VOL. 133 | NO. 71 | Monday, April 9, 2018
Herenton Acknowledges New Generation Politics, Criticism in Mayoral Bid
By Bill Dries
Eight years and counting since he resigned as mayor of Memphis, Willie Herenton says he has heard the discussions about the city’s economic stagnation when it comes to growing black prosperity and wealth. Especially the part about how that remains the case despite having “black leadership.”
Herenton told an audience at LeMoyne-Owen College Thursday, April 5, that he is aware that means him – elected mayor five times – the longest serving mayor in the nearly 200-year history of Memphis.
Yet, Herenton told those attending the MLK50 program that he intends to run for mayor again in the 2019 city elections.
“None of us are proud of the fact that the Memphis metropolitan area … is designated as having the highest poverty rate,” he said of the criticism. “Even today with black leadership, the challenges we face, they are very deep. Generational poverty … we have some social problems here that are long term.”
Herenton said he wants to return to offer leadership to “a young, emerging group” of leaders.
“I’m going back to City Hall,” said Herenton, who served from January 1992 until he retired during his fifth term on July 31, 2009.
Herenton’s historic run as mayor started after he called for a consensus black candidate at a late 1980s observance at Clayborn Temple commemorating the sanitation workers strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That observance included Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett, whom Herenton would challenge in 1991.
“We have some plans and I’m not speaking disparagingly of the present leadership – not at all,” Herenton said of current Mayor Jim Strickland, who intends to run for a second term in 2019. “I’m simply saying where we are today … and the plight of the young is going to require a very different kind of leader.”
Herenton spoke at Strickland’s New Year’s Day prayer breakfast in 2017 a year into Strickland’s term. He was also critical of A C Wharton, who won the 2009 special election triggered by Herenton’s resignation and a full term of office in 2011. As Strickland challenged Wharton in 2015, Herenton didn’t publicly back either contender, but indicated after the election that he favored Strickland over Wharton.
After leaving the mayor’s office, Herenton toyed briefly with running in the 2009 special election that his resignation triggered – even pulling a qualifying petition which he never filed. Instead, he ran in the Democratic primary for the U.S. House, unsuccessfully challenging incumbent Democrat Steve Cohen. He has also been involved in new charter schools and has been advocating for a charter school for juvenile offenders in Shelby County.
Since he last ran for mayor in 2007, the city charter has been amended by referendum, setting a limit of no more than two consecutive terms of office for Memphis City Council members and the mayor. That wouldn’t apply to Herenton since he hasn’t been mayor for eight years.
A referendum on the upcoming November ballot would change that limit to three consecutive terms starting with the 2019 elections, if approved by city voters.