Former Mayor W.W. Herenton seemed even taller, if possible, as he made his way to the podium and a broad smile lit up the room, even in the face of a crushing defeat at the hands of Steve Cohen, the incumbent U.S. Representative from Tennessee's 9th Congressional district. A small but adoring crowd applauded and chanted, “Thank you Doctor Herenton.”
In the final days before the election Herenton, who has been accused of running a negative, racially-charged campaign, had predicted victory by a margin of 4-1. He got the spread exactly right, even if he called the wrong victor, but the minimal décor and meager refreshments available at the Botanic Garden suggested that Herenton knew that victory wasn't in the cards. A disc jockey played soul classics for a crowd that sat and chatted quietly at the half-dozen tables scattered about the room. There was no dancing. There were no speakers. Neither was there any audible evidence of disappointment or disbelief when the Associated Press called the election for Cohen sometime after 8 p.m.
Herenton has often been accused of arrogance but he was at least superficially gracious in his concession speech and urged his supporters to rally around Cohen, although many in the room booed loudly at the mention of his opponents name. But Herenton calmed the room by saying that the God he serves is a good God who sometimes works in mysterious ways.
The racial makeup of the room in no way reflected Herenton's claims that his campaign had always been about diversity. The only non-African Americans at the Botanic Garden were bartending, operating news cameras or holding reporters notebooks. “The community spoke,” Herenton readily acknowledged, expressing both his deep disappointment and respect for the democratic process. “If I'm honest with myself, and I have to be that was somewhat of a referendum on Willie Herenton,” he confessed. “In some other time in some other forum I will express in a historical context and probably in an ethnocentric context what is really occurring,” he added, suggesting a certain eagerness to share the blame.
“That's deep,” many of his supporters called out, at Herenton's mention of an ethnocentric subtext to the campaign and his ultimate loss.
But Herenton, Memphis' first elected African-American Mayor didn't wait for another time or another forum to air his ethnocentric theories. A soon as the speech was over he shared blame with what he described as a new African-American middle class that doesn't understand politics and power. “They don't understand the struggle,” Herenton said, reminiscing about segregation and his own hard road from poverty to City Hall.
-- Chris Davis
As Mark Luttrell began to address his supporters following his win in the County Mayor’s race, a surprising set of words came out. Clean. Issue Driven. Respect.
As the cleanest high-profile campaign came to a close, it was no surprise that both sides were as gracious to each other as they had been during the campaign trail. After it became apparent that Interim Mayor Joe Ford would not surpass the 58 to 42 percent margin that had held for most of the evening, Ford called Mayor-elect Luttrell around 9 PM to concede the race, and offer his assistance as the county government changes hands. As both men took the stage after the call, the first words spoken had the same message. Honest, issue driven campaigning.
“We tried to stay away from personalities and focus on issues,” Luttrell said. “I thank Mayor Ford for running that type of campaign.”
It certainly was a change in the middle of an election that featured the rhetoric of Willie Herenton, Charlotte Bergman’s billboards, and the increasingly ugly mudslinging done by Bill Haslam and Zach Wamp.
Although there was a late charge from some Democrats to try and label Luttrell as a right-wing Republican, bitterness was not in the cards for this race. Long before the results came in, a Ford supporter who asked not to be named described Luttrell as a “good man,” and even after the results, Ford and his supporters left with the heads in the air.
“We ran a perfect administration and I have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Ford. “I can stand here tonight and feel pretty darn good.”
Keeping with the theme of the night, most of Luttrell’s comments following his victory revolved around what he hoped to accomplish in office.
“The first priority is to get a good handle on the efficiency of county government,” Luttrell said, “and make sure we’re moving progressively to get county government on a sound foundation.”
ODDS AND ENDS:
Ford’s party at the Hilton was quite swank, with Ballons, a Jazz duet, a massive projection screen and nice tables. Cash Bar. Food was minimal: meatballs and cheese.
Luttrell’s event felt more like an indoor fourth of July picnic, with community center tables, popcorn, nachos, cupcakes, cookies and lemonade. Entertainment was a country/blues band that featured a confederate flag bass guitar. When I pointed the guitar out to Luttrell he responded: “Good Grief. Please don’t hold that against me.”
Everyone in attendance was in agreement that the best food was at… Bill Oldham’s campaign headquarters two doors down from Luttrell.
A four-piece band played neo-soul as the crowd swelled, hitting thebuffet and the cash bar. There was a palpable buzz as television screens showed Cohen's lead building to insurmountable numbers. Theroom was thick with politicians — Myron Lowery, Jim Strickland,Edmund Ford, to name just three — and longtime Cohen supporters likeHenry Turley, Russell Sugarmon, and civil rights icon Maxine Smith,mingled with tables full of supporters.
In the end, the insiders turned out to be right. Cohen beat formerMayor Willie Herenton by a 79 to 21 percent margin, a resoundingvictory by anyone's standards.
After an introduction by Smith, who recalled her decades-longsupport of the congressman, Cohen took the stand. He first praisedHerenton for his "service to Memphis," and cited a number of projectsthat he and the former mayor had worked on together. He noted thatHerenton had called and graciously conceded.
Cohen then began a rousing speech, his voice rising to a shout,saying the nation would be watching the results of the 9th Districtcontest and that Memphis was sending a "message to America that a newday has dawned and that Memphis is on the move." He added that therewould be "no more elections decided by race."
Strong words, but on this night, as a diverse and happy crowdcelebrated their man's victory, anything seemed possible. They weregoin' — and so was Cohen.
Oh, and, of course, there was a victory dance:
— Bruce VanWyngarden.
Some — like Geraldine Wade, who appeared at a Thursday morning press conference of Democratic candidates and officials — were able to secure a ballot after applying for provisional paper ballots, and after their voting records were checked against the Election Commission’s written records.
But such a process was time-consuming, and it was uncertain how many of the precinct officials were fully acquainted with such remedies.
Not only was it likely that numerous voters would not be able to complete the process of casting ballots, the specter existed that manual counting of provisional paper ballots would delay vote-counting well into late Thursday night or Friday morning. And another possibility was that the provisional paper ballots could run out, leaving large numbers of voters unable to vote at all.
The morning press conference was called at the headquarters of Randy Wade, the Democratic nominee for sheriff, and several other candidates attended. “It’s a computer world, and these machines haven’t worked,” said 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, who added that human programming errors could run the gamut from “criminal” to “negligent,” once the full circumstances were known.
In any case, the problem was countywide, and Wade indicated he thought the results of the countywide general election and the state and federal primary elections could be skewed to the degree that candidates could end up having to seek recourse in the courts.
Shep Wilburn, currently a candidate for election as Juvenile Court clerk and a former member of the Election Commission, said the problem possibly stemmed from defects in the Diebold voting machines used for the election and blamed state Republican election officials for stonewalling voting-machine reforms that were authorized by the 2008 General Assembly.
Upon conclusion of the Democrats' press conference, Trustee Regina Morrison Newman, one of the participants, went to vote at her precinct and reported that she, too, had "already voted." After completing a lengthy paperwork process, Newman was allowed to vote.
Neither Bill Giannini, Election Commission chair, nor Commission executive director Rich Holden were immediately available for comment.A statement from Election Commission headquarters was released at mid-morning, however:
During the opening of polls at 7:00 a.m., it was discovered that voters who may have voted EARLY in the May primary but had not Early Voted for the Augbust election were recognized by EPB’s (Electronic Poll Books) as having already voting in this election. In all elections, each precincts is equipped with a printed document containing the names of each participating voters in early/Absentee Voting and that is used to cross-check a voter’s eligibility.
Any voter wh believes he or she is eligible may sign a Fail-Safe Affidavit and then vote in the same manner as any other voter.
While the number of potentially affected voters is very small, the SCEC regrets any inconvenience to any voters and is committed to ensuring that any and ALL eligible voters can participate.
Updates as they become available.
(Former mayor Willie Herenton may have a point when he stresses the distinction between the 9th District “subset” and the county totals, by the way, but that’s another tale).
The GOP can take heart from those figures, because key Democrats have made it known that they aren’t comfortable in such situations with anything less than 60 percent on their end of the ratio.
But note: The silver lining from the Democratic point of view is that they experienced a late upsurge from the 52-55 percent range they had been experiencing during most of the early-voting period. So palpable was the surge that GOP chairman Lang Wiseman, who had been one of the early drum-beaters for the Republican turnout, began treating the high-turnout talk as a danger to his side in the sense that the Democrats took alarm and began trying to compensate.
The race for Shelby County Mayor mirrors the situation, and it also measures the success of interim county mayor Joe Ford, the Democrat, in nailing down as much as he can of the white Democratic vote, concentrated in Midtown and East Memphis.
The Berje Yacoubian poll that was released on WMC-TV, Action News 5, Tuesday night is instructive. The survey, which was completed on July 28, shows Ford increasing his share of the total white vote from 6 percent to 13 percent since the last Yacoubian poll in mid-July. Overall, the proportion of the race shifted from a 46 percent to 42 percent lead for Luttrell to a 45 to 42 percent result. A slight shift, but perceptible, and one which could reflect momentum.
The poll also finds that, among those who had not voted by July 28 but planned to vote by Election Day, Thursday, August 5, Luttrell’s lead was 41 to 39k with a full 20 percent undecided.
Yacoubian estimates that if the turnout figures remain as they were during early voting, Luttrell should win the election by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent. But if the Democrats should hit their target figure of 60 percent by the close of voting on Thursday, August 5, Election Day, the winner would be Ford by the same margin.
The other countywide races — many of which are roughly balanced at the moment between the Republican and Democratic candidates — could be expected to reflect the same basic patterns.
The Republicans won Round One of the Get-Out-the-Vote contest, early-voting, but the game is still on for the election as a whole.
The Willie Herenton who met with the media on Monday, with three more days to go before the 9th District Democratic primary is decided, was not the provocative, chip-on-shoulder politician they’ve seen in this election year but a calmly argumentative professional.
The former school superintendent and mayor said he had called the press conference to correct what he said were “erroneous” perceptions of the status of his contest with incumbent congressman Steve Cohen. He put the blame for such public misperception as might exist on the media — “in particular, the printed media” — for focusing on countywide early-voting data instead of patterns within the 9th District “subset.”
Herenton declared bluntly, “Since I am so distrustful of the printed media, I would have to conclude that this was not inadvertently done but was seriously contemplated by the media. “ The print media “with the aid of a biased poll, in my opinion, has tried very hard to persuade the public that Herenton is behind and Cohen is well ahead.”
(The former mayor did not specify which poll he meant — whether it was one by John Bakke with the Ethridge polling firm or another by pollster Berje Yacoubian.)
The reality, Herenton said, was “that Cohen is trailing at least with a 3-to-1 margin — especially in our highest and best performing black precincts.” He presented tables designed to show a large and preponderantly African-American turnout at specific box locations. (The conclusions and data are apparently the ones he alluded to in a fiery weekend speech in North Memphis.)
A key part of Herenton’s case was that the 8,838 early voters reported in Election Commission figures as “other” rather than black or white were preponderantly African-American. “We know that many African Americans, for a variety of reasons, have decided they don’t want to indicate race.”
An understanding of that fact would underscore the disproportion between black and white voters in the 9th District, he said. (Those figures show that, of 43,031 early voters in the Democratic primary, 26,798 were black, and 7,395 were white; treating the 8,838 voters in the “other” category as essentially black would, as Herenton said, dramatically alter the ratio.)
Media accounts suggesting that whites and Republicans were voting in unusually high numbers were irrelevant to the 9th District, where the voting pattern was “a totally different story.”
Herenton further pointed out that in 2007, he garnered his lowest number of votes as a mayoral candidate, some 65,000 votes. That compared to 55,000, the highest number of votes given Cohen in his congressional primary with Nikki Tinker in 2008.
In a question-and-answer session with reporters, Herenton acknowledged that his own projection of at least a 3-to-1 victory over Cohen did not derive from a professional pollster’s conclusions. “I don’t believe in pollsters. I’m my own best pollster,” he said.
He boasted his own skills at “disaggregating” data and his familiarity with statistics — though he conceded he’d made a ‘B’ in his statistics course at the doctoral level.
He said he was “the same candidate, whether as mayor or as congressman” that 9th District voters had always trusted, though he also conceded, “Not everyone is in love with me.”
video of Herenton's presentation:
It was not exactly a bunker — except perhaps metaphorically — but what may turn out to be Willie Herenton’s climactic appearance before a group of political supporters took place Saturday in a smallish enclosed space in North Memphis — the meeting room of city councilman Joe Brown’s district office at Jackson and Watkins.
More than anything else, it was the intense hundred-degree heat outdoors that forced the 40-odd backers of the former mayor into such a crammed, though blissfully air-conditioned, venue. Nate Jackson and other Teamsters members had set up an area for food and drink and dancing outside in the parking lot and heroically continued to toil at their posts throughout the event inside.
There was another sense besides the weather in which the meeting — billed in advance as a “North Memphis rally” — suggested a refuge for survivors. The meeting was held in the face of polls, pundits’ predictions, and a seemingly nonstop string of endorsements for Herenton’s opponent, incumbent congressman Steve Cohen, by African-American personages and institutions. And consequently the feeling of “us against the world” was palpable.
After Sidney Chism, the former Teamster head and current county commissioner who may be Herenton’s oldest and most loyal supporter, addressed the group with one of his patented over-the edge barn-burners, Herenton arrived and entered to the kind of tumultuous welcome that compensated somewhat for the size of the crowd.
And Herenton’s remarks hit some middle between the tempered and the extreme, between a show of confidence and resignation to the inevitable.
He began moderately but with a promise, appropriately cheered, “that we are going to win this election.” In its dire projections as to his electoral fate, the disbelieving media, he said, is confusing likely countywide totals with those of the9th District, which, “always remember…is a subset of the county.” And thus all those reports of higher-than-usual turnouts from white and Republican voters should be disregarded.
He promised to release the details of a poll on Tuesday, which would show, “data-wise with high predictability value of how large our margin will be.” That putative margin over Cohen could be estimated as between 3 to 1 and 4 to 1, Herenton said, “I’d like to beat him so bad I like the 4 to 1.”
Cohen’s well-documented financial edge? “I’ve never seen a dollar vote.” Nor could President Obama and the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who’ve endorsed Cohen vote. “But you can vote. And you’re going to vote.” Another cheer. “The black voters are going to determine who’s going to Congress.”
“To even make this race comfortably close,” Herenton said, Cohen would have to get “six out of ten of us.” And with “our folks …voting like mad,” that was not going to happen. “You got to watch these white folks,” he warned, speaking of alleged “irregularities” that occurred during the 2006 election. “Anything goes down, you got to watch white folks counting.” That was one of the lessons learned on the slave ships, Herenton said, somewhat incongruously.
“It will not be close. Look at the demographics of the 9th Congressional District,” Herenton said. Those Democratic candidates who stayed away from him, “the same way Gore stayed away from Clinton” were going to be in trouble. “The way they win is heavily dependent on the black vote. [But] they treat me like I’ve got a plague. But see, I don’t need them. All I need is you.”
Again, he promised to release a poll with “factual information” on the probable outcome on August 5. He ridiculed pollsters “Yacoubian, Ethridge, and Bakke,” and said, “Put all of them together, and they won’t come up with one good poll.”
Herenton also mocked the figure of 35 percent that I had given WREG’s Mike Matthews in an interview as a possible high-water mark for the ex-mayor. I could not resist interjecting aloud that that number was higher than any given him in a scientific survey so far. In fact, my actual estimate of his final vote — “out of the air,” as he put it — has for some time been 33 percent, and that, I concede, is likely too high.
His “victory party” would be held at the Botanic Gardens, he said. And his final words? “It’s all good.”