VOL. 125 | NO. 25 | Monday, February 8, 2010
Herenton Opens Congressional Bid
By Bill Dries
Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton opened his Congressional campaign Saturday afternoon to a crowd of around 300 in East Memphis.
A core group of about half the crowd crowded around the stage at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis and waved red Herenton signs. Others further back in the crowd were curious about Herenton’s latest political venture after winning five terms as mayors. Still others were candidates or their campaign workers in county races, handing out campaign literature and stumping for support of their own.
Herenton is seeking to unseat incumbent Steve Cohen in the August Democratic primary.
“God is for us. God is on our side,” Herenton began as he talked about his record as Memphis mayor, touting the city’s fiscal condition and healthy reserves, Downtown development and the transition of public housing projects to mixed use-mixed income housing.
He also said he has been the victim of criminal investigations by political opponents who want to dismantle what he started as mayor.
“In a racist society, being a man can be a crime,” he said.
Herenton’s private financial dealings were the subject of a federal grand jury investigation that lasted over a year. When the grand jury disbanded in December, no one had been indicted in the probe believed to center on an option Herenton had to buy the Greyhound bus station Downtown. The bus station remains on the land and the option Herenton sold for $91,000 has expired.
Herenton referred generally to the investigation. He referred specifically to Friday’s word that three Memphis Animal Shelter employees, including former shelter director Ernest Alexander, had been indicted on state animal cruelty charges. Alexander, a Herenton appointee, was the first administration casualty when A C Wharton Jr. became mayor in October.
“This so called justice system of ours – they are about to send three black people to jail about some dogs,” Herenton said. “But we’ve got a white man involved in Beale Street that a forensic analysis has revealed six million dollars is missing – six million dollars of your money is missing.”
Herenton was referring to Beale Street developer John Elkington. The audit results have been hotly disputed by Elkington who contends the audit counted money that was never due the city under the contract arrangement for the operation and development of the entertainment district.
Herenton also said former Shelby County mayor Jim Rout’s business dealings were investigated differently than his own were.
“I thought criminal intent was a crime,” Herenton said. “It is for black folk, but it ain’t for white folk.”
The remarks about controversies during his administration were unscripted.
The scripted parts of the speech steered clear of those and put more emphasis on Herenton’s record than his style as mayor.
Herenton said he wants to be elected to Congress to bring “common sense pragmatic approaches” to Washington as the federal government deals with the national recession.
“We need credit. We need to help to create jobs,” he said. “We can’t do it if the banks won’t loan us money.”
Herenton only referred to Cohen one time and it was not by name.
“I’m not interested in naming builidings after black folks,” he said, referring to Cohen’s resolutions and attempts to rename several buildings in the city. “I want to help black folks to own some of those buildings. If you own your building, you can put anybody’s name on it you want to.”
Herenton campaign chairman Ricky E. Wilkins said Herenton will begin fund-raising immediately. He faces an incumbent who has raised approximately $1 million.
Read more about the race and the changing political climate in Tuesday’s edition of The Daily News.