Wharton, Carpenter Keep Eyes On the Prize

By Bill Dries

FANFARE: Supporters of Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. in the Oct. 15 Memphis mayoral election kicked off the weekend by waving signs on the corner of Lamar Avenue and Airways Boulevard. – PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton may still be pondering another political crossroads.

But as Herenton spoke vaguely of whether he will get into the special mayoral election that resulted from his resignation as mayor, the confirmed contenders spent their second weekend campaigning hard.

Even before Herenton pulled a qualifying petition last Thursday, the campaign of Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was guarding against frontrunner complacency.

“That attitude is a prescription for disaster,” attorney Don Donati told a group of 200 attorneys at a Memphis Botanic Gardens fundraiser. “We should leave enthusiastic, with the idea that we could lose this race.”

WEIGHTIER MATTERS: Memphis mayoral candidate Charles Carpenter Saturday opened a campaign office in East Memphis at Poplar Plaza. Carpenter said the coming election will not be a typical “popularity contest.” – PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

Meanwhile, Wharton has the support of City Council member Jim Strickland, who attended the gathering and whom Wharton singled out. Strickland earlier had been the object of a draft movement in the mayor’s race that he declined.

“We’re going to campaign all over this city,” Wharton told the cheering crowd. “I want the whole cake.”

And eating it too

Wharton supporters waved signs during the Friday afternoon rush hour at Lamar Avenue and Airways Boulevard, one of the busiest inner-city intersections.

It’s a strategy Wharton said will continue after early voting begins Sept. 25 until the polls close on Oct. 15.

“I need your help,” he told his fellow attorneys. “We’re going to campaign just like I did in the first campaign (in 2002) – seven days a week, night and day. … It’s not billboards. But when a lawyer in a community puts a sign in his or her yard, that influences people. … Help us in the old-fashioned way.”

A Saturday blitz across the city took Wharton supporters to the same shopping center, Poplar Plaza, where rival Charles Carpenter was opening his second campaign office in as many weekends. Carpenter’s larger campaign headquarters opened the weekend before in Whitehaven Plaza.

Carpenter, who, until now, had been a behind-the-scenes strategist in Herenton’s five mayoral campaigns, told The Daily News he doesn’t believe the crowded field will result in a typical Memphis political horse race decided on how flashy the campaigns are.

“Typically that would decide it. Elections in Memphis have been based on popularity contests,” he said. “But now times are very difficult. Times are hard. … For that reason the voters’ focus is better.”

Carpenter is trying to claim the support of the business community if business leaders are unified in their backing of a candidate.

“It’s not that simple to claim it. We’re going to have to show it and demonstrate it,” Carpenter said. “My whole plan is to be a CEO for the municipal corporation of the city of Memphis. Other people that are out here, they are the same politicians that are recycling themselves.”