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VOL. 122 | NO. 13 | Friday, January 19, 2007

IT'S OFFICIAL: Chumney commits to October mayoral run

By Andy Meek

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Four years after her election to the Memphis City Council, attorney Carol Chumney is preparing to announce formally the first week in February that she is challenging Willie Herenton in the race for city mayor.

An official statement could come within a matter of days that makes clear when and where the announcement of her candidacy will take place.

As of the middle of this week, Chumney still was juggling a host of details. They included reserving space at a centrally located venue and double-checking the game schedules of the Memphis Grizzlies and the University of Memphis Tigers, an attempt to ensure her pitch to voters is both accessible and uninterrupted.

The forthcoming announcement by Chumney, who was elected seven times to the Tennessee legislature from 1990 to 2003, ends months of speculation that she is all but set to oppose Herenton in the October city mayoral election. That speculation was kicked up a notch last August, when she told a gathering of supporters at Davis-Kidd Booksellers that she intends to run.

But whereas back then she said only that she was preparing to get into the race, now she's making it official.

"My immediate goal at this time is to be elected mayor of Memphis in October 2007, to take and uphold the oath of office, to stay true to God and the people and to become the best mayor that Memphis has ever had," she told The Daily News last week. [To read more, see our Jan. 11 Law Talk feature at www.memphisdailynews.com.]

A challenge of Titanic proportions

Chumney was elected to the city council in 2003 after beating radiologist George Flinn in a runoff election for the District 5 seat vacated by restaurateur John Vergos. The district stretches as far north as Graham Street and Macon Road, as far east as Yates Road, as far west as Belvedere Boulevard/Evergreen Street and as far south as Sea Isle Road/Southern Avenue.

In addition to her long career as a state legislator, Chumney began practicing law in 1987 as a trial attorney at Glankler Brown PLLC and since has opened her own law firm.

As to this year's city mayor race, a theme already is being touted that - barring the entry of a high-profile challenger with deep pockets and a sky-high approval rating - Herenton's position as the longest-serving mayor in Memphis history likely will continue uninterrupted. A headline in The Commercial Appeal on Jan. 9 repeated that point: "No formidable challenger has emerged to unseat mayor."

Marcus Pohlmann, a political science professor at Rhodes College, illuminated another of the political strengths that has aided Herenton in scoring an unprecedented four consecutive election wins.

"One thing Mayor Herenton has, the minute he throws his hat into the ring, he can count on a half million to two million dollars, easily," Pohlmann said, noting Herenton's support in the local business community.

Thus, Chumney is on the offensive, both building her support and getting her message out. Recently, she dashed off an e-mail to WMC-TV Channel 5 after the news station's political commentator, Susan Adler Thorpe, similarly opined that Herenton, though vulnerable at the moment, nevertheless remains unbeatable.

People once had a similar belief, Chumney wrote, in the indestructibility of the Titanic.

"I think this election is about the future of Memphis," Chumney said. "We've got a lot of strengths as a city, and I feel like we're not capitalizing on all of them as well as we could be. I think people in the neighborhoods are suffering, crime is high, taxes are high. And Memphis has not reached its full potential."

Bible-thumping good time

Meanwhile, at his annual New Year's Day Prayer Breakfast earlier this month, Herenton alluded to his coming attempt to go five-for-five in the mayoral race and implied he only faced token opposition at this point.

"I've got some people looking at me right now saying to the mayor, 'Why do you want to run again?'" said Herenton, who was already brandishing "WW" bumper stickers for his 2007 election campaign two years ago.

"It's real simple: I'm on the wall," he answered, striking a Biblical tone by alluding to the story in the Old Testament about the prophet Nehemiah leading the effort to build a wall around Jerusalem.

"And if you don't believe I'm doing great works, go 15 years back and then play it up to the present," Herenton said. "And, like Nehemiah, I say, 'Why should the works cease, while I leave them and come down to you?'

"Memphis is not the easiest city in the world to move forward. You've got the old order that wants to keep things the same. ... But God empowers ordinary people to do some extraordinary things."

Pohlmann said it's typical for the broad support of big-city mayors to waver by their fourth or fifth term and suggested Chumney is one of the few political figures on the scene with a chance of capitalizing on that.

"I'm running because I love Memphis and because I feel I have the experience and qualifications and track record of service to help make Memphis better," Chumney said.

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