Mayor Herenton filed his reelection papers Tuesday. He could still drop out, and more candidates can get in the race until July 19th. But assuming that he doesn't and even if they do, here's why I think he will win.
Winner Take All. Even if the polls are right and at least two-thirds of the voters don't like him, Herenton only needs one more vote than the second-place finisher. Mathematically, he could win with 32 percent of the vote, like Steve Cohen did last year in the congressional Democratic primary. A Herenton hater who lives outside the city or stays home on Election Day doesn't hurt him. The more challengers he has, the better he does. I don't see a 2007 version of the 1991 convention that chose Herenton as the consensus black candidate. Polls that show Herenton losing in a head-to-head race with so-and-so are misleading because he probably won't be running against one person.
The Numbers. Democrats from Harold Ford to Bill Clinton to Herenton win elections in Memphis by rolling up huge margins in scores of black precincts. Clinton actually won every vote in some precincts in 1996. If Herenton gets 80 or 90 percent of the vote in several precincts, he can beat a challenger whose best showing is 50 or 60 percent. Where are Herman Morris or Carol Chumney going to win 80 percent?
The Record and the Rhetoric. The mayor's recent rhetoric about racial solidarity was a nice try, but his record doesn't live down to it. He's been a supporter of optional schools, downtown development, and occasional Republican political candidates. He has appointed way too many white division directors and police directors. As a black racist, he simply doesn't cut it. Absent a consensus candidate and public repudiation by key business leaders, he'll hold his own in East Memphis.
Snakes. As Herenton knew they would, members of the media took the bait and are acting like Nick Clark and Richard Fields are the ones running for mayor, not the four-term incumbent. Clark and Fields are not running for anything. Fields is an attorney. Clark is a businessman and member of the MLGW board. They don't work for the city of Memphis. They don't make a single appointment to a public board or government job. They can't award a single no-bid contract. But Herenton, who has done all those things hundreds of times for 16 years, called them snakes and the chase was on. The mayor's hint that unnamed snakes are still out there was so much more useful than confronting them head-on — as Fields, whatever you may think of him, did with Herenton in a three-hour meeting in March when he suggested he look for another line of work. How old-fashioned! The way to slur someone these days, as everyone knows, is anonymously.
Machine Politics. Taking a page from Boss Crump's book, Herenton has appointed or assisted scores of friends and even some former rivals to city jobs. People like former school board member Sara Lewis, former City Council members Janet Hooks and Tajuan Stout Mitchell, and former mayoral spokeswoman Gale Jones Carson know how to campaign and win elections. Ordinary incumbency is an advantage, but 16 years of control over power, access, contracts, and jobs is an overwhelming advantage.
The City Charter reads: "No full-time employee shall engage in political activity, directly concerned with city government or any candidate for political office thereunder."
That means no political phone calls, e-mails, letters, or strategy meetings on city time. But the ban is a paper tiger, more toothless than an ethics ordinance. "Uncovering" politics in a government office would be like finding mud in the Mississippi River.
Money. The mayor has more than $500,000 in his campaign fund even if he did only raise $1,650 in the first reporting period this year. By August, if he makes a few phone calls, he should have more than all his challengers put together. Chumney, at last report, had under $30,000. But Herenton managed to turn even that to his advantage by accusing the media of giving her free publicity.
Crime and MLGW. There is no simple solution to crime, and the latest numbers are running Herenton's way. What do you propose to do differently if you're Herman Morris or Carol Chumney or even, say, FBI special agent My Harrison? On MLGW and Memphis Networx, Morris was running the show for seven years, and there is plenty of blame to go around.