Wednesday, October 30, 2002

WILLIE HERENTON SPEAKS OUT LOUD

WILLIE HERENTON SPEAKS OUT LOUD

Posted By on Wed, Oct 30, 2002 at 4:00 AM

DO DEMOCRATS HEED MAYOR HERENTON? Scarcely a month after the Lamar Alexander campaign began to feature him as an all-but-formally declared surrogate and supporter and in the same week that his son Rodney Herenton co-hosted a Memphis reception for Alexander, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton taped a Get-Out-the-Vote telephone message, apparently on behalf of the whole Democratic ticket, to be called into households, especially African-American ones, in Memphis and elsewhere. Here’s what the mayor said. CLICK HERE AND HEAR IT NOW before it starts to be played into homes via robo-calls during the next few days. (There may be a slight delay while the sound file loads on your computer.) The text: “Hello, this is Mayor Willie Herenton. We are facing an election that is critical to this great state and our nation. You must vote. If you don’t vote, we lose. It’s that simple. Your vote for the Democratic family will decide these elections. Your vote will get our state moving in the right direction -- for better schools, affordable health care, and secure jobs. Take the lead for your family and your community. Please vote.” Back in September Herenton had scandalized local Democrats by appearing at an Alexander campaign function in Memphis alongside the Republican U.S. Senate candidate and former governor, whom he called “ a very good friend, one I’ve known for 20 years, and who supported educational reform when I was superintendent [of Memphis schools].” Herenton avoided any direct comment, pro or con, about the Senate campaign of Democratic nominee Bob Clement. Defending his participation at the event, which co-billed Alexander and himself and at which the mayor talked broadly about a “coalition” with the GOP candidate but avoided any variation on the word “endorse,” Herenton said, “As the mayor of Memphis, I hold a non-partisan position,” and he recalled that prominent Democrats, like members of the locally influential Farris family, had in 1991 supported his mayoral opponent, then incumbent Dick Hackett, who was presumed to be a Republican. “And you have the fact that the local Democratic Party has always been controlled by the Ford family,” Democrats were privately furious but tried to look the other way and paid no formal note, so as to avoid the kind of intra-party strife that has so often dogged active Democrats in the Memphis area. Subsequently, though, both Herenton’s son Rodney and his close aide Reginald French, who had briefly held the title of Shelby County chairman of the Democratic Coordinating Committee, actively joined the Alexander campaign effort. Clement and his supporters were hurt but bravely set about soldiering on in the Memphis area, buoyed by the continued support of U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., his father Harold Ford Sr.. the former 9th District congressman, and other members of the Ford family, Herenton’s historical rivals for power among African-American Democrats in Memphis. “He’s covering his tracks with this recorded message,” noted one prominent Democrat Tuesday. “If Bob wins, he can cite it as proof that he really gave him valuable support. If Lamar wins, he’ll come right out and claim to have been part of the campaign all along.” During the 1994 gubernatorial campaign, Herenton kept a conspicuous silence concerning then-Democratic nominee Bredesen and announced publicly that he had “supported” home-town Republican winner Don Sundquist after the election. The mayor has been vocal on Bredresen’s behalf this time around -- a decided contrast to his attitude toward Clement.

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