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VOL. 124 | NO. 136 | Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Carpenter, Chumney Intensify Efforts To Become Memphis Mayor

By Bill Dries

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DIFFERENT STROKES: Memphis mayoral contender Charles Carpenter is trying to make the difficult conversion from political adviser to candidate. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

Two years ago, it was Charles Carpenter’s job to be nervous.

He was managing Mayor Willie Herenton’s fifth mayoral campaign and Herenton believed he was coasting to victory over two challengers.

That turned out to be the case, but Carpenter feared Herenton voters would get complacent and not bother to vote if their candidate declared victory several months before early voting began.

Herenton talked about how confident he was of victory as a nervous Carpenter hovered nearby. Nevertheless, Carpenter’s influence and advice were evident.

“When you are an adviser and a counselor, you don’t always have your
client accept the advice you give. As a CEO, I can make the decision based on my experience, based on my training.”
– Charles Carpenter

Herenton talked as he pursued what political observers came to call a “charm offensive.” He didn’t show up at any debates with challengers Carol Chumney and Herman Morris Jr. But he did a series of television and newspaper interviews that were carefully spaced, in which Herenton responded calmly to questions that in the past he had bristled at. The more challenging the question, the more likely Herenton was to chuckle before answering.

Two years later, Carpenter is trying to make a transition that is one of the most difficult in politics. He is trying to go from being the voice in the candidate’s ear to being the candidate who wins a special election in late October after a shorter than usual three-month campaign.

“It’s going to be a lot easier,” Carpenter said of the transition from manager to candidate. “In any administration, you have to have a CEO that will make the final decision. Being part of the team on the sidelines, all you can do is give advice. You can’t make a decision.

“When you are an adviser and a counselor, you don’t always have your client accept the advice you give. As a CEO, I can make the decision based on my experience, based on my training.”

Parting company

But that’s only part of what campaign managers and advisers do. When a candidate deviates from advice, those behind the scenes try to find a way to make it work or to repair the damage. What they don’t do, in most cases, is publicly part company with the candidate.

NEXT INSTALLMENT: Memphis mayoral contender Carol Chumney held the first in a series of backyard parties this past weekend as she continues her quest for the mayor’s office. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

As a candidate, Carpenter is trying to strike a different kind of political balance by working to claim a share of Herenton supporters who likely will be splintered among the relatively large field of candidates. As he does that, he will, like every other candidate, seek to portray himself as a departure from Herenton.

“But for the suffering that the citizens of Memphis are enduring and but for the lack of leadership that we see with our current staff of elected officials, I may not be here today. … I feel compelled to come out and run,” Carpenter said with a crowd of 30 supporters standing with him in Church Park last week. “I am so frustrated and fed up by watching our elected officials and how they operate and the poor results that we are obtaining … that I said, ‘Now is the time for me to step forward and offer myself.’”

Asked if he was excepting Herenton from the comments, Carpenter replied: “I don’t think I qualified my remarks by excepting anyone. I’m talking about as a whole. I wasn’t pointing out any particular elected official and I wasn’t excluding anyone.”

‘A new day’

Meanwhile, former City Council member and 2007 Herenton challenger Chumney drew about 100 supporters for a weekend backyard party in the Lamar-Central area.?The party was hosted by Don Tillilie, a Memphis developer and one-time partner with Herenton in the construction of Herenton’s Banneker Estates development.

Chumney called for a “clean break from the past” in referring to Herenton’s tenure.

Her balancing act involves emphasizing her experience as a state representative and a City Council member as her rivals try to portray that experience as part of the political past.

Chumney is counting on her outsider status.

“It is a battle that we are going to be fighting. … We’re going to be fighting a battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Memphis,” she said. “Enough of the past. It’s a new day and we can come together and it’s a battle to say we believe.”

Chumney also hosted homeowners in the neighborhood who were without power for as long as a week in last month’s straight-line wind storms.?She criticized Herenton for not being more visible during repair and recovery efforts.?

“I’ve got over 17 years of devoted public service,” she said. “The people of Memphis are my family. You are my family after 17 years in public service.”

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