VOL. 130 | NO. 182 | Friday, September 18, 2015
Final Memphis Mayoral Debate Begins at 8 pm on WKNO
By Bill Dries
On the road to the last televised debate in the Memphis mayor’s race, the four major candidates know each other well.
They each know the speeches of their rivals, as well as their own, and the ability to catch the other guy off guard becomes more difficult as a result.
They are each at the stage of the campaign where they choose to pass on some joint invitations in order to choose events where they will have a better chance to make their case with larger groups of voters. But a televised debate is hard to rule out as an opportunity to take their message to more people on a larger scale.
The 2015 mayor’s race has seen many more forums, on and off television, than are normally the case in Memphis politics, especially with an incumbent seeking re-election.
Past races for Memphis mayor have featured just one guaranteed meeting of the contenders – the traditional Memphis Rotary Club forum. And the flow of meaningful debates usually relies heavily on the presence of the incumbent. Conventional political wisdom is that the incumbent mayor has the advantage of the office and that the challengers need the encounters more.
The Thursday, Sept. 17, debate – sponsored by The Daily News and the Urban Land Institute’s Memphis chapter and aired on WKNO-TV at 8 p.m. – comes the day before early voting opens in advance of the Oct. 8 election day.
It also is two days after incumbent A C Wharton and challengers Harold Collins and Jim Strickland met for Tuesday’s News Channel 3 forum, the next to last of the televised proceedings.
Wharton, Collins and Strickland will be joined by Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams for the Thursday event, moderated by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News.
The Tuesday encounter had the most sparks yet; none of the three candidates tried to let the other two fight it out as each was critical of the other two.
Wharton continues, in what could be the closest race for Memphis mayor in more than 20 years, to set aside the incumbent’s strategy to mix it up with his two rivals from the Memphis City Council.
“The worst way to affect crime is to see how many more you can take into Juvenile Court,” he said. Strickland and Collins have called for a police requirement that would take juveniles accused of violent crimes to Juvenile Court for detention.
He also blamed the council as a whole for the city’s troubled financial condition, specifically its 2008 decision to cut public school funding a year before he took office.
“I do not have a vote on the city council,” Wharton said. “To hear these two men talk, I am Superman. There are 13 of them.”
Strickland accused Wharton of being weak on juvenile crime and his administration of being “bloated.” And he accused Collins of being open to raising property taxes rather than cut benefits to city employees.
“He’s OK with a 33 percent tax increase which is what it was going to take not to make those drastic cuts,” Strickland said. “I led the way to give police a 2 percent pay raise this year.”
Collins said the benefit cuts have caused an exodus from the police ranks, where numbers are essential to Strickland’s “zero tolerance” call for violent crime and a return to a more visible Blue CRUSH presence.
“If you cast a vote to cut benefits, even if it was the hardest vote in your life, you need to see it to the other side,” Collins said. “(Strickland) should have known that those police officers would leave Memphis in droves.”
Collins also accused Wharton of making lots of plans for his first 100 days and following through on few, if any, of them.
“Will the mayor explain to us the first 100 days of his last six years?” Collins asked. “You need to understand you can’t throw dates, innuendo and press conferences out there. … That’s why we can’t trust anything you say.”