Wednesday, September 26, 2001



Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Shelby County Public Defender A C Wharton will meet with supporters this week to discuss an imminent announcement of his candidacy for county mayor as a Democrat. Wharton confirmed the fact of the meeting but did not disclose his intentions about the date and place of a formal announcement. A source close to the developing Wharton campaign said categorically, however, "He's ready to go." Given the buzz stirred up around town this week about an announcement, it would almost seem that Wharton's supporters are floating rumors designed to force their man's hand. Wharton, who is regarded by most observers as a serious contender, has been mulling over his decision for several weeks. He has been urged to run by a coalition including Reginald French, a sometime aide to Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton; Jackie Welch, a developer with ties to incumbent Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout; and Bobby Lanier, chief administrative aide to Rout. The presence of Rout allies in Wharton's support group is a clear indication that the Republican county executive is backing Wharton's prospective move, or so allege various other Democrats -- notably Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, who has already announced for the Democratic nomination for county mayor and begun campaigning. The mayor himself has so far declined comment on any aspect of the race to succeed him. Clearly, Wharton, an African American, has good potential among the county's black voters, and he is well regarded among whites as well. Byrd, however, has raised a good deal of money and, though white, has built a coalition that includes several influential African Americans -- including former county commissioner Vasco Smith and his wife Maxine Smith, former head of the local NAACP chapter and an ex-member of the Memphis schoolboard. The Smiths -- who, ironically, are next-door neighbors of Wharton -- are scheduled to host a fundraiser for Byrd on Friday, October 5th. The co-hosts for that affair include other prominent blacks, like Rev. Bill Adkins and Rev. Billy Samuel Kyles. Other Democratic candidates are State Senator Jim Kyle, an experienced campaigner, and State Rep. Carol Chumney, who hopes to generate a large women's vote on her behalf. All of the above,however, will be forced to regard Wharton as their most serious competitor. A number of Republicans are considering running, and the most viable possibilities are regarded as District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, city councilman Jack Sammons, and attorney and former councilman John Bobango. All of these are moderate, middle-of-the-road Republicans,and it is believed that only one of them -- more or less by prior arrangwement with the others -- will end up with his hat in the ring. The presence of French in Wharton's support group represents something of a split in the Herenton camp. Former Teamster leader Sidney Chism, the mayor's cheif political arm, was an early Byrd supporter, and he has cautioned that Wharton, if nominated, stood a good chance of losing to one of the moderate Republicans mentioned above.


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