The four likely contenders in the May Democratic primary for Shelby County mayor have already had their first debate. But there were no clashes among the quartet, at least not yet.
James Harvey, Deidre Malone, Kenneth Whalum Jr. and Steve Mulroy each spoke to the Shelby County Democratic Party’s executive committee two weeks from the Feb. 20 filing deadline for the May 6 primary election.
Harvey, the current chairman of the Shelby County Commission, and Malone, a former County Commission chairwoman, have filed their qualifying petitions.
Whalum, a former Shelby County Schools board member, and Mulroy, a county commissioner, have pulled petitions but not yet filed.
Whalum told those at the Feb. 6 gathering that he is still weighing an entry in the race. But he reminded the group of 40 executive committee members and just as many onlookers that Democrats haven’t fared that well in countywide elections, losing every countywide race on the ballot four years ago to Republicans.
“We need a win,” Whalum said. “I’ve got a couple of wins under my belt here lately, against the odds.”
Those wins are Whalum’s role in the opposition to two sales tax hike referendums for education and pre-kindergarten funding. And he touted the Chancery Court ruling ordering a new election in the 2012 school board race the Shelby County Election Commission said he lost to Kevin Woods.
“That’s a major win, baby,” Whalum said. “I’m trying to be humble.”
The decision is on appeal, with no date set for the election until the appellate court rules.
Whalum also said the county is “in a downward spiral” pointing to the 2011 decision by city voters to merge the county’s two public school systems.
“Two thousand people lost their job and they are still struggling,” he said of the merger’s impact. “Poor people in the streets with more black folk in elected positions than have ever been in Memphis and Shelby County, and we are worse off than we have ever been. That is incontrovertible.”
Mulroy told the group at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall in Midtown that they should back him in the primary for two reasons.
“I’m a real Democrat and I can win,” he said.
“We don’t need to run a campaign that says, ‘We’re good businessmen and don’t be afraid of us, Republicans,’” Mulroy added, as he pledged an “activist administration” if elected mayor. “It’s not a ‘me too’ campaign. We need to run a red-meat campaign. We go out and we talk about the issues we care about – progressive issues.”
Malone is making her second bid in the Democratic mayoral primary. She ran four years ago and lost to interim County Mayor Joe Ford, who lost to Republican nominee Mark Luttrell in the 2010 general election.
Malone, who founded the Carter Malone Group public relations and marketing firm 11 years ago, touted her business background and her record on the commission.
“I believe that you need someone in the mayor’s office that will take on Nashville,” she said, referring to the Republican supermajorities in the Tennessee General Assembly. “You have a Republican county mayor. … Is he making anything happen for us here in West Tennessee? So, why do we need a Republican county mayor? We don’t.”
Harvey said he has always backed Democratic candidates even though those on the executive committee censured him last year for attending campaign fundraisers for Republicans in the 2014 elections and being elected chairman with votes from all but one of the Republican county commissioners.
“I chose to run for county mayor because I’m ready for leadership at another level,” Harvey said. “We do a lot of management there on the County Commission. We provide a lot of stability. … We have a lot of problems in our community and it requires good leadership, unbiased good leadership that will be fair to the majority of our citizens.”
Luttrell has opposition in the GOP mayoral primary in May. Ernie Lunati, a perennial contender for Memphis and Shelby County mayor in past elections, has filed his qualifying petition.