VOL. 130 | NO. 197 | Friday, October 9, 2015
Strickland Upsets Wharton In Memphis Mayor's Race
By Bill Dries
Not even close. Mayoral challenger Jim Strickland rolled up a wide margin over incumbent Mayor A C Wharton in the early-vote totals in advance of the Oct. 8 election day count.
Memphis mayor-elect Jim Strickland celebrated his victory Thursday, Oct. 8, soon after incumbent A C Wharton conceded with all but about 10,000 of the 51,000 votes counted.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
And based on that and other election indicators, Wharton conceded the election shortly after 10 p.m. to Strickland after the vote count was long delayed by computer glitches.
With all 119 precincts reporting after midnight, the unofficial final vote totals were:
Harold Collins 18,481
Mike Williams 16,174
The 100,617 votes in the mayor's race was a 24.9 percent turnout of the city's 403,227 voters.
"Don't worry about me, I'll be just fine," Wharton told supporters at his election night gathering as his family stood with him.
"There ain't one tear here," Wharton said taking off his glasses. "I'm going to wake up every day and I'm gong to find a way to serve our great city."
Moments later, Strickland told his supporters: "Today the people of Memphis spoke loudly and clearly. You want a new direction for this city. Today the people of Memphis spoke to the common hope in all of us that Memphis can be better and that we must address the great challenges we face with a sense of urgency."
"I heard you," he added. "The establishment heard you and I think by tomorrow morning the whole country will hear you that change is coming to Memphis. ... We were the campaign that couldn't win, and we just did."
The effective end of the campaign came with all but about 10,000 of the 51,000 early votes counted by the Shelby County Election Commission, which has been plagued with problems in the vote count. No election day precincts had been counted by 10 p.m., three hours after the polls closed.
Wharton faced the toughest challenge of his political career as Strickland and fellow challenger Harold Collins focused on the city’s high crime rate as well as Wharton’s inability to follow through on key initiatives.
Wharton at first said he didn’t intend to respond to the criticism but changed his strategy several times during the campaign season. He argued that he had made tough decisions on cutting city employee benefits to right Memphis’ financial condition.
And Wharton tried to make the case that it was hard for him to move ahead with city projects because he was mayor during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. He first took office in 2009, following Willie Herenton’s resignation and was elected to a full term in 2011.
But the turmoil that roiled Wharton’s incumbent advantage wasn’t economic.
During the campaign, Wharton changed chief administrative officers and accepted the resignation of Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb as Memphis police investigated allegations of sexual misconduct against Lipscomb.
He pledged to have body cameras on Memphis police officers by September. That hasn’t happened as of election day. The issue came to life in another unexpected way when the marketing firm of Deidre Malone, Wharton’s campaign manager, got an $880,000 subcontract with Taser International, the company supplying the cameras, for a community awareness campaign.
Taser and Malone canceled the contract by mutual consent after a week in which Wharton denied any knowledge of the deal.
Meanwhile, Memphis’ ranking among the nation’s leaders in violent crime rates also went from third to second by FBI figures.
The ranking underscored Strickland’s chief premise: that the city’s crime problem was out of control and required new leadership.
Strickland became the “law and order” candidate at a high political price in a city struggling with questions about whether periodic crackdowns – like the Blue CRUSH approach to crime he favors – do more than fill jail cells and clog court dockets.
Collins succeeded to a greater degree in putting out a more detailed approach to crime.
He emphasized the need for white-collar jobs to attract college-educated millennials and argued economic development efforts were too focused on logistics and advanced manufacturing jobs.
Collins was limited by funding; his final campaign finance report is expected to show he spent approximately $200,000. Wharton spent more than $740,000 from January to the end of September, most of it over the last three months, while Strickland spent more than $437,000 over the same period, according to their respective campaign finance reports.
Wharton and Strickland battled for financial support from business leaders that are historically an incumbent mayor’s base of support. Often business leaders will donate to several mayoral contenders and not support any exclusively.
Strickland made inroads early but by the end of the campaign was featured in a television ad telling voters the city’s “establishment” didn’t want change.
Wharton came to City Hall during his second term as Shelby County mayor.
Memphis voters approved term limits for the mayor and city council members in a 2010 referendum. Those elected officials are limited to no more than two consecutive terms. Term limits don’t apply to appointments or elections that fill the remainder of an existing term, as was the case in 2009 with Wharton finishing Herenton’s term.