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VOL. 130 | NO. 196 | Thursday, October 8, 2015

Election Day Beckons In Hard-Fought Memphis Mayor’s Race

By Bill Dries

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The most competitive Memphis mayor’s race in 24 years goes to the city’s 403,227 voters Thursday, Oct. 8, along with races for all 13 seats on the Memphis City Council and the race for City Court clerk.

Voters decide Thursday, Oct. 8, who will be Memphis’ mayor for the next four years in what is expected to be the city’s most competitive mayor’s race in at least 24 years.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The mayor’s race has dominated the political spotlight as incumbent Mayor A C Wharton faces the strongest challenge any incumbent city mayor has had since 1991, when Willie Herenton upset incumbent Dick Hackett by 142 votes.

That was the last Memphis election cycle in which more than half of the city’s voters cast ballots.

Turnout in 2011 barely cracked 10 percent. It was 23 percent in the 2009 special election following Herenton’s resignation; Wharton emerged atop a record field of 25 contenders. Turnout in 2007, when Herenton won his fifth and final term, was 37.7 percent.

Follow the election results @tdnpols, twitter.com/tdnpols, as well as web stories at The Daily News Online, memphisdailynews.com, that recap the early vote and the complete unofficial returns from the Shelby County Election Commission.

The mayor’s race as well as the races for City Court clerk and the six city council seats split between the two council super districts will be decided with Thursday’s vote count.

However, if no candidate in the races for the six single-member council seats gets a majority of the vote, the two top contenders advance to a Nov. 19 runoff election.

At least six of the 13 city council seats will change hands either Thursday or in the runoffs next month.

Wharton’s opposition comes from Memphis City Council members Harold Collins and Jim Strickland as well as Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams. There are six other contenders in the race for mayor whose efforts and profiles have been markedly lower than those four.

“It’s been so much fun,” Collins said of the campaign during a break in the Tuesday’s council committee sessions.

Collins talked about visiting an early voting site in East Memphis the same day he visited a site in Whitehaven – one with a queue of mostly white voters and the other with a line of mostly black voters. Floor tape at each site marked the point where voters were to wait until it was their turn.

“Their feet were right up on that line,” Collins said of the early voters in East Memphis.

“They didn’t even know there was a line,” he said of the early voters in Whitehaven.

Strickland, meanwhile, made the afternoon council session before heading for a fundraiser Downtown by Bank of Bartlett president Harold Byrd and his brother Dan Byrd.

Council member Janis Fullilove, among the seven council incumbents seeking re-election on Thursday’s ballot, was trying to trace the source of a bogus endorsement in another council race.

“I have not endorsed anyone in that race,” Fullilove told council member Berlin Boyd, who is running on Thursday’s ballot. She was referring to an endorsement ballot that turned up during early voting.

Meanwhile, the group “Citizens for a Brighter Memphis” filed a campaign finance report Tuesday with the Shelby County Election Commission that only deepened the mystery surrounding the political action committee. In recent days, the group has sent out direct mail attack ads against Strickland at a rate of two a day.

The incomplete form listed a $100,000 contribution but didn’t indicate who made the donation that has financed the direct mail campaign. The later mail pieces have included an endorsement of Wharton with the attacks on Strickland.

Strickland has said he believes the ads are coming from Wharton’s campaign.

Wharton has been the target of attack ads from a group called “Neighborhood Alliance,” an Alexandria, Va., entity, according to its paperwork that listed a $113,000 war chest for its mailings. All of its funding flowed from another Alexandria political group, Conservatives for Effective Government.

The ads are a measure of how hard-fought the race has been and the temperamental journey it’s taken. Wharton said in the spring that he would only talk about his record and ignore his opponents.

Strickland was quick to counter that he also would be running on Wharton’s record.

Wharton’s campaign has been unique in its message to voters to reject the concept of change and “stay the course.”

A dispute over whether crime in Memphis is up or down ended last week: New FBI figures showed the city’s national ranking for violent crime went up from No. 3 to No. 2.

PROPERTY SALES 97 418 8,253
MORTGAGES 112 508 9,293
BUILDING PERMITS 194 1,059 18,126
BANKRUPTCIES 46 208 5,367