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VOL. 124 | NO. 149 | Friday, July 31, 2009

Lowery Takes Office After Stormy Herenton Exit

By Bill Dries

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Myron Lowery becomes mayor of Memphis today in the aftermath of a literal storm and the political storm that was the 18 year administration of Willie Herenton.

He takes the oath of office after an awkward and mostly non existent transition on Herenton’s part. Lowery, who is city council chairman, will hold the office of mayor pro tempore for three months. He is also a candidate in the Oct. 27 special election that will come at the end of the three months. The winner of the election will serve the remaining two years left in Herenton’s term of office.

Herenton handed his letter of resignation to Lowery at the end of a political farewell speech Thursday in the Hall of Mayors at City Hall. It was a marked contrast to the June 25 press conference in which Herenton originally announced his resignation and set a July 10 resignation date, a date he later amended to July 30. At the end of that news conference, Lowery unexpectedly followed Herenton to the podium as Herenton walked away and talked about a smooth transition. Although Lowery complimented Herenton, Herenton resented Lowery’s action as well as Lowery’s appointment of a transition team. That’s when Lowery backed down. The transition ground to a halt. Lowery and Herenton had their first indepth conversation about a transition after Herenton’s farewell.

Lowery waited Thursday to approach the podium until he was called on by Herenton.

“I’m being respectful of chairman Lowery and the city council,” Herenton said as he read his resignation letter aloud. “I couldn’t give you that letter when you all were kind of demanding it.” The crowd erupted into applause and cheers.

Herenton’s farewell was devoted to a glowing assessment of his 18 years in office as the city’s first elected African-American mayor and a not so glowing assessment of the racial politics of Memphis.

“This city’s never been unified. … Don’t come 18 years later and tell me you were unified and that I divided,” Herenton said to a burst of applause from a standing room only crowd of several hundred people.

“When a community predicates unity on a winning basketball team -- I love the University of Memphis basketball team. But it is amazing to me that people consider a basketball team as the great unifying thing in Memphis. Every time I hear that it’s sickening. You know what we need to unify on? Getting all kids educated. … making sure there are no barriers to employment and promotion in our corporations.”

At a press conference later, Herenton added, “We play games about unity. … When I come real with you all, don’t talk to me about unity. You don’t have it. You never had it.”

The farewell address and the later press conference included plenty of references to Herenton’s upcoming bid in the Democratic Congressional primary next year. Herenton told reporters he will likely take a vacation and in a few months begin to raise money for the effort to oust incumbent Democrat Steve Cohen.

PROPERTY SALES 67 67 19,513
MORTGAGES 68 68 22,501
BUILDING PERMITS 201 201 40,205
BANKRUPTCIES 62 62 12,548