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VOL. 124 | NO. 159 | Friday, August 14, 2009

Herenton to Run for Mayor – and Congress

By ANDY MEEK & BILL DRIES | The Daily News

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Willie Herenton

By walking to a counter at the Shelby County Election Commission Thursday and asking for a piece of paper, former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton has again surprised political observers.

Herenton pulled a qualifying petition to run for mayor in the Oct. 15 special election. It is the election caused by Herenton’s earlier decision to resign from the mayor’s office to run for Congress in the 2010 Democratic primary.

In a written statement, Herenton said he still intends to run for Congress next year.?“However, during the interim, recent events have compelled me to step forth to provide leadership and express my sincere feelings on how our city can continue to move forward, despite our current dilemma,” he wrote. “My recent retirement from the office of mayor has created this situation and I feel obligated to seek alternatives to Myron Lowery and an ‘anyone can win’ mayoral race.”

At another point in the letter, Herenton also writes, “We cannot allow Mayor Pro Tem Lowery to be elected mayor during the upcoming special election.” And he accuses Lowery of a “reckless style of leadership.”

Herenton also says in the statement he wants a referendum on a proposal to change the City Charter to limit the powers of the mayor pro tempore. The position was created by a charter amendment Memphis voters approved just last year. The position is held by whomever is City Council chairman when a mayor resigns.

Back again

Herenton picked up the petition himself, according to the ledger at the Election Commission. He has until Sept. 3 to file it. He could also choose not to follow through.

“My recent retirement from the office of mayor has created this situation and I feel obligated to seek alternatives to Myron Lowery and an ‘anyone can win’ mayoral race.”
– Willie Herenton

In announcing his resignation, Herenton said he didn’t believe in holding one office while running for another. Some political advisers, however, urged Herenton to stay in the mayor’s office as he ran for Congress to strengthen his political position.

“I have always been opposed to such behavior by public officials,” Herenton said at the June 25 press conference. “And if I follow the same course of conduct that I have criticized in the past, it would subject me to the same criticisms that I have publicly stated about others.”

Herenton could run for mayor and for Congress next year as well.

Even as he left City Hall last month, Herenton told reporters he wasn’t happy with the field of contenders at this point in the race. They include Lowery, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr., attorney Charles Carpenter, City Council member Wanda Halbert and former City Council member Carol Chumney.

Drama and beginnings

Herenton initially planned to resign effective July 10 but pushed back his resignation date to July 30, in part, because he was miffed that Lowery had appointed a transition team before July 10. Lowery backed off and there was virtually no cooperation in the transition of power.

When Lowery tried to fire City Attorney Elbert Jefferson after taking office, Jefferson – a Herenton appointee – contested his dismissal and filed a Chancery Court lawsuit that is still pending against Lowery. Jefferson filed the lawsuit in the name of the city of Memphis.

“The mayor is free to run like any other citizen. I welcome him into the race,” Lowery told The Daily News. “While he has mentioned me personally, I think everyone knows I am clearly not the frontrunner in the race. Mayor Wharton is. And I’m sure Mayor Wharton will also welcome Mayor Herenton to the race.”

However, the intensity of Herenton’s comments about Lowery in the letter may have the effect of making Lowery a rallying point for Herenton critics still searching for a candidate in the special election.

Wharton’s campaign posted a tweet in the wake of the Herenton bombshell that began, “Tired of the drama?” His campaign has called a rally for Friday evening at Lamar Avenue and Airways Boulevard.

Mayoral contender and attorney Charles Carpenter was surprised by the move. He has been a political ally of Herenton’s, having worked in all five of Herenton’s mayoral bids.

Carpenter told The Daily News his campaign “is moving forward to the end of this special election process.”

“We are moving forward very forcefully,” he said. “There are candidates that are pulling petitions everyday and we don’t focus on who is pulling petitions in this race. We are looking forward to expressing our vision for the future of Memphis to the citizens to forge and create a new beginning.”

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