotten about 7 of every 10 votes that went to Morris, or that Morris would have gotten 7 of every 10 votes that went to Chumney.
And even making that assumption, it would have been a very tight finish. The mayor still got more than 70,000 votes and more than 42 percent of the vote -- even if a runoff provision was possible, there's no guarantee Herenton would not have prevailed in a two-person race.
What is it they say about politics making for strange bedfellows?
LaSimba Gray's presence at a press conference this morning (see item below) urging Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton to delay his retirement until February was intriguing, to say the least.
Gray, local president of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH coalition, was one of the main organizers of a "Draft A C" movement in 2007 that tried in vain to persuade Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton to challenge Herenton in that year's mayoral election.
Herenton at the time blasted Gray and fellow "Draft A C" leader Rev. Bill Adkins for not being residents of Memphis and called them "self-serving preachers."
Gray lives in Collierville and his New Sardis Baptist Church is in unincorporated Southeast Shelby County; Adkins lives in Southeast Shelby County and his church is in Raleigh.
"The motivations of Bill Adkins and LaSimba Gray are questionable and deeply personal," Herenton said, at the time, of the preachers who also were instrumental in challenging the runoff provision of Memphis city elections that made Herenton's narrow 1991 victory possible. "I have never, since the People's Convention (in 1991), been their favorite person. All of this is about LaSimba Gray's and Bill Adkins' need for attention. People know they can easily be bought off."
It is also true that Gray has also been one of the fiercest opponents of 9th Congressional District U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, whom Herenton intends to challenge in the 2010 Democratic primary. Gray has been committed to the idea that a black person should represent the 9th Congressional District, and was one of many pastors lambasting Cohen for backing a hate crimes bill that also covered crimes against people because of their sexual orientation.
An argument is brewing over whether Memphis chief administrative officer Keith McGee can keep his job without City Council approval.
But on Monday Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton said he'd like to keep McGee on his staff until his own resignation July 30.
Now City Councilman Shea Flinn (left) is saying because McGee has already resigned, keeping him on would actually be rehiring him. He said in order to keep working, McGee would have to follow procedure and, according to the city's charter, that means getting council approval.
"When you have a resignation that takes effect on July 4 and you try to revoke it on July 6, it's a day late and a dollar short," Flinn said.
City Atty. Elbert Jefferson said in a committee meeting earlier today that McGee wouldn't need to be formally rehired. He's expected to prepare an opinion on the matter.
City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove (left) agreed, speaking passionately on McGee's behalf during the discussion.
Fullilove later said she would be OK with formally approving McGee as CAO "out of respect for all of my colleagues. If that's what they want, then I think that should be the process."
Fullilove went on to say Herenton's fickleness, and all the confusion it's causing, doesn't bother her because "while people play checkers, he's playing chess."
She said he keeps people guessing and she wouldn't be surprised if he delays his July 30 resignation until August 30.
And while she said Herenton's antics might be costing him some credibility among some in the community, she remains unfazed.
"He's still my tall, cool drink of water," Fullilove said. "I still love him whatever he does."
Now that Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton has rescinded his June 25 resignation letter, at least one city councilman said there may not be a way to compel Herenton to step down by Friday as originally planned.
City Councilman Shea Flinn, who on Monday said court action may be necessary to ask Herenton to leave office, said today that Herenton's Monday night letter rescinding his resignation "changes the factual circumstances."
Now Flinn said he's not sure there's anything the council can do to require Herenton to leave office.
"Now there's not much we can do," Flinn said. "The letter has been rescinded. I know the mayor still has the intent to retire on the 30th, but we haven't been furnished with any letters in that regard."
This issue will come up again during executive session at 2 p.m. today, when council members are scheduled to vote on a resolution declaring a vacancy in the mayor's office.
A group of black ministers, and at least one state lawmaker, are urging Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton to stay in office - at least until February 20.
First, they say the city and county should not spend $750,000 to $1 million to hold a special election.
Second, they want to "give time for an orderly transition in government and consequently in city service," according to a press release passed out by Gray.
Third, to "settle the unresolved issues of separation of executive powers from legislative powers."
"We're asking him now for the good of the city," Gray said.
The group also said they've asked attorney Javier Bailey to represent them in a lawsuit to clear up whether the city's charter allows the mayor pro tem - who would be City Councilman Myron Lowery when and if Herenton steps down - to hold onto his City Council seat.
According to charter amendments recently approved by voters, the mayor pro tem could retain his or her seat.
The speakers denied that this suit has anything to do with Lowery, who has already put a transition team in place and has announced plans for his 90-day stint in office.
But Rep. G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) insinuated that the last time a mayor resigned - Wyeth Chandler resigned in 1982 -- his interim mayor, J.O. Patterson, acted differently than Lowery.
"It wasn't an issue then because of the way it was handled by the personalities involved," Hardaway said. "When Councilman Patterson proceeded, he did it in a manner that did not bring a lot of attention to the situation in order to make it a situation."
The pastors wouldn't say whether they met with Herenton last Thursday when it was first reported that he was having second thoughts about resigning.
However, Hardaway said they have been in constant communication with the mayor.
One of the reasons Mayor Willie Herenton delayed his retirement could be his pension.
Herenton announced Moday that he was pushing his retirement date back to July 30, the same day the city pension board would finalize the minutes from its last meeting, including Herenton's proposed pension.
Herenton announced June 25 that he planned to retire July 10. The city pension board approved his pension the same day but it does not become final until July 30.Herenton will receive a yearly pension of about $75,000 in addition to his state pension of about $55,000 for 30 years with Memphis City Schools
What can we expect today?
After fifth-term Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's announcement on Monday that he wanted to "delay" his "retirement" until July 30, what can we expect today, when the Memphis City Council is scheduled to meet at City Hall?
Beyond the unexpected, of course.
Many City Council members said Monday they want Council attorney Allan Wade to go through the sections of the charter relevant to resignations, successions, special elections and anything else that might pertain to the current situation.
Many members also suggested they are prepared to vote to vacate the mayor's office effective at the end of this week, in keeping with Mayor Willie Herenton's original letter and much-watched press conference of June 25.
Herenton's letter Monday to Council chair Myron Lowery, set to become mayor pro tem whenever Herenton does leave office, suggested "friendly" lawsuits to clarify certain issues, like whether Lowery's ascension to mayor pro tem without permanently losing his Council seat violates some kind of separation of powers.
If the Council does indeed vote to vacate the mayors office effective at the end of this week -- and they would likely have the votes (figure on Lowery, Bill Boyd, Shea Flinn, Reid Hedgepeth, Jim Strickland, Bill Morrison and Kemp Conrad, at the very least) -- it's easy to see more lawsuits in the offing.
And since it is hard to imagine Herenton, the former boxer, not putting up a fight, could we have a situation where the Council votes to vacate the office, swear in Lowery and the city has two mayors at once?
Stay tuned. The Commercial Appeal will have City Hall covered, providing updates throughout the day.
Jerry "The King" Lawler of wrestling fame said today to put him in the category of those considering running in the City of Memphis special election, not those who are certain of it.
Lawler, who got less than 12 percent of the vote when he ran for mayor in 1999, said he will be on KIX 106 on Wednesday to talk about the possibility. At a wrestling show over the weekend at Minglewood Hall in Midtown, Lawler told the crowd he was interested in running again.
"I'm not ready to jump into the deep end of the pool," Lawler said today from New York, where he had been to do some work with WWE. "I just want to tap my toe in the water."
It appeared for about five minutes that Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton had scrapped his resignation plans
A spokesperson for the mayor sent an e-mail at 4:45 p.m. today informing Memphis City Council chairman Myron Lowery that Herenton was rescinding his June 25 notice of and ensuing date of retirement as Memphis mayor.
All other notices and correspondence heretofore are hereby rescinded, Herenton wrote.
While the letter seemed to cancel his resignation plans, Herenton spokeswoman Toni Holmon-Turner confirmed that Herenton's plans to retire on July 30 are still a go.
The letter, she said, was simply a formality to officially make the June 25 letter null and void.
"He's still retiring, trust me," Holmon-Turner said.
A local expert on the Memphis charter says there is nothing to indicate that City Council chairman Myron Lowery cannot serve both on the council and as the Mayor pro tem.
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton said this morning he plans on deferring his resignation until July 30 and wants questions answered, including whether it's appropriate for Lowery to hold the office of interim mayor and his council seat at the same time.
Rhodes political science professor Stephen Wirls has an answer: It is appropriate and there is nothing in the Memphis charter indicating that Lowery cannot serve as both interim mayor and council member.
"There shouldn't be any questions, the charter is very clear," said Wirls, a charter expert who advised the Memphis Charter Commission and the City Council on charter amendments approved recently by voters.
Wirls' comments stand in stark contrast to an opinion issued earlier today by City Council attorney Allan Wade, that said Lowery could not simultaneously serve on both the council and in the mayor's office. Instead, Lowery's council seat would be "frozen" until a special election determined the next mayor.
Wirls called that opinion Wade's "invention."
Wirls said the charter clearly states that if the Memphis mayor resigns, the mayor's office "shall be occupied by the chairman of the City Council" until a special election within 90 days.
"That phrasing suggests that that person shall serve on the City Council," Wirls said. "There's no suggestion there that if he occupies the office, he must no longer be a member of the City Council."
Wirls said the interim mayor did not fall under the same rules as the regularly elected mayor, meaning the same standards of separation of power do not apply.
"The mayor pro tem isn't the ordinary mayor," Wirls said. "It's a special position to accommodate in the best way possible an extraordinary circumstance that a mayor leaves mid-term. The reason behind putting the council chair in is you want someone in that temporary position who understands what's been going on in city government, who can pick up and run the city."
Commenting on whether the council could block Herenton from resigning on July 30 instead of July 11, Wirls said that may be difficult to do.
The charter says nothing about what counts as a resignation, meaning the city council will have a difficult time compelling the mayor to resign early.
"There's nothing in the charter that establishes a letter or statement or anything as binding in any way," Wirls said.
First-term City Councilman Jim Strickland moved one step closer to getting into the City of Memphis special mayoral election scheduled to take place sometime this fall after the expected resignation of Mayor Willie Herenton.
Strickland announced to the Facebook group "Draft Jim Strickland for Memphis City Mayor" that he had appointed community activist Paula Casey as his treasurer for what he termed an ongoing "exploratory effort."
In his note to the group's members -- which now number more than 1,000 -- Strickland wrote: "Now is the time for new leadership in our city. Over the last 18 months, the 'new council' has successfully fought to hire more police officers and make crime the number one priority of city government. In addition, I proposed a city budget that provided for essential city services and a tax decrease. In order to evaluate our chances of success in the mayor's race, I must appoint a treasurer for an exploratory effort."
Some potential candidates considering whether to run in a City of Memphis special mayoral election are starting to wonder if Mayor Willie Herenton will ever resign.
"Isn't this beginning to feel like Lucy and the football?" said Herman Morris, the former president of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division who is seriously contemplating another campaign. "Don't you get the sense we've been here before?"
Morris, who finished third behind Herenton and declared candidate Carol Chumney in the 2007 mayoral election, said he will wait until there is clarity to make a final decision.
"I'm going to watch all of the flipping and flopping and stunts and somersaults until we are dealing with certainty and then we'll make some decisions," Morris said.
Circuit Court Judge D'Army Bailey said today that some businessmen in town have approached him and encouraged him to run, but said such support would need to grow much wider and deeper than it now appears to persuade him.
Bailey did say the uncertainty is not good for the city.
"I think it's unfortunate there is so much confusion about what is going to happen and such a short period of time for serious and less serious candidates to evaluate what they are going to do and whether there is going to be an election and plan for it properly," Bailey said. "This city has so many serious issues that have to be dealt with by whoever is going to get that job. The citizens of Memphis deserve a more orderly and steady process."
Tom Guleff, a Memphis blogger of the Republican persuasion behind the effort to persuade first-term City Councilman Jim Strickland (a Democrat) to run, believes the uncertainty will work against generating voter turnout.
"Regardless what Herenton does, the intensity of the candidate's voters will win the day in a special election- if it comes to pass," Guleff said in an email. "By the time a special election rolls around, you'll have to carry the dead to the polls. Memphians will be exhausted from all the drama."
City Council chairman Myron Lowery (below, answering questions from the media) told members of the media this afternoon that he believes the City Council will proceed with a vote Tuesday to declare a vacancy in the mayor's office.
He said city charter experts would have to determine whether the City Council could compel Herenton to step down on July 11.
Lowery said if the charter is "silent on the issue," then court action may be necessary to clear up the confusion.
"This is unchartered territory, folks; we've never gone through this before," Lowery said. "Legal questions are involved and have to be resolved."
Lowery, who held an impromptu press conference in his City Hall office, said that around noon Herenton hand-delivered a letter indicating he would resign July 30 instead of July 11.
"The mayor reaffirmed to me his commitment to resign and he said, 'Myron I'm not resigning, I'm retiring. I'm just delaying my retirement,'" Lowery said.
Lowery, who already has a team in place to orchestrate his transition as interim mayor, said he's choosing optimism over frustration.
"I'm going to take a positive spin on this by saying there's more time for the transition and more time for me to get city hall in order," he said.
Lowery dismissed rumors that Herenton was delaying the resignation to prevent him from serving as mayor pro tem.
"I have no fight at all with the mayor," Lowery said. "I didn't encourage the mayor to resign. He's talked about this for years. So this is all to do about the mayor and nothing to do at all about the council chairman."
And perhaps maximizing his moment in the media spotlight, Lowery took a few minutes to tout his own accomplishments, including progress made on The Pyramid and Mid-South Fairgrounds redevelopment. Lowery has said he will run in a special election to replace Herenton.
After Herenton announced his resignation two weeks ago, Lowery announced his top priorities for his term as mayor pro tem, including finalizing the Bass Pro lease of The Pyramid and accelerating the redevelopment of the fairgrounds.
"The word has gotten out," Lowery said. "I will say to you now that because I made those statements there has been tremendous movement on both of those issues" and both issues will be resolved quickly.
Lowery said he's heard Herenton wants to delay his retirement to take credit for those accomplishments."It doesn't matter who takes credit," Lowery said
WASHINGTON -- Incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's target in the 9th Congressional District race next year, had little reaction this afternoon to the Herenton's decision to delay his resignation.
"My job is to be the best congressman I can be and I continue to do that," Cohen said, noting he spent the weekend in Washington to speak on two occasions with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., about the Regional Medical Center at Memphis. Baucus is working on a major health reform bill.
Asked to speculate on why Herenton delayed action, Cohen said: "I don't really know what the inner Memphis municipal politics are right now. I just kind of read about them in the paper and concentrate on what I'm doing in Congress. I'm going to do the best I can regardless who's mayor, so it doesn't make a lot of difference. My job's to work with whoever's mayor."
Any special election held to replace retiring Mayor Willie Herenton likely will be delayed now by several weeks, an official said this afternoon.
Herenton announced earlier today that he's delaying his resignation - originally planned for July 10 - until July 30. That delay also will result in a delay in a special election, said Shelby County elections administrator Richard Holden.
Under a July 10 resignation scenario a special election would have been held sometime in early October, Holden said.
Now, it likely would be held in late October, he said.
Under the City Charter, a special election must be held within 90 days of a mayoral vacancy unless a regular election already is scheduled within 180 days.
The clock starts ticking when the legislative body - in this case the City Council - sends the election commission official notice of a resignation, including a resolution accepting the resignation. That hasn't happened yet in this case, Holden said.
A new attorney's opinion says City Council chairman Myron Lowery would be able to return to his council seat after serving as mayor pro tem.
According to City Council attorney Allan Wade, Lowery's council seat would be "frozen" during the time he serves as mayor pro tem.
At that time, the sitting vice-chair, Harold Collins, would be promoted to council chairman.
Once a new mayor is elected within 90 days of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's departure, Lowery could return to his council seat.
"...He would return as a Council member rather than as Chairman, but would be eligible for election as Chairman for 2010 as are all the other Council members," Wade writes in his opinion, dated July 6.
Lowery is supposed to speak with members of the media at 2:15 p.m. But around 1:45 p.m., Lowery walked out into the lobby of the City Council offices and distributed Wade's opinion, which addresses one of the questions raised by Memphis Mayor in delaying his resignation.
City Councilman Shea Flinn said Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton might not easily get away with delaying his resignation.
If the council and Herenton cannot agree on a date of official resignation, Flinn said this fight may wind up in court.
The first-term councilman and attorney called Herenton a "lame duck on steroids" and said he's still planning to vote on a resolution declaring Herenton's office vacant as of Friday.
"A resignation is a resignation," Flinn said outside the City Council offices in City Hall.
He added that in his work, when you resign "you're generally not given the keys to the store for much time afterward because there's a lack of accountability."
He went on to say that Herenton's actions had the look and feel of a squabble between the mayor and Lowery, the incoming mayor pro tem, which is not what the city needed.
"If you don't want the job you're doing, stop doing the job and go on with the next phase of your life," Flinn said.
Flinn said he believes the charter gives council authority to declare a vacancy in the mayor's seat, possibly meaning they could override Herenton's delayed date of resignation.
Court action might be the solution if the council and Herenton remain at odds, Flinn said.
Moments after Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's announced delay of his resignation, members of the media are packed in the Memphis City Council's office waiting to speak with Memphis City Council chairman Myron Lowery, who was supposed to be sworn in as mayor pro tem on Friday.
Lowery is meeting with members of his staff, but he just walked out to speak with members of the media and is asking us for a few moments until he makes a comment.
He's saying legal issues are being worked out by city council attorney Allan Wade and presumably he's talking about the legal question Herenton raised in his letter earlier today - can the mayor pro tem stay on as a City Council member?
"But I'll be out soon, I just don't want to speak from the cuff until I have a moment to digest," Lowery just said. "This is all new to me. But it's all good, as far as I'm concerned. Life goes on."
Mayor Willie Herenton has announced that he is delaying his resignation until July 30.
According to a press release just issued by the mayor's office, Herenton told City Council Chairman Myron Lowery "there are some important city business matters that need additional time to complete.''Read the full story on commercialappeal.com
The special election to replace Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton could cost the City of Memphis close to $1 million, according to the Shelby County Election Commission.
And it could attract anywhere from 17 percent of registered voters to more than 40 percent depending on "the candidates and the style of campaigning they bring," Holden said.
In other words, when there's buzz on a campaign, more people turn out. Close to 40 percent, or 165,000 voters, turned out for the 2007 mayor's race, which put Herenton in office for a historic fifth term.
In 2003, the Memphis mayor's race only attracted 17 percent of registered voters.
A historic transition of Memphis political power may only be four days away, but there's still considerable disagreement about when Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton will officially leave office.
City Council Chairman Myron Lowery is expected to be sworn in as mayor pro tem Friday at noon.
But City Council attorney Allan Wade said he interpreted Herenton's resignation letter to read that Friday would be the mayor's last day, meaning he would remain at the city's helm until close of business Friday. This could leave two mayors in charge of Memphis for close to five hours.
Lowery said both he and Herenton had agreed on a noon swear-in.
"I will be sworn in at noon to assume the duties," Lowery said. "But I'm not going to argue about a few hours."
The debate could be cleared up Tuesday when the City Council is scheduled to approve a resolution declaring a vacancy in the mayor's office. Wade said he did not yet have a copy of the resolution.
A special election will be held within 90 days of the declared vacancy date.City Atty. Elbert Jefferson was not immediately available for comment
Still anticipating the resignation of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, a transition team formed under City Council chairman Myron Lowery (below, after Herenton's June 25 resignation announcement) is already planning an agenda for their 90 days in office.
"Of utmost importance is, if you call 9-1-1 someone answers the phone; that garbage gets picked up," Sammons said.
Meanwhile, Lowery is expected to meet with Herenton this afternoon to discuss the transition.
Sammons said the five-member team, headed by City Councilman Bill Boyd, has been flooded with calls and e-mails from constituents with ideas and requests for the interim administration.
Realistically 90 days isn't enough time to cure all of the city's ills, including crime, Sammons said, but the transition team is hoping to coordinate a city cleanup.
"We won't cure cancer and we won't bring peace to the Middle East, but we would like to do some things that will have a discernible effect on the community and cleaning up the streets is a fairly routine matter," Sammons said.
Last week Lowery weathered some heat from Herenton's supporters who said he was presumptuous to form a transition team before actually being sworn in as interim mayor. Sammons said the team isn't paying attention.
"In the game of politics, I just call that noise," he said.
This isn't the first time Sammons will have a "front row seat" in a mayoral transition.
In 1982, Wyeth Chandler resigned to take a judgeship and councilman J.O. Patterson Jr. replaced him to become the city's first black mayor. Under Patterson, Sammons was appointed to serve on the Mid-South Coliseum board.
While Sammons said Memphis was a different time and era back then, he recalls the CAO at the time, Wallace Madewell, worked hard to ensure a seamless transition of services. "He did that well," Sammons said.
to the growing list of potential candidates for the upcoming special election for city mayor.
Speaking on a local radio station this morning, Lawler said he's seriously considering another run for mayor and will make an announcement this week.
Lawler said fans at a wrestling event this past weekend were encouraging him to run. And in his travels on the wrestling circuit, he said people elsewhere think Memphis is a joke because of the city's failed leadership.
But, before he makes a decision, Lawler said he needs to weigh whether he can continue his wrestling career and also serve in the mayor's office if elected.
Lawler ran for Memphis mayor in 1999, finishing third behind winner Willie Herenton and runner-up Joe Ford. In a field of 15 candidates, Lawler got nearly 12 percent of the vote.
The 1999 election didn't leave the best taste in his mouth.In a 2002 interview with The Commercial Appeal, Lawler said his unsuccessful campaign showed him how difficult it would be for an outsider to solve big government problems.
"It's like the movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," Lawler said. "It doesn't take you long to realize one guy doesn't have much chance of changing the world. Even if I had won, I think there would have been very little fun in being a major politician."
Now, however, it appears the wrestler wants another shot in the political ring.
Memphis City Schools board member Tomeka Hart was very clear that she was not being critical of fellow MCS board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. in an article this morning about Whalum's often contentious relationship with his colleagues.
Even so, could Hart soon be competing with Whalum for votes in the City of Memphis's special election? Over the weekend, a new Facebook page, "Draft Tomeka Hart for Memphis Mayor" popped up.
So far, it has 42 members, some of whom are known to be actively backing other declared or potential candidates. It starts with language reminiscent of movie trailers: "In a time," it reads, "when common sense and integrity is not common at all and often found to be in very short supply from our so-called 'leaders', our citizenry is more than ready to embrace a person who has an understanding of what Memphis needs most."
The "Draft Jim Strickland for Memphis City Mayor" Facebook page is now up to 1,061 members. Although it, too, has more than a few members known to be actively supporting other candidates and some who do not live in Memphis, the "grassroots" Internet movement supporting the first-term City Councilman has been adding about 30 a day.
There is also a "Draft Councilman Kemp Conrad for Memphis Mayor" Facebook page, with more than 350 members supporting another first-term City Councilman -- and, so far, the only Republican to show serious interest in running. Among its members is Tom Guleff, the man who started the Facebook page devoted to Strickland.
Earlier this week, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton revealed new details about an infamous meeting between him and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton. He also cast doubt on the relationship between the two mayors, long believed to be amicable.
But now at least one local pundit believes Herenton's blunt comments could actually help Wharton in his upcoming bid for Memphis mayor.
In a video-recorded interview with the Memphis Flyer, Herenton talked about the infamous dinner between Herenton and Wharton at Le Chardonnay restaurant in 2007, when Wharton was being drafted to run for city mayor.
The meal sparked speculation that a political deal was hatched: Herenton would resign before the end of his fifth term and endorse Wharton as his replacement.
Wharton later denied striking a deal or even discussing a possible resignation, telling The Commercial Appeal in March 2008 - after Herenton resigned the first time - that the discussion focused more on policy initiatives than succession.
If anything, the meeting seemingly solidified the two mayors' good working relationship. And it's become fodder for mayoral hopefuls, including former councilwoman Carol Chumney, who is making sure people are aware of the mayors' close association.
Yet in his talk with the Flyer, Herenton cast doubt on the friendship and provided a much different account of the evening than Wharton. He also denied striking any deals, saying he resented Wharton for considering a run against him in 2007. According to Herenton, Wharton called his style "divisive."
"A C and I did not make a deal," Herenton says. "People who know me know I'm not a dealmaker. ... We were both honest and candid with each other about some issues surrounding his flirtation with running for city mayor."
Rhodes political science professor Marcus Pohlmann said Herenton's comments may actually help Wharton, whose biggest weakness going into a special election is his connection to Herenton.
"So whether Herenton intentionally distanced himself for the benefit of Wharton, only Herenton can tell," Polhmann said. "In this case, he had to be aware of the fact that this is one of the only Achilles heels that Wharton has."
As candidates jockey to fill Herenton's office, Pohlmann said Wharton still appears to be the clear front-runner.
"Wharton, by most estimates, is going to be a shoo-in," he said.
That is, of course, if Herenton actually resigns.
More on Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton's hour-long appearance on AM 990's Thaddeus Matthews Show.
Matthews came at Wharton aggressively on the issue of whether Wharton is vigorous enough in addressing the concerns of black Memphians, and expressed concern that Wharton might not stand up to "good ol' boys networks."
Matthews put it this way: "White folks done run this city and this county all these years. Any Negro the white folks think is great and clap their hands, I have to wonder about him."
Wharton responded to that by mentioning a series of hirings and appointments: "I don't call these people good ol' boys," Wharton said.
"Is it important to you as a black man that blacks stay in control of the mayor's office?" Matthews asked.
"I think there have been great sacrifices," Wharton responded. "I do feel that as far as the folks who died, marched, picketed, demonstrated to get to that, that is a factor that is worthy of keeping it as a positive. That doesn't mean that somebody is against a white person but this is something that's been fought for."
Matthews also used the "N" word in Wharton's presence, referring to Memphis City Council chair and future mayor pro tem Myron Lowery with that and other very derogatory terms. Wharton did not object to the language or disparagement directed at Lowery.
Matthews asked if Wharton was concerned that too many black candidates "might cut up that black pie five or six different ways."
"Maybe we need, we used to have runoffs but that was declared unconstitutional but the racial makeup of the vote was different at that time," Wharton said. "That could be unfortunate for the city of Memphis. Regardless of whether the winner is black or white, when you have people being elected to lead a city of 600,000-plus people with just a handful of votes, that doesn't say much. That prospect does bother me. It's not a matter of whether it is a white person or a black person."
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton was in no mood to talk this morning.
After meeting with pastors in his 7th floor office at City Hall earlier this morning, the fifth-term mayor refused to answer any questions from a reporter.
When asked if he still planned to resign, Herenton said, "I'm not going to comment."
If Internet presence says anything about the seriousness of a campaign, then Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton takes the lead - at least online.
It might still be too early to gauge Web presence. Candidates won't have to officially file with the Shelby County Election Commission until mid-July and Herenton hasn't even vacated the office yet (word surfaced earlier today that he's reconsidering!).
But one would think a candidate as gung-ho as former City Councilwoman Carol Chumney would have fired up a Web site by now. She confirmed her run minutes after Herenton announced his resignation last week.
Instead, Chumney hasn't maintained carolchumney.com - the link leads to a generic page saying "this domain may be for sale." And a "Carol Chumney for Mayor" page on social-networking site Facebook dates back to her mayoral bid in 2007 (the page refers to Chumney as chair of the council's MLGW and budget committees). A second page, "Carol Chumney for Memphis Mayor" again, was evidently created the last time Herenton "resigned" in 2008. (The page alludes to Herenton's resignation as of July 31st; this year he's supposed to resign on July 10).
We can't find a Myron Lowery web site either, but at least he's keeping his Facebook page fresh with frequent updates about his transition team and his mayor pro-tem swear-in ceremony ("See you there!").
Jim Strickland also has a page on Facebook. As reported last week, the Draft Jim Strickland group had 708 "friends" the day Herenton announced his resignation. Thursday morning the group had 995 members.
City Councilman Kemp Conrad has also formed a draft page with 332 members.We can't find any campaign pages for Herenton ally and attorney Charles Carpenter and Memphis City School board commissioner Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr
Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton's radio appearance with Thaddeus Matthews on Thursday provides some context on what may be behind Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin now saying he will "listen" to unidentified community leaders urging him to run for mayor.
Curiously, that answer came immediately after Wharton had said "it would be grossly inappropriate" to commit to hiring or firing anyone, in response to a question about whether he would retain former City Councilman Jack Sammons should Sammons become city chief administrative officer after City Council chair Myron Lowery becomes mayor pro tem (upon Herenton's resignation, of course).
"I have never, never, never in all my political life said I would hire anybody if I'm elected, nor have I ever and nor will I ever say I will fire anybody if I am elected," Wharton said.
Godwin, who was appointed full-time director by Mayor Willie Herenton in November of 2004, well knows that Wharton is not the only candidate who might be looking for a new police director, and he appears serious about considering a mayoral run.
Godwin did say Wednesday that he fully expected to stay on as director when -- if? -- Herenton resigns and Lowery becomes mayor pro tem."Any questions the mayor pro tem has for me I can answer," Godwin said. "I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I think he's looking at stability. He's always had a good rapport with me. He knows I'm a straight talker and a man of my word. I'm confident he's not going to make a change. I'm confident he supports me -- he has in (City) Council. So I have no reason to believe that he's not in full support of the direction of the police department.
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton might not be the only one irritated with City Councilman Myron Lowery's talk of transition.
According to blogger Thaddeus Matthews,
Ford has said he's thinking about running because of Lowery, who is
"making a mockery of the process" by declining to relinquish his
council seat when he serves as mayor pro tem.
Matthews may not be the most objective source, considering candidates can purchase advertising space on his Web site (Ford's business, E.H. Ford Mortuary, has an ad up now.)
But when reached by phone this morning, Ford confirmed that he is considering a run.
"It's a possibility," he said.
Memphis mayor Willie Herenton will go through with his announced plans and resign July 10, according to multiple sources who spoke with the mayor this morning.
While Herenton is concerned about the number of people seeking to replace him, he told friends and staffers this morning that he will, in fact, resign.
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton is debating whether to withdraw or
postpone his resignation, a close supporter confirmed this morning.
"It's just getting crazy," Chism said.
Herenton has not confirmed the speculation. And Chism said Herenton still intends to resign and run in the 9th Congressional District race against State Rep. Steve Cohen.
But Chism said the mayor is displeased with City Council chairman Myron Lowery prematurely announcing his transition team - before being sworn in as mayor pro tem next Friday.
"My whole thought is that he (the mayor) can go about his business, but he's not going to let the city go to the dogs because someone is acting crazy," Chism said.
According to Chism, the mayor is thinking about either postponing his resignation - "get Myron out of the picture" - or resign and then actually run in the special election - "depending on how many candidates get in the race to keep it from getting crazy."
Chism said Herenton will not lose credibility by putting off his resignation. He is still getting constant calls from constituents urging him to stay on.
"People are calling him every minute," Chism said. "He don't need to retire."
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