VOL. 133 | NO. 143 | Thursday, July 19, 2018
Lenoir, Harris Clash at Rotary Debate
By Bill Dries
Republican contender for Shelby County mayor David Lenoir accused Democratic rival Lee Harris of being radical and for “wealth transfer.” Harris, a state senator, said Lenoir, as county trustee, has “almost no experience” with “tough issues” and accused Lenoir of resorting to name-calling.
The latest clash between the two at the Memphis Rotary Club Tuesday, July 17, came as early voting in advance of the Aug. 2 Election Day widened to all 27 voting sites across Shelby County.
“The only way I believe we can address poverty on a large scale is through wealth creation, not wealth transfer – and a clear difference between a radical new era, new-agenda campaign and a campaign that says we need to create more jobs, we need to be better stewards of the money,” Lenoir said in response to a question about the next mayor’s role in battling a historically high poverty rate in Shelby County.
Shelby County mayoral candidate David Lenoir, right, debates with Democratic opponent Lee Harris at a Rotary Club meeting inside Clayborn Temple on Tuesday, July 17, 2018. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
“New Era” is the banner Harris is running under, saying he sees his campaign for mayor as part of a larger movement to change Shelby County.
Harris said he has a perspective that is “social-justice oriented” including on the expected replacement of Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court’s current detention facility.
“Depending on who is elected, there will be tremendous pressure to build a detention facility with more jail cells for juveniles. … There’s a lot of pressure from a lot of places,” he said. “My perspective is if we have to build another juvenile-detention facility, maybe we should take a different approach – an approach that’s more progressive and more aligned with social justice and says let’s build fewer jail cells in our next facility.”
Lenoir called for a juvenile-assessment center – one backed by Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael – as a place to make decisions on whether to hold and prosecute juveniles short of detention.
“I think the best thing we can do is keep our kids out of the juvenile system,” Lenoir told the crowd of 140 at Clayborn Temple. “Our office has gone over to Juvenile Court with the mindset that many of the young people that are in the juvenile court system are entrepreneurs. They are risk takers. They are sales people. They have all of the characteristics of entrepreneurship.”
The question of the next mayor’s role in battling poverty has come up at several campaign forums and debates between Lenoir and Harris.
“I believe the best way to address poverty and crime is through job creation,” Lenoir said. “(Harris) said at a forum last week he doesn’t care about the business community. You cannot help the poor by killing the rich.”
Harris denied saying that.
“What I most likely said was I only care about the public interest,” he said. “It is true that I don’t care about these insiders and special-interest groups or defenders of the status quo. I only care about how to impact the public interest, broadly speaking.”
Asked by moderator Otis Sanford of the University of Memphis where they stand on the issue of ongoing Justice Department oversight of Juvenile Court, Harris said he favors continuing the oversight because of existing racial disparities in which black juveniles are transferred for trial as adults more often and are treated more harshly by the court than their white counterparts as documented by Justice Department monitors.
Lenoir said he would consult on the issue with Michael and outgoing county Mayor Mark Luttrell who has endorsed Lenoir in the race. Michael has formally called for an end to Justice Department oversight, saying he never agreed with the findings leading to the oversight before he became judge.
Harris, meanwhile, said at Tuesday’s debate that Lenoir’s role as trustee means he has never been consulted by county leaders “on anything of importance.”
Lenoir said in his role as trustee including giving estimates of the county’s financing, he has played a key role in decisions about how to spend the revenue.
Through Tuesday, 10,788 people had voted early in the county general and state and federal primary elections.
That compares to 16,677 voters by the fourth day of the early-voting period for the same election cycle in 2010 and 14,876 in 2014. The turnout numbers include absentee voters.
In the 2010 and 2014 early-voting periods, a Downtown early-voting site was the only location open the first two days with the third seeing an expansion to 20 other sites across the county.
Shelby County Election Commission numbers showed the split between those voting in the Republican and Democratic primaries only through the first three days of balloting.
Through the first three days of early voting, 2,918 citizens voted in the Democratic primary and 1,374 in the Republican primary with 32 voting the county general election ballot only.
The early-voting period runs through July 28 at 27 locations across Shelby County.