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VOL. 128 | NO. 230 | Monday, November 25, 2013

As Elections End, New Campaigns Begin

By Bill Dries

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The day after the last elections of 2013 in Shelby County were decided, candidates for the Shelby County offices on the ballot in 2014 could begin pulling qualifying petitions to run.

And many of them had already held kickoff fundraisers for the political year to come.


Shelby County Assessor of Property Cheyenne Johnson opened her re-election campaign an hour before the polls closed Thursday, Nov. 21, with a fundraiser at Joysmith Gallery in the South Main Historic Arts District.

Johnson is running for the second time in two years because of a rare change in election cycles for an elected office.

In 2008, Shelby County voters approved a set of changes to the county charter that moved Johnson’s race from a less crowded rotation it was on to the same cycle that includes elections for Shelby County Commission, Shelby County mayor and 10 other countywide offices.

Johnson won re-election in 2012, but it was to a one-time-only, two-year term. In 2014, she is running for a full four-year term starting with the May 6 Democratic primary. The winners of the primaries for the partisan offices advance to the Aug. 7 county general election.

“Let me try one more time to serve as your assessor,” Johnson told the gallery of several dozen supporters.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and former Shelby County Commissioner and Assessor Michael Hooks Sr. were among the supporters.

“Everybody has an opinion,” Johnson said of her duties heading the office that appraises property for tax purposes. “Someone has to step up and try.”

Johnson is a former chief administrative officer of the Assessor’s office who won the office in 2008 when fellow Democrat Rita Clark did not seek re-election.

“There are going to be a lot more changes in appraisal operations,” Johnson said. “Appraisals, in my opinion, should be secondary. Information and how you use information, moving this city forward is what this should all be about in that office.”

Through the office’s current website, which has been updated and other efforts, Johnson sees an office that has information for prospective homeowners and investors.

“If you want to purchase a home, you need to be able to contact us and find out, ‘Where do I need to purchase a home for this amount of money, these particular amenities that I’m looking for?’” she said. “Then if you are going to invest in property, ‘Where should I be investing in property?’”

Not too far away, at the riverside home of Monogram Foods CEO Karl Schledwitz, Memphis City Council Chairman Edmund Ford Jr. held a fundraiser for his 2015 re-election effort and political ambitions beyond that.

Wharton urged those at the fundraiser to support Ford “wherever he wants to go in the political arena” and Schledwitz introduced Wharton by saying Wharton intends to seek re-election as mayor in 2015 as well.

“This is my re-election campaign,” Ford said later, emphasizing that he’s running for council in 2015. “But I don’t know what the future may hold. We’ll just see, and when it’s time, I will know and everybody else will know.”

Wharton and Ford both made pitches for the citywide sales tax hike as they spoke about an hour before the polls closed Thursday.

In the aftermath of the defeat of the second sales tax hike to go to Memphis voters in a year, with 60 percent voting “no,” there is certain to be much analysis of what the defeat says about political leadership as well as trust of that political leadership.

The half-percent citywide sales tax hike lost big despite a well-funded push by proponents of the tax hike, including the Greater Memphis Chamber, as a way to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten in the city of Memphis. Opponents of the measure had none of the television ads or yard signs that the proponents had.

Opponents of the sales tax hike repeatedly emphasized their lack of trust that the revenue from the sales tax hike would be used for pre-kindergarten.

The distrust and the failure of a countywide sales tax hike a year ago this month appear to have figured prominently in the outcome as well as the low citywide voter turnout.

The 29,295 voters were 7 percent of the city’s 417,174 voters.

The November 2012 sales tax referendum was among voters in Memphis and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County.

PROPERTY SALES 41 308 2,265
MORTGAGES 47 379 2,607
BUILDING PERMITS 128 1,018 6,068
BANKRUPTCIES 53 255 1,787