VOL. 125 | NO. 152 | Friday, August 6, 2010
Luttrell, Cohen Win Most-Watched Races
By Bill Dries
Mark Luttrell (left) took the Shelby County mayor's race Thursday, while incumbent Steve Cohen won the 9th Congressional District primary.
Outgoing Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell was elected Shelby County mayor Thursday evening. Meanwhile, incumbent Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen easily won the 9th Congressional District primary, crushing challenger and former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
In conceding the race, Herenton said he accepted Cohen’s victory and told supporters the election had been a referendum on his 18-year tenure as mayor.
Luttrell, the Republican nominee, came out on top over interim Shelby County Mayor and Democratic nominee Joe Ford in a race that was not as close as the polls indicated it might be.
Luttrell rode a wave of Republican support that led to a shutout of Democratic candidates in every countywide contest further down the ballot.
With all precincts reporting, the final unofficial numbers were:
Luttrell: 102,295 (58%)
Ford: 73,518 (42%)
The remaining votes went to independent candidate Leo Awgowhat.
Ford conceded the race, then went to Luttrell’s campaign headquarters in East Memphis. Luttrell thanked Ford for running a campaign that didn’t focus on personalities.
Luttrell, who takes office Sept. 1, will govern with a 13-member Shelby County Commission that will remain majority Democrat.
Only one of the 13 commission races on the ballot was contested.
District 5 Democratic incumbent Steve Mulroy easily defeated Republican challenger Rolando Toyos in Toyos’s political debut. The race determined whether Democrats would keep their one-vote majority on the commission.
The unofficial numbers with all 17 precincts reporting were:
Mulroy: 6,871 (65%)
Toyos: 3,619 (35%)
Meanwhile, the Cohen-Herenton contest in the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary wasn’t even close, and Cohen’s large margin in early voting held as the Election Day totals were added.
Final unofficial returns were:
Cohen: 63,343 (79%)
Herenton: 17,128 (21%)
Herenton had been dismissive of several polls near the end of the campaign season predicting a big victory for Cohen. Cohen was aware of the polls and indicated he had his own poll with similar results.
But Cohen followed a textbook campaign strategy that included rolling out endorsements during the early voting period. The endorsements included a rare Presidential endorsement from Barack Obama. Herenton countered that the endorsement by the first African-American president was “great news” for his campaign because it showed how desperate Cohen was to secure the black vote in the predominantly black district.
But all of the combativeness vanished in Herenton’s concession speech which marked his only political loss in six bids for elected office – five for mayor and one for Congress.
“The citizens of the 9th Congressional District made the selection,” he said. “They selected Rep. Cohen to continue to serve as our congressman … and I strongly urge all of us to get behind him to move us forward. … I congratulate Congressman Cohen, and I want him to know if there is any way I can assist him … I am willing to do it.”
Herenton earlier in the week raised the possibility of a challenge of the election results, citing his own experience in the 1991 race for mayor that he won by 142 votes and a lawsuit by four Democratic contenders in the 2006 county general elections.
But Herenton’s loss to Cohen wasn’t even close. And Herenton quickly dismissed the idea of a challenge as he conceded before fewer than 100 supporters.
Herenton resigned as mayor in July 2009 to run for Congress.
“The community spoke. They spoke overwhelmingly,” Herenton said. “Am I pleased with the result? Of course I’m not. But I respect the congressman. The community spoke. There was somewhat of a referendum on Willie Herenton, to be honest with you. I don’t know any other way to look at that.”
Cohen told supporters his victory was “a new day” in Memphis politics.
“Tonight’s victory is an affirmation that we’ve been doing a good job and doing things the right way,” he said. “This victory tonight from Memphis, Tenn., sends a message to the United States of America. This election is being watched by the nation … that Memphis is a city on the move – that Memphis is not a city of the past but a city of the future.”
Cohen, seeking a third term in Congress, faces Republican primary winner Charlotte Bergman in the Nov. 2 general election. Bergman, who aligned herself with the local tea party movement, was the winner is a three-way contest over Jim Harrell and Kevin Millen.
The Congressional district, whose boundaries are within Shelby County, has been represented by a Democrat since 1975.
All election returns will be audited and must be certified by the Shelby County Election Commission.
The possibility of contested election results was raised shortly after polling places opened across Shelby County.
Polling places across the county opened with immediate protests from local Democratic candidates and party leaders that some voters were being turned away because of a problem with electronic polling books. The books are used at each precinct to determine who had already voted early.
But some voters claimed they hadn’t voted early and were denied access to provisional ballots.
Shelby County Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini said the controversy was corrected after about an hour and involved polling officials using early voting lists from the May county primaries. Based on the low early voter turnout in that election, Giannini estimated the glitch affected 3,000 voters at most.
He also said the problem was not as big a deal as some political leaders were making it.
Asked if there could be challenges of the election results, Giannini said, “I would be shocked if it didn’t.”
Four Democratic candidates for county-wide office who lost in the August 2006 elections – each by fewer than a thousand votes – contested the results in a Chancery Court lawsuit that was eventually dismissed.
A challenge on general election results would involve a similar lawsuit. Under state law, the candidate contesting an election must prove that there were election irregularities and enough irregularities to change the outcome of the race.