Former Memphis Mayor Dr. W. W. Herenton

By Tony Jones

MEMPHIS, TN — Early voting for the Memphis Municipal Election begins Friday, Sept. 15 and will conclude two weeks later on Saturday, Sept. 30. Election Day is Thursday, October 5.  The early tallies could prove to be a harbinger for which campaigns will survive until election night. The withdrawal deadline for all races was Thursday, July 27.

Former Memphis Mayor Dr. W. W. Herenton has polled strongly in the 17 candidates running for mayor. But his early strength may wither as polling numbers are not that high for any candidate due to the number of candidates in the race. 

According to an in-depth poll produced by Emerson College for WREG-TV News Channel 3, released August 17, undecided voters far outpace the individual candidates.

Despite the many forums allowing the candidates to get their message out, there has been little excitement generated on the street level. While intentionally trying to avoid the overtly cynical, most of those I’ve queried for the past few weeks have been what used to be termed “the grassroots”, especially bus riders, who commonly state that MATA is dying on the vine and none of the candidates have noticed or cared. 

“They all sound alike,” would be the best way to paraphrase the overwhelming majority of responses. 

Former Memphis-Shelby County Schools Board Chair Michelle McKissack busted that curve at a debate on ABC 24 this past Monday when she criticized Herenton for not attending any forums. “You can’t just hide at Houston’s,” she said. 

Alarm bells rang out early in the race when District 2 City Councilman Frank Colvett announced his candidacy for the office. Considered a moderate Republican, Colvett dropped out later, but not before circulating a private poll criticized in the media as a biased attempt to raise alarm among white voters distasteful of Herenton. 

According to the Emerson poll, Downtown Commissioner Paul Young (23 percent) and Sheriff Floyd Bonner (18 percent) have the strongest support of white voters, which due to the small margins that will decide the race may become a force. 

Another controversy early in the race that still has resonance for some is the residency question that at one time seemed to disqualify Sheriff Floyd Bonner and NAACP President Van Turner. Though settled in court, a notice on the Shelby County Election Commission website reminds voters of the issue and decision, still seen by some as insider maneuvering. “You don’t want to live with us but you want to run the city? Where do they do that at?” was overheard in one conversation. 

Recently adding popular District 86 Rep. Justin Pearson to his endorsements, at his campaign headquarters a couple of weeks earlier, Turner seems to be pushing harder, but time will tell if he’s effective. With no clear front runner it may be the candidates who concede that may actually become the decision makers by recommending their supporters swing their vote.