The first full week of early voting in advance of the Oct. 15 special election is under way. And candidates in the Memphis mayor’s race are beginning to emphasize their differences.
On the first two days of early voting, which began Friday, 6,471 citizens voted. White Station Church of Christ in East Memphis was the most popular early voting site followed by Bishop Byrne High School in Whitehaven.
Early voting continues through Oct. 10.
The high numbers in Whitehaven, at least so far, may be the result of a hard-fought battle in the area between the campaigns of attorney Charles Carpenter and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. Their respective organizations have dominated the grassroots campaigning. Both campaigns are using telephone banks and vans to get early voters to the polls.
In the 2007 mayoral race, 74,000 of the 165,397 votes cast were by early voters.
Meanwhile, the second television debate of the race over the weekend aired on News Channel 3 made public a shift between the Carpenter and Wharton campaigns. It came as Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery asked Wharton about some Carpenter supporters close to former Mayor Willie Herenton who are now supporting Wharton.
“Every day I get calls from someone who’s left Mr. Carpenter’s campaign,” Wharton replied. “And (Carpenter’s campaign workers) accuse me of having sent that person over there to spy on him. It’s ludicrous. I don’t know why they’re leaving. But they’re not coming over to my campaign.”
Regardless of whether they are in the Wharton camp, Carpenter began losing the support of some Herenton allies when his speeches became more critical of Wharton in particular. Carpenter began describing Wharton’s record of accomplishments as county mayor as “miserable” and accusing Wharton of being a more publicly acceptable version of Herenton.
“We’re running a very vibrant campaign,” Carpenter said. “I don’t know whether (Wharton) sent them over there or not. … We’re streamlining our campaign.”
Carpenter and Wharton also were anxious to qualify their high-profile roles in Herenton’s past campaigns when they, along with Lowery and contender Carol Chumney, were asked to grade Herenton’s 18-year tenure.
Chumney wouldn’t offer a grade of any kind.
Lowery started with an “A” for Herenton’s first term of office and went down a letter grade each term until he got to an “F” for the shortened fifth term that Lowery said included “name-calling and race-baiting.”
“Somewhere along the line, the mayor had a personality change. We all saw it,” Lowery concluded. “He is not the same man today that we knew 17 years ago.”
Carpenter gave Herenton an “A” for his vision.
“As far as his management style, he started off with a higher grade but then it goes down to maybe a ‘C’ or a ‘C-,’ Carpenter said. “As far as the selection of his staff … I think that is probably in the average or below average category.”
“2.95,” Wharton said, citing his background teaching at the University of Mississippi School of Law.
Carpenter was a Herenton supporter in all five of his mayoral campaigns, serving as manager of three of the five – the first and the last two.
Wharton managed the 1995 and 1999 campaigns.
“Everybody in this room knows that they were not like the campaigns in the later years of Dr. Herenton’s tenure,” Wharton said. “1995 was fully inclusive, no vitriol whatsoever.”
In other debate flash points, Chumney said Wharton should have had an independent prosecutor investigate a waiver on a car inspection he got on his personal vehicle. The waiver, which allowed Wharton to get his wife’s car tags renewed without an inspection, was investigated by the Shelby County Attorney’s office.
Wharton suspended aide Gerald Fanion, who said he took the car to get its tags renewed and pursued the exemption without Wharton’s knowledge.
Wharton reacted to Chumney’s allegation that there was a conflict of interest since the county attorney is appointed by the county mayor.
“This is what bothers me. Either Ms. Chumney doesn’t know this, or as an attorney she’s not being true to her oath,” Wharton snapped. “I had no choice. I followed the law.”
“You appointed the county attorney and then you had him investigate your own car inspection incident,” Chumney replied. “That’s inappropriate.”
“It’s not a matter of personal choice. … It’s required,” Wharton countered.
The debate marked just how far the campaigns have come in a short amount of time. But all four candidates were careful to reuse imagery and phrases they’ve already repeated numerous times in stump speeches, television ads and press releases.
Much of the debates and forums remain about candidates introducing themselves to voters for the first time.
Despite tools of the political trade such as social networking sites Twitter and Facebook, candidates still feel the need to work off speeches that remain the same for the most part, with a few new twists and developments inserted....