Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's Wharton and "One Memphis"

Posted By on Thu, Oct 15, 2009 at 9:22 PM

Shortly before 9:00 p.m., Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery conceded the Memphis mayoral election to County Mayor A.C. Wharton. Wharton led incomplete returns with 63 percent of the vote. Lowery was his closest competitor, with approximately 16 percent.

In his victory speech at Minglewood Hall, Wharton called his win a "victory for our city." Wharton praised his campaign workers, particularly "the younger ones." He thanked the voters for making it possible to fulfull his dream of "one Memphis."

He added: "Let us not miss this opportunity to end of an era of divisiveness, careless, hatred, and discord. The question is whether we will move together and flourish as one. Tonight, you the voters have said, We will!"

-- Bruce van Wyngarden

The only surprise – and a mild one, all things considered -- in A C Wharton’s overwhelming victory in the 2009 special-election Memphis mayor’s race was the sheer size of it – 60-odd percent, almost two out of every three voters in a 25-candidate field.

That was roughly 10 percent more than the last major poll had given him, and, considering that the other major candidates kept to their earlier poll estimates, it may have meant that the undecideds had broken overwhelmingly for the county mayor.

But maybe not -- in that the final figures corresponded closely with the percentages obtained in the early voting period of Friday, September5 25, to last Friday, October 10.

Let’s face it. This race was over back in June, when Mayor Willie Herenton announced he’d be leaving after almost 18 years in office. It was over a year ago, when county mayor Wharton, in anticipation of that fact, announced for the office and began raising money and running for it.

In all honesty, it was over a year or so before that, when a burnt-out Herenton was running a last reelection race which everybody knew would lead to an abbreviated term. Had Herenton not – for reasons of vanity, mainly -- talked (or muscled) Wharton out of responding to a mayoral draft during the two mayors’ famous 2007 tete-a-tete at Le Chardonnay, A C’s victory would have been a done deal back then.

Go even further back. It is hard now to remember when A C Wharton, a sunny, ebullient, and comfortable presence at the helm of county government since 2002, was not considered an inevitable leader for a city which, sooner or later, must form a governmental unity of some sort with its surrounding suburbs and the outer county.

We’re talking consolidation. The domineering Herenton could not have brought that about, and it’s hard to see how any of the other mayoral challengers this year could have. Not Carol Chumney, nor Charles Carpenter, nor Kenneth Whalum Jr., -- all cantankerous presences this year, potentially or actually divisive. Nor could long-serving councilman Myron Lowery, who as Mayor Pro Tem for two months, did a more than creditable job but faced a bitterly divided council throughout his brief term.

A C Wharton can – and will. He is the one public figure in all of Memphis and all of Shelby County who is trusted to construct and spread an umbrella over the whole kit and caboodle of us. He is trusted by whites, blacks, males, females, young, old, and middle-aged --- all of which demographic groups gave him lopsided majorities commensurate with the overall tally.

It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy, though, like several of Wharton’s other initiatives which started out low-key and slowly acquired gravity – Smart Growth, Operation Safe Community, Sustainable Shelby – it may end up looking surprisingly easy.

The man is a conciliator, smooth as the fabric of his top-of-the-line shirts, crisp as the fold of his collars, snappy as the shine of his shoes, and as pleasant to look at as his irresistible shucksified smile that has just a touch of the con in it, but all in a good cause.

You have never heard anybody say “that damned A C Wharton.” You never heard anybody threaten to leave Memphis or to sell their house if he got elected. The most determined of his disbelievers has a spot of doubt in his mind, wondering if A C Wharton really can pull this off – get this community together, get us all moving in the same direction, even if we don’t quite know how yet.

Maybe he doesn’t either. But it’s obvious he had the right slogan, one that only he could make sound real. One Memphis. The size of his vote, over 24 opponents, including some name candidates indeed, was a way of saying, OK, A C , let’s see what you can do.

And if he can’t do it, this dapper and inevitable little man for all seasons and sects…then, truly, nobody can.

-- Jackson Baker

Unofficial Major-Candidate Totals

A C Wharton, 65,491

Myron Lowery, 19,625

Carol Chumney, 10,857

Charles Carpenter, 5,181

Jerry Lawler, 4,044

Kenneth T. Whalum Jr. , 2,094

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