VOL. 130 | NO. 166 | Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Memphis Mayoral Endorsements Split
By Bill Dries
The first wave of endorsements in the 2015 Memphis elections finds no mayoral contender with a sweep, one of the four major contenders without an endorsement so far and two of the big three municipal unions backing different mayoral candidates.
The Memphis Police Association slate of endorsements released Monday, Aug. 24, is topped by the union’s own president as its choice in the mayor’s race. Mike Williams has been on leave from union leadership since ramping up his challenge of incumbent Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
Meanwhile, the Memphis Fire Fighters Association is backing council member and mayoral challenger Harold Collins in a first-ever joint endorsement with the Pioneer Black Fire Fighters Inc.
Collins also claimed the Monday endorsement of the Tennessee Equality Project.
Memphis Fire Fighters president Thomas Malone spoke at the Aug. 15 opening of Collins’ Whitehaven campaign headquarters.
“We have caught all kinds of hell for this throughout the workforce and we don’t understand that,” Malone said. “The workforce is the ones that’s been impacted by this mayor – been destroyed by this mayor.”
Williams isn’t writing off the union firefighters’ vote; a group of firefighters is hosting a fundraiser Wednesday for Williams.
The two unions and their leaders have been the most vocal and most visible in the last year in protesting city employee and retiree health insurance and pension benefits cuts. But Williams and Malone have taken different approaches in their opposition.
Malone sought to negotiate the cuts and argued dollar figures with the Wharton administration, citing reports from his union’s actuarial consultant.
Williams charted a different course of opposition, lumping Wharton and the council together. And his mayoral campaign has been built on that more general opposition as he seeks to broaden his appeal as a candidate.
“I am definitely for restoring the benefits to the employees because they deserve it,” he said at the Aug. 19 mayoral debate at the University of Memphis sponsored by The Commercial Appeal. “We have tried to balance the budget on the backs of the employees in the last year. I have told you the problem is prioritization.”
Meanwhile, Wharton claimed the endorsement of Jobs PAC, the political action committee of the Greater Memphis Chamber.
The chamber’s journey into political involvement in the last year began with its decision to support the move to cut employee and retiree benefits in an effort to right the city’s fiscal condition.
So far, council member and challenger Jim Strickland hasn’t claimed an endorsement. That is certain to change as more endorsements roll out and as the Sept. 18 early voting opening nears.
Not everyone will choose to endorse in the mayor’s race. Despite the differences between the fire and police unions, the AFL-CIO Labor Council decided to only endorse in the Memphis City Council races and the race for City Court Clerk.
In the opening round of endorsements, the one consistent choice in the other races is council incumbent Janis Fullilove, who has the backing of Jobs PAC, Tennessee Equality Project, AFL-CIO Labor Council and the Memphis Police Association. Fullilove also listed a contribution from the Fire Fighters Association PAC in her second-quarter financial disclosure report.