County Primaries Reflect Different Political Fortunes

By Bill Dries

Former Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone will challenge incumbent Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell in the August county general election after winning the Tuesday, May 6, Democratic mayoral primary.


Malone won the hard-fought primary contest over county commissioner Steve Mulroy and former Shelby County Schools board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. that intensified in the last two weeks of the campaign between Malone and Mulroy.


Malone, who ran for the nomination four years ago and lost to interim County Mayor Joe Ford, is the first woman to claim either local party’s nomination for Shelby County mayor.

With all 219 precincts reporting, the unofficial results are:

- Malone: 13,785 (36 percent)

- Whalum: 12,598 (33 percent)

- Mulroy: 12,041 (31 percent)

Luttrell faced perennial candidate Ernie Lunati in the Republican mayoral primary and beat Lunati easily.

The primary ballot drew 55,979 voters for a turnout of 10.4 percent of the county’s 533,579 voters, less than the 11.1 percent turnout four years ago.

Most came to vote Tuesday in the Democratic primaries, particularly in the mayoral primary – 38,538 votes split among Malone, Whalum and Mulroy, with 114 write-in votes as well.

The race featured the top turnout of any race and demonstrated the very different political fortunes of each local party.

Most of the countywide Republican incumbents were running unopposed Tuesday and drew less than 20,000 votes in their respective primaries. Republican turnout was driven by the County Commission district contests with a small number of precincts and voters.

The turnout is a reflection of the sweep Republican candidates made of every countywide office four years ago. It’s also a move to conserve campaign cash for the general election campaign against rivals who will be looking to avenge their 2010 losses.

Democrats are anxious to reverse that in the 2014 general elections and set out to build the framework in the primaries, including the local party formally censuring some longtime party members for attending Republican candidates’ fundraisers.

The movement reached its height when some in the party argued Democratic candidates shouldn’t appear at the local NAACP’s election forum with Republican candidates, touching off a debate via a flurry of widely copied emails.

While the mayoral primary ended with some harsh words between Mulroy and Malone, all three contenders vowed early on to support whoever won the primary and said election night they would keep that vow.

The second-highest turnout for a race was in the Democratic primary for Criminal Court clerk, won by Memphis City Council member Wanda Halbert. The four-way race, which is for one of two countywide races on the August ballot without a Republic incumbent seeking re-election, drew 37,509 voters.

Halbert faces Richard DeSaussure, the chief administrative officer of the clerk’s office, who ran unopposed Tuesday for the position now held by Kevin Key. Key did not seek a second term this year.

The four contenders campaigned as part of the party’s focus on races involving the criminal justice system and specifically proposing changes in the way the system operates.

The most dramatic moment in a race that usually struggles to gain attention came in the last week of the campaign, when Halbert accompanied a suspect in a recent shooting at Oak Court Mall to the Criminal Justice Center to surrender to police.

The third-highest turnout was the Democratic primary for Juvenile Court clerk between county commissioner Henri Brooks and former city public services division director Kenneth Moody. Brooks won handily and will face Republican incumbent Joy Touliatos in August.

The Democratic race drew 36,654 voters and included plenty of reminders by Brooks that it was her complaint to the U.S. Justice Department that sparked the reforms currently underway at Juvenile Court – reforms she doesn’t think go far enough.

Close behind in turnout, however, was the Democratic primary for Shelby County Assessor of Property, won by incumbent Cheyenne Johnson. Johnson is running her second re-election campaign in as many years as the office moved this year to a different election cycle because of county charter changes approved by voters in 2008.

A total of 36,515 citizens voted in the primary contest between Johnson and challenger Lorie Ingram.

Meanwhile, the uncontested primaries in the coming August race for district attorney general drew the sixth-highest turnout in the Democratic primary in which former Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown was running unopposed and campaigning heavily with stump speeches that often focused on other races and allied Democratic candidates in those races. A total of 33,680 citizens voted in the one-candidate primary at the top of the ballot.

The companion Republican primary, featuring only incumbent Amy Weirich, drew 16,922 voters.

It was the second-highest turnout in a countywide Republican primary, following the 17,441 voters in Luttrell’s easy win over Lunati.