State Representative Carol Chumney proclaims victory in the 5th District city council race to a group of supporters at her Poplar Avenue headquarters Thursday night. Chumney defeated George Flinn in the runoff election. Meanwhile, Willie Brooks outpolled J. Bailey in the District 1 school board runoff.
Defying both some major politicians and some last-minute conventional wisdom that showed her race with Republican George Flinn to be too close to call, Democratic State Representative Carol Chumney won the District 5 city council runoff Tuesday with votes to spare. Her final margin was 6,524 (55.1%) to Flinns 5,314 (44.9%) , , but the outcome had become clear as soon as the early voting totals were released, just after the close of election-day polling at 7 pm. Despite early-voting patterns -- overwhelmingly white and drawn disproportionately from East Memphis Republican areas -- that seemed to favor Flinn, Chumney led that round by margin of 53% to 47% -- a fact which made the ultimate countdown almost anti-climactic. Chumneys margin and percentage lead both inevitably increased as Tuesdays voting -- weighted as expected to her Democratic constituency -- tallied up. Caught in the undertow of Flinns defeat were such public figures as council members Rickey Peete and Myron Lowery, two Democrats whose names were used in late advertisements for Flinn, and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who made strenuous efforts to suppress Chumneys vote and to boost GOP endorsee Flinn. It was learned that the mayor, shortly after the initial round of voting on October 9th, had telephoned third-place finisher Jim Strickland and asked him not to endorse fellow Democrat Chumney (something that Strickland was unlikely to do in any case). Herenton subsequently made similar calls to various other figures -- like Rev. Herman Powell of Early Grove Baptist Church, who confided at Chumneys victory celebration Thursday night that he had been contacted by Herenton. All those efforts -- and some hard work by Flinn himself and by the Shelby County Republican organization led by GOP chairman Kemp Conrad -- went by the boards, however, due to Chumneys own hard work and dedicated corps of helpers, aided greatly by the name recognition shed built up in 13 years of service as representative from overlapping state House District 89. Asked before votes were counted about Mayor Herenton's conspicuous efforts on Flinn's behalf, Conrad joked that the whole circumstance dated back to "a meeting on the grassy knoll." That was his way of acknowledging (and belittling) a theory advanced by Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham and others alleging a comprehensive political deal. In Willingham's telling, Herenton's support of Flinn was part of an elaborate arrangement, brokered by Conrad, that began with the mayor's support of Republican Lamar Alexander in last year's U.S. Senate race. As part of the deal, argued Willingham in his recent mayoral campaign against Herenton, the incumbent mayor got tacit support from Conrad. The District 1 school board runoff between Willie Brooks and J. Bailey was won by Brooks, 1,257 (59%) to 873 (41%). Brooks parlayed an endorsement from The Commercial Appeal and various influential office-holders into a larger-than-expected victory over Bailey, who had a modest lead during first-round balloting and made efforts to buttress his position in the runoff by an alliance with Cordova community leaders.