Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell made it official Tuesday, Feb. 11, filing his qualifying petition with the Shelby County Election Commission to run for a second term of office.
“I really want to show my record for the last four years,” Luttrell said after turning in his petition. “And I want to really convey to the public that we have managed the county’s resources well. But also I want to express a vision of the future. It’s one thing to manage well, but it’s something else to have a vision.”
Luttrell has opposition in the May Republican primary from Ernie Lunati, a perennial candidate who has run for Memphis mayor in past elections.
The Democratic mayoral primary has four contenders: former county commissioner Deidre Malone, current county commissioner Steve Mulroy, current county commission chairman James Harvey and former Shelby County Schools board member Kenneth Whalum Jr.
“I really don’t get bound by party labels when it comes to the work that has to be done at the local level,” Luttrell said when asked about the role of party lines in the campaign. “I’ve tried to go into the inner city of Memphis and focus on the values of the inner city. And I try to get out into the suburbs – the Arlingtons, Cuba Woodstock and the Brunswicks of the world and find those common issues that as a community we need to focus on. That will be the thrust of the campaign – looking for those common denominators.”
That’s the approach Luttrell took four years ago in winning the mayor’s office. Luttrell defeated interim mayor and Democratic nominee Joe Ford easily in the 2010 general election.
The office of Shelby County mayor was created in the mid-1970s in a restructuring of Shelby County government that replaced the chairman of the old Shelby County Quarterly Court as county government’s chief executive officer.
But the charter left many powers with the county commission that succeeded the court, instead of the mayor’s office.
Of Luttrell’s four successors in the county mayor’s office, only Jim Rout came to the mayor’s office from serving on the commission.
Of the four, only Roy Nixon, the first Shelby County mayor, served a single term of office and did not seek re-election. The other three, Bill Morris, Rout and A C Wharton Jr., all won re-election efforts.
And like Morris, Luttrell is a former Shelby County sheriff. Luttrell ran for mayor in 2010 at the end of his second term as sheriff.
In the intervening four years, Luttrell has played a pivotal role in the reformation of public education in Shelby County within the limits of a mayor’s office.
He took office just months before Memphis City Schools board members voted to surrender the school system’s charter and put the question of a merger on the ballot for Memphis voters. Four years later, he is campaigning for re-election as a demerger of schools takes shape, with leaders of the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County preparing to open their own school systems in August.
“I hope that I’m judged as someone who is facing the reality that we are going through a sea change in education,” Luttrell said Tuesday. “We’re no longer going to be just the city and county school systems. … We’re going to be educating our children in a variety of different ways.”
At a Feb. 6 meeting of the local Democratic Party’s executive committee that drew all four likely Democratic contenders, Malone was the most aggressive in directly questioning Luttrell’s leadership, particularly on securing funding for the first fiscal year of operation for the unified school district.
Malone also said a Democratic mayor would be more likely to “take on Nashville,” referring to Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature.
Mulroy, like Harvey and Whalum, didn’t mention Luttrell directly but said he would have a more “activist” administration if elected. He also vowed to wage a “red meat” campaign focusing on “progressive issues” such as the concepts of a prevailing wage and a living wage.
Whalum was critical of economic development incentives that he says have come at the expense of education funding and other public needs.
“I don’t need the status quo,” he said, referring to the political establishment in both local political parties.
Harvey touted his business background and said being mayor would be a logical next step from serving two terms on the commission, and as chairman the last year of his second term.