VOL. 124 | NO. 132 | Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Despite Speculation, Herenton Packs Office for Move
By Andy Meek
WINDING DOWN: Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton has begun cleaning out his office at City Hall in preparation for his retirement, which he says will happen at the end of this month. He sifted through items already packed away on Tuesday, while several floors below the Memphis City Council had an intense debate on whether he would, in fact, resign. -- PHOTO BY ANDY MEEK
Boxes in which to pack the knickknacks, papers and personal effects accumulated over the course of 17 years as the city’s chief executive line the hallway outside Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton’s office at City Hall.
Several already full boxes seemingly ready to be moved are scattered around the interior of his seventh-floor office. His desk – usually covered with multiple stacks of paperwork several inches high – is almost clear of any clutter.
Looking around the room Tuesday while the Memphis City Council several floors below debated whether Herenton would in fact resign at the end of this month, the mayor seemed genuinely bemused by the speculation.
“Look at all this – I’m pulling out, man!” he told a reporter.
Memories to go
Eyeing the five framed certificates on his wall that certify his mayoral election victories through the years, he said aloud, to no one in particular, that he’d be specially wrapping those documents. The first certification – the one from his historic 1991 victory, with its margin of 142 votes – was one he seemed especially eager to preserve in the midst of packing.
Noting the state of his desk, which faces two parallel couches both covered with paper stacks of varying height, he drew laughs from aides and seventh-floor employees who came in and out. Even though stray documents still grace the top of his desk, he told everyone it’s as clean as it is now for a reason.
“All I want to say to you is the mayor’s moving,” Herenton said.
Roughly an hour after he said that, the City Council during its afternoon meeting would begin an intense debate on whether or not the mayor meant those words. The body ultimately voted 7-6 to approve a resolution declaring the mayor’s office vacant at the end of this month.
Herenton delivered to council Chairman Myron Lowery earlier this week a letter delaying his previously announced resignation to July 30. The mayor followed that up the same day with another letter, the wording of which revoked all previous written communication about the mayor’s resignation – which, to some council members, seemed to include his letter delaying the resignation to July 30.
That left some council members operating under the premise there now was no written statement spelling out Herenton’s intent to resign. The mayor’s spokeswoman, Toni Holmon Turner, tried to clear up the confusion by saying in spite of any ambiguity in the last letter, the mayor still intended to resign at the end of the month.
Things to do
Unfinished city business is what’s underlying the mayor’s interest in staying put for a few more weeks.
“Why is it that people can’t believe – they don’t know the complexities of government, that there are contractual matters that remain unresolved that I would like to get resolved before there’s a transition,” Herenton said. “Because the new person coming in wouldn’t have the history – are you following me? Why is that not logical?”
As he showed a reporter from The Daily News around the office he’s begun to clean out, it stood in contrast to the council back-and-forth and the media fray unfolding elsewhere in City Hall over the resignation. The impromptu session in his office also illuminated the various political hemispheres that exist inside City Hall.
Less than 30 minutes earlier, the council’s executive session had adjourned. Not long after, the elevator doors on the fifth floor of City Hall opened, and there stood an apparently surprised Herenton, briefly facing the media. The gathering of reporters had attended the executive session, where the council first tried to figure out what to do about the mayor’s resignation.
A swarm of cameras and microphones instantly lined up in front of the elevator.
The mayor smiled, and declined to answer any questions.