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VOL. 123 | NO. 222 | Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wharton Acknowledges Run For City Mayor Post

By Bill Dries

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EARLY DAYS: Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is running for Memphis mayor in the 2011 city elections, although he said it will be some time before he starts campaigning actively. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is running for mayor of Memphis in 2011, but in his first set of interviews about the decision he said voters won’t see him actively campaigning this far out.

“It will be a long time before that happens. We simply for legal reasons had to set up a different structure before we can spend money and raise money,” Wharton said. “But I am serious about it. … But I don’t want to give the impression that I’ll be on the street corner waving signs tomorrow.”

It’s more than a book-keeping move. Wharton is holding his first fundraiser next week – a $500-a-person event at The Racquet Club of Memphis.

Wharton responded for the first time Tuesday morning, the day after invitations for the event began showing up in mailboxes around town. He said his candidacy for Memphis mayor will be a campaign in which consolidation of city and county government is a central theme.

“I’m hoping consolidation will pass,” he told The Daily News. “But right now at the Election Commission there is no form down there in which you can put metro Shelby mayor.”

Not so fast

Any consolidation of the highest levels of city and county government would have to win the approval of voters in two simultaneous referenda, one in the city of Memphis and one in the county. Any move to the ballot on that front is years away at the earliest.

Wharton is limited as county mayor to two four-year terms. His second term of office will end Sept. 1, 2010.

“If you’re not term limited, you can forever raise money under your existing campaign structure, which in my case is county mayor – ‘Wharton for Public Service,” he said, referring to his political fundraising account. “I had people all the time saying, ‘I want you to run for city mayor.’ But I couldn’t take the money.”

The office of Memphis mayor will be on the October 2011 ballot with the winner taking office New Year’s Day 2012 for a one-time-only term of three years. The shortened term of office is one of eight city charter amendments approved by Memphis voters in last week’s elections. The shortened term is to move city elections to even-numbered years in November to coincide with county elections.

“If I get over there (City Hall) before (consolidation is) done, it puts me in a better position to still pursue consolidation,” he said. “If it’s done before then, I’ll make the call as to whether I go for metro mayor.”

‘No scheme’

While 2009 is an off election year, the Wharton fundraiser is proof that 2009 will not be an off year for politics. Wharton’s early bid to succeed Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton comes as prospective candidates for the 2010 governor’s race are already preparing to go public.

Wharton’s declaration is early for a mayoral race and is certain to renew speculation that Herenton might leave office before the end of his fifth four-year term, which began this year. Earlier this year, Herenton announced his intention to resign at the end of July, but he took back the planned resignation days later.

Wharton was the object of a draft movement in the 2007 mayor’s race as Herenton sought a fifth term. A group of political movers and shakers including some former Herenton allies tried to convince Wharton to challenge Herenton. Wharton considered the offer before ultimately turning it down.

At a Fourth of July political gathering in southwest Memphis, Wharton showed up handing out postcards that showed him sitting at a desk with the caption “A C – Still Working.” The card touted his achievements as county mayor but did not indicate any office he was seeking.

Asked about what looked to be a campaign piece without an office, Wharton told The Daily News at the time that he wasn’t seeking any office but was simply reminding constituents that he was working for them.

Wharton acknowledged that now that he is running for something, there will be speculation about an early departure for Herenton worked out with Wharton or similar scenarios.

“People are always going to suspect things like that,” Wharton told The Daily News. “There is absolutely no plan or scheme whatsoever. It’s purely because of the legalities of the state election laws.”

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