The newest theory of Willie Herenton’s bizarre and wholly unexpected challenge to 9th District congressman Steve Cohen is that he’s looking for a face-saving way out of a job, that of Memphis mayor, that he’s sick of, and a political race for another office gives him a proper way out.
One scenario: He keeps the job in City Hall, calls on his formidable inner-city network of supporters (backed up by a still impressive political war-chest), wins and then resigns as mayor. County mayor A C Wharton, whose term-limited tenure will be expiring, can run as an anointed successor without waiting out the time until a regularly scheduled city election in 2011.
Alternate scenario: Herenton resigns the mayor’s office (probably later this year, as soon as the council chairmanship of Myron Lowery, a probable opponent for Wharton, expires – so that someone else, politically harmless, becomes interim mayor, then does all the rest indicated above.
What if he’s indicted in the meantime, you ask? Well, he’s entitled to a jury of his peers, right? And we know from previous elections involving other inner-city avatars (Harold Ford Sr. and Herenton himself, after his forced dismissal as school superintendent) that the mere imputation of wrongdoing, by however well-established a source (perhaps especially by a well-established source) can be offset, at least politically, by an aroused supportive community.
(Where exactly do jury pools come from, anyhow? And just when would a trial – potentially of a sitting congressman – come?)
And, hark! – yet another theory: that what Herenton is really doing is putting on a bigtime feint, setting up prospects for a deal with Cohen, the designated local authority on candidates for the still unfilled job of U.S. Attorney. None of this gets spelled out in any kind of exact way – how could it be? -- but the supposition would be that somehow a horse trade beneficial to Herenton might ensue.
If this is indeed a motive, a strong pre-emptive rejection by Cohen could cause it to backfire.
A corollary to these and other theories of the Herenton congressional candidacy is that it will be fully synchronized with county mayor Wharton’s planned race to succeed him and that, if the race actually does develop, a Wharton endorsement of Herenton’s candidacy will dutifully follow. (For what it’s worth, the county mayor has already picked a candidate to succeed him as county mayor – current county commission chair Deidre Malone; he’s on the host committee for an event of hers later this month.)
We’ll keep thinking on it. Meanwhile, keep in mind that all of this has been reports from the field where people insist on engaging in brainstorming -- not statements of fact or even likelihood.