VOL. 132 | NO. 194 | Friday, September 29, 2017
Lenoir Starts Bid for County Mayor with Mix of Optimism and Challenge
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir’s campaign for Shelby County mayor will talk about the economic resurgence in Memphis and Shelby County as a challenge to address longstanding problems.
And as Lenoir formally launched the long-anticipated bid Thursday, Sept. 28, in East Memphis, he touted his business experience and background as well as his two terms as county trustee.
“The overall consensus is that Shelby County is headed in the right direction,” Lenoir told a group of several dozen supporters in the lobby of the Crye-Leike Building on Quail Hollow Road, noting that some have called the city’s prosperity a “transformation.”
“My question is a transformation of what? What is Shelby County going to be?” he asked. “I think that is at the very heart of this election.”
Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir speaks to constituents following his speech to open his bid for Shelby County Mayor in the lobby of the Crye Leike building in East Memphis. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
Lenoir’s balance between touting his record in office and running for a new office that has no incumbent seeking re-election could be a powerful bid for crossover votes as well as the support of the Republican base. Republican nominees took every countywide office on the ballot in 2010 and all but one countywide office in 2014.
A key element in the local party’s success, as acknowledged by party leaders, has been the ability of Republican contenders, including Lenoir, to draw crossover votes in a county where most voters identify as Democrats.
“While I’m proud of this progress we’ve made, we must acknowledge that we have faced enormous challenges,” Lenoir said Thursday. “Challenges that I believe are the result of long-term unemployment and a lack of great jobs.”
Lenoir said the critical elements of the transformation include education and efficient county government with a lower property tax rate – lower than the two cents the Shelby County Commission cut from the certified county property tax rate this spring after that basic rate was lowered to reflect the 2017 property reappraisal.
“I would advocate more in that direction,” Lenoir said of a property tax cut after his speech. “Just because it was a tax rate decrease does not mean it was a tax decrease for Shelby Countians.”
Outgoing Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has said several times over the years that the city and county property tax rates, in and of themselves, are not discouraging economic development growth.
“It’s certainly a barrier,” Lenoir said, citing the Greater Memphis Chamber’s position that the property tax rate is too high.
“They say the property tax is one of the biggest barriers,” he said. “It’s economic 101. Let’s face it, people buy more when there are lower prices. If the price to work and live in Memphis and Shelby County are high, then I think we have to look at it and address it.”
He also cited the border with Mississippi and Arkansas as factors.
“The problem is when you drive to the south, to the east or to the north, you are going to find that you can have all of the amenities of Shelby County but just have it a little less expensive,” Lenoir said. “While the region may draw them here … if you are a smart CFO, you will say, ‘Memphis is a great place, but from a financial perspective we can maybe go outside of the region and still enjoy the amenities.’”
Lenoir also said job creation is a priority.
“We need jobs, and when I say jobs I’m not talking about any jobs. We need great jobs,” he told supporters. “I firmly believe that if someone has a great job, we have a safer community.”
Candidates in the 2018 county elections, starting with the May primaries, can’t pull a qualifying petition for the ballot until Nov. 17. But Lenoir’s entry into the race, starting with the Republican primary, has long been anticipated with a busy schedule of appearances at town hall meetings and financial forums over several years. Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland and Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos have also declared their candidacies in the Republican primary. Former Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism has said he is running in the Democratic mayoral primary.
Roland and Lenoir have already tangled several times, with Roland saying Lenoir has overstepped his job description as trustee and Lenoir countering that, as an independent elected official, he has been acting within his role.
Lenoir got into politics in 2010, running for trustee after working for a money management firm at the onset of the national economic recession.
“I was fed up with career politicians and tired of tax-and-spend attitudes,” he said. “I got into the game not to maintain the status quo but to use my degree in accounting and my 20 years of experience in the business world to make a difference for Shelby County.”