Friday, March 1, 2002

BYRD EXITS MAYOR'S RACE

Chumney vows to stay in, force Wharton to commit on issues.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 1, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Bartlett banker Harold Byrd formally dropped out of the Shelby County Mayor's race Thursday, just before the noon withdrawal deadline at the Shelby County Election Commission.

Byrd's action will, in the opinion of most observers, virtually assure Public Defender A C Wharton the Democratic nomination for mayor, although an underfunded but determined State Rep. Carol Chumney remains in the race -- resisting last-minute efforts by Byrd to persuade her to withdraw instead.

Byrd's decision to withdraw followed receipt Tuesday of a fresh voter survey by his Washington-based pollster, whose findings were that Wharton had a significant lead and was guaranteed victory in a three-candidate primary.

The prospective vote totals of Byrd and Chumney, however, added up to more than Wharton's total; so Byrd resolved to try to persuade Chumney to withdraw. The poll showed Wharton with a percentage of 41 percent, while Byrd and Chumney were each at 22. Clearly, neither of the runners-up could prevail in a three-way race, and Byrd, on the strength of his fair larger warchest -- which still contained some $300 thousand that was uncommitted -- hoped to persuade Chumney that he was better equippped to hazard a challenge that only one of them could feasibly make.

This determination culminated in a two-hour conversation between the two Thursday morning -- after which Chumney, despite what was said to be some wavering, resolved to continue.

Her decision resulted in Byrd's own decision to withdraw, roughly an hour before the deadline.

Wharton held a press conference at his newly opened Poplar Avenue headquarters Thursday afternoon, praising Byrd for having Shelby County's welfare at heart and inviting the latter to join in his own campaign.

Despite several efforts by reporters to entice Wharton into addressing the specifics of issues, notably consolidation, the candidate replied in generalities, as is his mode. As an aide acknowledged afterward , Wharton's persona -- smooth, knowledgeable, above-the-battle, and disengaged from issue talk as such -- is his platform.

After attending a forum for Democratic candidates for sheriff later Thursday evening in Frayser, Chumney indicated she would step up her efforts to force specific answers from Wharton. "Otherwise, we're not going tohave any change in the same old way things are done in shelby County," said Chumney, who has been outspoken in favor of consolidation.

There were no withdrawals on the Republican side of the mayoral race, with both State Representative Larry Scroggs and radiologist/radio magnate George Flinn staying in.

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