A consensus has emerged among political observers: A C Wharton won a huge mandate in Memphis' special mayoral election on Thursday, taking 60-plus percent of the vote and tripling the vote totals of his nearest challenger. Tom Guleff, a local political junkie who was the engine behind a movement that tried to draft Jim Strickland to run for mayor, is now calling Wharton "the Michael Jordan" of Memphis politics.
Smart City Memphis blogger Tom Jones, in a long missive posted Sunday night, brought up another possibility: Can Wharton wield his indisputable popularity and formidable campaign organization as a political tool -- or weapon, as the case may be? With Myron Lowery, the clear runner-up in the election, conceding that Wharton has a mandate and commands a campaign infrastructure intimidating in its organization and finances, to what extent will anyone choose to challenge the new mayor on issues? And if they do challenge Wharton, will he be willing to say, "No more Mr. Nice Guy?"
Writes Jones: "The possibility that those same weapons could be turned on critics or obstructionists is a sobering thought already whispered between a few Council members."
Clearly, it's something Wharton has thought about, and is a big reason why he says moving from the weak-mayor structure of county government to strong-mayor structure of city government makes such a big difference.
Wharton explained this in a Friday interview: "You make it very clear when individuals come to you and ask you to support them in a countywide race, which is the case quite often, you don't say to them, 'Well, I'll support you if you support me the next time.' What you say is, 'Listen, if you will help me convince our state legislators to pass legislation shortening the time in which we can take possession of some of these tax sale lots then I will support you.' There is nothing illicit about that. You see that's how an urban mayor in the city of Memphis can get someone out in the county who is running for juvenile court clerk or whatever, you say to them, 'Hey partner, it's a big block of votes right here in the city of Memphis and I got 60 percent. I'd love to get that political muscle behind you.' And there is nothing illicit about that. I'm not saying will you support me or help my wife get a job. I'm doing this to support the public."
Wharton says he will also flex that political muscle when it comes to dealing with businesses involved with the city.
"You can take that same approach with people doing business with city of Memphis, not to shake them down for political contributions or whatever, but to say, 'Look, we have some social needs in this town; don't you want to be a good corporate citizen?' And when we look at who is the lowest and best bidder, we can look at how socially responsible they are."