Flyer InteractiveCover Story

The Remains of the Day

An hour-by-hour account of the last election of the century

ast Thursday The Memphis Flyer, in true “team coverage” style, sent virtually all of its editorial staff out to cover the city election. We knew the election would be covered to death by the daily paper and all the electronic media outlets, but we also knew there would be lots of untold stories to tell — large and small. We asked our writers to keep “diaries” of their day, to note the oddball incidents, the unreported ironies, the behind-the-scenes drama, the off-the-wall quotes, of this, the last Memphis election of the 20th century. Our reporters included John Branston, Ashley Fantz, Dennis Freeland, Jim Hanas, Heather Heilman, Mark Jordan, Kenneth Neill, Tanuja Surpuriya, and Bruce VanWyngarden. Senior editor Jackson Baker also provides an in-depth interview with newly re-elected Mayor Herenton. We hope you enjoy the package. It’s the last thing we’re going to say about this election for a while. We hope. — B.V.

6:15 a.m., Ford Headquarters on American Way: “Go get ya a donut!” someone happily urges as the caffeine in the Ford headquarters’ coffee starts to kick in. Most everyone is wearing oversize navy blue T-shirts emblazoned with FORD in white lettering. The sun hasn’t come up yet, and through squinty, tired eyes, the crowd that’s growing resembles uniformed boot camp soldiers. At 6:30 there is no sign of Joe Ford or his brother Harold, the man responsible for this campaign’s vital signs.

But hark! Almost with the rising of the sun, the two men drive up in the sprawling strip mall parking lot. At 7 a.m. the day has officially begun.

With the finesse of a seasoned general, Harold grabs a clipboard and gives out marching orders. People group and then scatter, off to do battle at various polling places. Joe Ford walks around quietly greeting everyone. He admits later that he had very little sleep the night before.

Volunteer Scott Keefer says, “We think we’ve got it in early voting. We’re going to try to cover about 90 percent of the precincts today with supporters. I think it looks pretty good. But you never know.” — A.F.

7:00 a.m., Ford headquarters on American Way: Pollworkers have cleared out of the Ford headquarters, leaving decimated boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts in their wake. Harold Ford Sr., in the crisp white shirt and tie he will wear to the bitter end, has dispatched Joe Ford to shake hands and kiss babies at Westwood High School and is briskly and at times brusquely directing a staff of about a dozen.

Harold is everywhere, answering the incessantly ringing phone, fielding questions, arranging a media photo-op, pressing yard signs onto straggling volunteers, directing late-coming pollwatchers.

“Are you flexible; can you go anywhere?” he wants to know. Ford loyalists are calling to inform the office that a particular poll is unstaffed or that a voter was not allowed to take a Ford ballot into the voting booth. There are two lawyers on hand as “legal troubleshooters” in case there’s trouble at the polls.

A volunteer has begun to call voters in strong Ford neighborhoods, asking if they need a ride to the polls. He’s supposed to say, “I’m calling from Joe Ford for mayor. Are you going to vote today and do you need a ride to the polls?” But sometimes he slips and says, “I’m calling from Harold Ford headquarters.” — H.H.

8:00 a.m., Ford headquarters on American Way: The polls have been open for an hour and Harold Ford is on the phone with a pollwatcher.

“Give me a reading, what are people saying when you give them the Ford ballot?” he demands.

“They say everyone’s passing up Herenton’s stuff; they all want the Ford ballot,” he reports to his staff.

He’s talked to volunteers at nine predominantly black polls, and they estimate Ford’s getting about 75 percent of the vote.

“That’s a helluva good sign, isn’t it?” he says. “It’s going to be a landslide. I think people are turned off of him [Herenton], completely.” — H.H.

8:55 a.m., Herenton headquarters on Elvis Presley Boulevard: Dozens of workers in red-and-white Herenton T-shirts staff the phones and tables in the former auto-dealer showroom, while a steady caravan of cars rolls through the lot outside, taking signs, sandwiches, and brochures to volunteers in the field. Herenton himself seems confident and relaxed in slacks and a black shirt.

The volunteers are an indication of Herenton’s broad coalition. There are old Dick Hackett allies like Glen Campbell, head of the Wonders Series; black and white women in the “10,000 Women for Herenton” brigade; and old City Hall hands like Osbie Howard, treasurer of the campaign and city treasurer from 1991 to 1994.

As money man, Howard is supposed to know a little about numbers. So when he is asked about the turnout and the results, Howard doesn’t hold back. The turnout, he predicts, will be 40 percent, never mind that Election Commission Chairman O.C. Pleasant is predicting 50 percent. And Herenton will get “about 47 percent” of the vote. — J.B.

9:15 a.m., Springdale Elementary School on North Hollywood: Voters are turning out one every 10 minutes and are greeted by a tame group of supporters for various city council candidates. It feels more like a lazy Sunday afternoon picnic than the election that will change Memphis’ future forever. That is, until Robert Hodges, a.k.a. Prince Mongo, comes blaring down North Hollywood in his gigantic Mongo-mobile splotched with neon pink signs bearing his name. With one hand on the wheel (maybe) and another supporting the megaphone cocked on the driver-side window, the District 8, Position 2 candidate is scaring kids, birds, and even a few Barbara Swearengen Holt supporters, yelling, “Don’t waste your vote! Vote for me!” — T.S.

9:30 a.m., Westwood Community Center parking lot, South Memphis: Joe Ford and his supporters’ athleticism is amazing. Give them a few undecided voters in a Range Rover and they’ll run after the car with bionic speed, waving Joe Ford calendars. This precinct, Ford explains, is his home for the whole day.

“This is a very significant place,” Ford says. “I don’t live far from here. This is a major precinct. I know everybody and everybody knows me. But it’s hard because you know when people come through here they’ve already made their minds up.”

Ford is candid and friendly, waving goodbye and smiling at people adorned with Herenton paraphernalia as they leave Westwood. He’s ready to talk about anything, especially what he’ll do if elected. He’s also forthcoming about what he’ll do if he loses.

“I have a very successful business and I’m tired,” he explains, while keeping an eye on incoming cars. “I’ll go back to doing that because I love it; it’s what I know. I’ll spend some more time with my family. If I don’t win this, I’m retiring from politics.”

What about the battle cry — “Loser Leaves Town!” — we’ve heard shouted by members of the Ford clan?

“Leave town? No, I’m not moving,” he says. “Where did you hear that?”

— A.F.

9:51 a.m., Corner of Poplar and Highland: After an appearance on the Rock 103 Wake Up Crew show, during which he takes shots at everyone from “professional politicians” to Commercial Appeal columnist Susan Adler Thorp, candidate Jerry Lawler sets up shop at one of the city’s busiest intersections. As he waves to passersby, he is answered with smiles, honks, and belching sirens from squad cars and ambulances. Several people — a yellow-haired woman waiting for the bus, a blue-collar guy with a ladder on the top of his van, a Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy — stop to shake hands.

“Listen to the people. That’s all you gotta do,” Lawler says to a young black man who asks how he’s going to straighten things out. “We don’t have a mayor that will listen to us.”

An hour later a security guard asks that all the King’s vehicles — a tricked-up dune buggy and two RV’s — be moved. The campaign caravan gets underway. — J.H.

10:06 a.m., Hillcrest High School: Joe Ford leaves Westwood — for the only time this day — to vote. As his car swoops into a parking spot, a Channel 24 camera rolls. This Kodak moment was pre-arranged with the TV reporter. The candidate meets his wife there, and they hold hands while stepping into the school.

The Channel 24 reporter interviews Ford as he’s leaving Hillcrest.

“So who’s going to win?” she asks lamely, with cheerleader enthusiasm.

“Well, I hope I am,” he replies.

The reporter then asks, “By how much are you going to beat your opponents?”

“I don’t know. That sort of thing is hard to say,” Joe musters.

She continues to ask, “What will the end result be?”

Ford looks understandably annoyed. He musters the best answer he can think of.

“Me.” — A.F.

10:35 a.m., Lindenwood Church, Union and East Parkway: The only two poll watchers at this affluent neighborhood precinct are Herenton supporters Pete and Doris Frieson. They say no Ford workers have showed up. “From what we’re hearing from the voters,” says Pete, “it wouldn’t matter if they did. Everybody coming here seems to be for Herenton.” — B.V.

10:55 a.m., Church of the Good Shepherd, North Parkway: volunteer poll worker Linda Williams stands in the median waving a large Herenton sign. When asked what the reaction has been from drivers, she laughs and says: “I get a lot of thumbs up, I get a few thumbs down, and I also get a few middle fingers.” — B.V.

11:30 a.m., Manassas High School, Firestone Blvd.: Poll workers for Ford and Herenton share lunch and banter, but voter turnout is “very slow,” they say. — B.V.

11:37 a.m., Memphis International Airport: Willie Herenton, sans bodyguards and dressed in black polo shirt and slacks, strides confidently into the main concourse. “I hope all of you have voted,” he says to the Northwest ticket agents, several of whom nod or exchange waves with the mayor. An elderly gentleman wishes him luck. Herenton smiles and says, “Thank you very much.” The mayor seems relaxed and calm. Maybe he knows something. — D.F.

11:51 a.m., Corner of Poplar and White Station: After drivebys at various shopping centers — Sam’s Club, Mall of Memphis, Home Depot — the Lawler caravan comes upon a small group of well-scrubbed Republicans. It is Pete Sisson and family. Sisson himself stands on a traffic island in his shirt sleeves. He waves. — J.H.

11:54 a.m., Ford headquarters on American Way: Things have quieted down considerably. Even news of a reported bomb threat at Frayser High School has failed to cause much excitement, although Harold’s on the phone looking for reassurance that there’s no hanky-panky with the voting machines.

Harold Sr.’s ex-wife and Harold Jr.’s future wife (Dorothy Ford and the chic Jennifer Baltimore, respectively) are staffing the front desk. They’re totaling voter counts phoned in by pollwatchers. The mood is cautiously optimistic. It’s an article of faith that Joe Ford is cleaning up in the black community. The question, according to Dorothy Ford, is what white voters are going to do.

Reassured that things are under control in Frayser, Harold leaves the office and drives off with the Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum without telling anyone where they’re going. — H.H.

11:55 a.m., Mullins United Methodist Church on Mendenhall: With girlfriend Stacy and several electronic media outlets by his side, Lawler votes. As Herenton supporters heckle him, the candidate — suspecting they are city workers — wonders out loud why they aren’t at work. — J.H.

12:15 p.m., Monroe Avenue, outside Kudzu’s restaurant, downtown: As a Flyer reporter walks from his car to the restaurant, a disheveled-looking man, possibly homeless, shouts at him from across the street.

“Hey, man, can I ask you a question?” the stranger says, crossing the quiet roadway. Knowing what the question will probably be, the reporter stops anyway and says, “What?”

“I need some bus money to get to South Memphis,” the man says. “Can you help a fella out?”

The reporter feels in his pocket, finds a crumpled dollar bill and hands it over. “Thank you, brother,” the man says. Then he notices the reporter’s press pass and says, “You work for the Flyer?”

“That’s right. I’m covering the election today.”

“The election? Who’d you vote for?” the man asks, suddenly assertive.

“Well, actually, I voted for Herenton,” the reporter says.

“Herenton!!! Man, you got to vote for Joe Ford!” The man is agitated now. “Joe Ford’s a straight shooter. He helps people out. He buried my father! Shit. Herenton ain’t worth a damn!”

The reporter says, “Well, hell, then maybe you should give me my dollar back.”

“I’ll catch you next time I see you,” the man says, turning on his heel and walking swiftly away. — B.V.

12:35 p.m., Nam King Chinese Restaurant on Summer: Jerry Lawler and his caravan volunteers — a cop (one of several among Lawler’s volunteers), a construction worker, the owner of a body-shop, and a beeper salesman — break for lunch. Over buffet servings of fried rice and fried chicken wings, the conversation turns to pre-election polls, Governor Jesse Ventura, and Lawler’s beloved Cleveland Indians, who have a playoff game with the Red Sox in a few hours. The fortune cookies come. Lawler’s says:

“Get your mind set ... confidence will lead you on.” — J.H.

1:22 p.m., The parking lot of Nam King: “I hate politicians,” chimes in the oldish, bald man who, along with his wife, has ambled up next to Jerry Lawler with his girlfriend. The candidate is talking about whether or not his celebrity will translate into votes.

“They know me and they like me,” Lawler says. “What people want in a mayor isn’t necessarily a politician, but somebody they know and like. I think it translates over into one and the same thing. I don’t think there’s a politician up there who thinks like these people think or the way I think.” — J.H.

1:40 p.m., A polling place off Summer: The Lawler caravan encounters Pete Sisson again. Lawler steps out of his campaign dune buggy to have a few friendly words with his Republican competition. An elderly man comes out of the polls and heads across the street to Sisson. He stops and talks to Lawler.

“I just gave you a vote, son,” he says. – J.H.

3:45 p.m., Alton Elementary School, off Lauderdale: Vanessa Woods, Sheila

Roberson, and Clifton Brown are all in a festive mood outside this south Memphis polling place. No matter that the two women are wearing white

Edmund/Joe Ford sweatshirts, and Brown is waving a bright-red Herenton sign whose colors match the letters on his own white T-shirt. They are having a serious good time on this fine fall afternoon, sniping at each other much the way rival college-football fans do. “Eight is enough!” says Woods of the incumbent’s tenure in the mayor’s office. “How about 22?” retorts Brown, referring to Harold Ford Sr.’s lengthy service in the House of Representatives. All three laugh, happy to have the chance to back their favorite, but obviously not bearing too much animosity to his opponent.

“Let me tell you something,” says Clifton Brown, reflecting upon the election’s three major candidates. “I’m gonna use Ford for my burial policy, I’m gonna vote today for the Doctor, and then Saturday I’m gonna go to the Coliseum to watch wrestling. There’s room for all of them, you know. I support everybody to their potential.” — K.N.

4:02 p.m., Jerry Lawler’s home on Walnut Grove: As the Indians get their game under control on the big-screen TV, Lawler asks his volunteers what they really think his chances are. They think they’re good, what with all the honks and cheers and autographs. People love him. He’s going to surprise people. Lawler doesn’t seem so sure. He says he doesn’t want his supporters to feel let down if he doesn’t win. — J.H.

4:30 p.m., Herenton headquarters on Elvis Presley Blvd.: A C Wharton, the lawyer and public defender who is managing Herenton’s campaign, says the election is “about demographics as much as anything.” Wharton contrasts the Herenton and Ford coalitions. “The mayor has a quiet constituency that has grown with him from the the time he was superintendent of the school system and through two terms as mayor,” says Wharton. “He’s grown with his constituency. Harold has grown apart from his constituency. A lot of the people who used to depend on him for their Social Security checks have passed on.” — J.B.

4:47 p.m., Mitchell Road Community Center: Business is brisk here in southwest Memphis, where Herenton and Ford poll workers seem to know all the voters by name, shouting greetings and exhortations as each new car pulls into the parking lot. The Herenton workers outnumber the Ford ones by three to one, and seem ebullient at their prospects. “We’re cranking,” says one twentysomething woman.

In their midst stands another twenty-something, a tall, distinguished man wearing a bright red Herenton T-shirt. Rodney Herenton, the Mayor’s son, an investment banker with Morgan Keegan, is quietly optimistic. “The city’s going in the right direction; people are happy with the job he’s done,” he says. “We were careful not to peak too early, but now we’re pouring it on. I’ve anticipated this for several weeks.”

Rodney Herenton’s voice has a familiar cadence. Any chance he’ll end up in politics himself? “Not every family,” he says with a smile, “does things that way.” — K.N.

4:55 p.m., The Eagle’s Nest on Sycamore View: Lawler meets the press at what will hopefully be the site of his victory party. One by one, he tells the television cameras that the polls don’t matter. That a vote for him isn’t a vote for someone else. That voters should vote for whom they want to vote for. That he’s going to surprise people. He leaves to do some last-minute campaigning before the polls close. — J.H.

5:00 p.m., Ford headquarters on American Way: Two hours before the polls close, campaign manager Harold Ford Sr. and his lieutenants are poring over the latest turnout numbers from the Election Commission. They are encouraged by figures showing only 30 percent turnout in white precincts as of 2 p.m.

“White people vote early,” says former city councilman Kenneth Whalum, predicting that the 30 percent won’t change much. Black turnout, he hopes, will exceed 50 percent.

“It’s a Joe Ford turnout,” is all Harold Ford says as he rushes away to answer a phone call.

In contrast to the swarm at Herenton headquarters, Ford headquarters is manned by a dozen or so helpers. They include such anti-Herenton stalwarts as Whalum, Harold and John Ford, former Police Director Melvin Burgess who was fired by Herenton, police union leader Steve Brown.

On a table are copies of the once-lengthy and formidable Ford Ballot. On it are only four names: Joe Ford, City Court Judge Jane Chandler, City Court Clerk candidate Greg Grant, and City Council candidate Edmund Ford. Strangely, the only pictures are Joe Ford and Harold Ford Jr., who isn’t running for anything. — J.B.

5:45 p.m., Ford headquarters on American Way: The former mall storefront is preternaturally quiet an hour or so before the polls close. A Flyer reporter wanders in and sees no one except a receptionist, who’s on the phone. Suddenly, state senator John Ford emerges from behind a gray partition. “Hi,” he says. “Can I help you.”

Aware that the Flyer had called Ford an “arrogant, wife-beating, gun-waving, car-speeding idiot,” in a recent issue, and aware that the senator has indeed on occasion brandished guns, the reporter is a bit nervous.

“Hi,” he says. “I’m from your favorite paper, The Memphis Flyer.”

“Great.” Ford says, tonelessly. “Nice to see you.” — B.V.

6:15 p.m., Old Zinnie’s on Madison: Two Commercial Appeal reporters sit at the bar discussing the election with a Flyer reporter. The Flyer reporter says, “Based on what I’ve seen today at various precincts, Herenton’s going to win easily. They’re organized; their workers are everywhere. Willie’s going to pull it off big time....” One of the CA reporters looks at him, shakes his head and says, “No way, man. The polling has totally missed Ford’s people. Joe Ford’s the next mayor of Memphis. You can book it.” — B.V.

7:08 p.m., 157 Poplar, downtown: Suspense is definitely in the air. Several dozen media types and candidate aide-de-camps have shown up in the Shelby County jury-pool room, just across the hall from the Election Commission’s offices, to view in person the results of the early voting. A record 40,000 Memphians took advantage of the opportunity to vote early, and now three TV-network talking heads are lined up in a row before their respective cameras on one side of the room, waiting to tell the world how these already-counted votes split. Everyone has been watching the clock; the early-voting results can’t be announced until after the polls close at 7 p.m. Reporters and candidate watchers sprawl across a couple of dozen of the 200 seats in the room, most close to a laptop computer hooked up to a projector. The official election results will be posted, on this diminutive monitor, as the night goes on.

Right now, though, the numbers all show zero, and everyone is just hanging loose, waiting for the real numbers to start popping up. Suddenly, O.C. Pleasant, longtime head of the Election Commission, strides into the jury room, holding an armful of xeroxed documents. “Media first!” he calls out, “Media first!”

The copies are quickly gobbled up by reporters and pollwatchers alike. The broad smile on Richard Fields’ face tells the whole story in an instant. For twenty-plus years one of the city’s premier civil-rights lawyers, Fields on this night is representing candidate Herenton. “These numbers are very, very pretty,” he says. Beside him, someone else adds, “This is a rout. And I don’t mean Jim.”

The figures for Herenton are pretty indeed. In the early voting, 20,293 votes have been cast for the Mayor, with just 10,719 for Joe Ford. The two-to-one margin seems almost mind-boggling. Could the vaunted Ford Machine, this time around at least, be running out of gas? — K.N.

7:10 p.m., Ford headquarters on American Way: Pollworkers have begun to make their way back to headquarters as Channel 3 announces early voting results, which show Herenton with 46 percent of the vote and Ford with 24 percent. Pollworker Edward Saavedra is crushed and surprised. At the Hickory Hill area precinct where he was stationed, Ford “kicked Herenton’s butt.”

“Those numbers can change,” he says. “I hope so....” — M.J.

7:15 p.m., Pete Sisson victory party, Marriott Hotel: A small, subdued group of Sisson supporters, mostly white, mostly older, stands around in front of a large-screen television waiting to see the results of the early voting. Just as the results have begun to be announced, the heretofore silent Dixieland band starts playing, very LOUDLY, so loudly that no one can actually hear the results. After a minute or so, the early voting percentages crawl across the screen, bearing bad news for Pete. The Sissonites shake their heads and return to the food table, as a blonde in a red dress warbles, “Rock a bye your baby, with a Dixie Melodeee-e-e....” — B.V.

7:24 p.m., live on WPTY-TV: Flyer senior editor Jackson Baker, serving as election analyst, is the first to state the obvious: “I don’t see how they can catch up.” — D.F.

7:30 p.m., Herenton headquarters: As the first results are being broadcast, immediate concerns are elsewhere. Most of the hundred or so people there are poll workers still waiting to be paid. While the handful of Herenton higher-ups in the room seem already ebullient, these poll workers are tired or disinterested or both. They just want to go home. Slowly, AC Wharton calls a handful of them at a time into a back room where they are paid. — M.J.

7:35 p.m., Ford headquarters on American Way: Everyone’s here except Joe Ford. The Ford family and their close inner circle are crowded around a conference table, watching in somber silence as Channel 3 announces the latest numbers.

“It’s clear that there is no way Joe Ford is going to win,” Harold Ford tells them. “We may as well go and support the people’s candidate.” His mood has not changed visibly since this morning when he announced it was going to be a landslide. Still, there is a palpable sense of disbelief hanging in the room. These people are not used to losing elections.

Harold Ford walks out front and announces to the 40 or so volunteers who have gathered, “It’s clear that we’ve lost this election. We’ve got to accept that. We’ve got to step up to the plate.”

“Don’t give up yet,” one man says softly. As the family leaves for the Adam’s Mark Hotel, which was to be the site of the victory party, a line of police cars pulls up in front, driven by Ford-supporting cops who have stopped by to get the bad news. — H.H.

7:40 p.m., live from the studio of WREG-TV: Still waiting for the second round of vote tabulations to report, Channel 3 is in a holding pattern. Andy Wise shows viewers how the station is using computer technology to report the election. It doesn’t seem that complicated. — D.F.

7:45 p.m., Herenton headquarters: Someone finally turns on the large-screen television at one end of the room. A handful of workers gather around the tube, but when the first figures showing Herenton ahead are broadcast, there is not much reaction. Behind them, most of the room is still cueing up to be paid.

When Harold Ford Sr. appears on Channel 3 and effectively concedes the race to the mayor, the dozen or so campaign workers gathered around the TV at Herenton headquarters erupts in cheers.

“I can’t believe they gave up so quickly,” one worker says.

Ever focused, AC Wharton doesn’t even react when a campaign worker tells him the news, just nods his head and calls another handful of poll workers up. — M.J.

7:57 p.m., live from the Ford camp at the Adam’s Mark Hotel: In an interview with WREG, Harold Ford Sr., the brother and campaign manager of Joe Ford, concedes. “We think the mayor is going to be re-elected. We wish the mayor well,” Ford says. By way of explanation, he adds, “We are waiting for the candidate to arrive from Westwood.”

Back in the WREG studio, County Commissioner Walter Bailey, one of the station’s election analysts says of Ford Sr., “If he says something, you can pretty well take it to the bank.”

“At least on election night,” anchor Jerry Tate adds quickly. — D.F.

7:58 p.m., Sisson victory party, Marriott Hotel: On the big-screen television, Harold Ford Sr. begins what appears to be a concession speech to Channel 3’s Alex Coleman. Just as he starts to speak, the Dixieland band, masters of timing as always, blasts into, “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” No one can actually hear Ford’s concession over the sound of the lady in red belting out, “do-wat, do-wat, do-wat, do-wat, do-waaaaah.” — B.V.

8:00 p.m., Shelby County Election Commission: Already bored with the mayor’s race, which is clearly not going to be the election-of-the-century, the TV folks turn their interest to the Rangers and the Yankees on WHBQ, only paying attention to the actual vote tally when it comes time for their live shots. — T.S.

8:15 p.m. Herenton headquarters: With all accounts settled, A C Wharton squeezes into the semi-circle around the TV. Channel 3 is showing Ford Sr. speaking from the podium at Ford headquarters. As the former congressman launches into a long, rambling speech thanking all the workers, Wharton finally senses they have won. Letting just a hint of satisfaction explode, he hits his fist on a table, turns on his heel, and lets out a whoop.

“Yes!”

But seconds later he is again calm and focused as the remaining workers at Herenton HQ prepare to head to the victory celebration at the Cook Convention Center.

“We never panicked,” Wharton says. “We knew we had it because we thought Ford was running for the wrong reasons, and that our candidate had the righteous cause.… It’s really a paradigm shift. That’s a hackneyed phrase, I know, but that’s what it is. Just as the first election of Mayor Herenton signaled a shift of power from the white perspective — that black people could hold power in this city — now the same thing has happened with the Fords, where you’re having the mayor defeating what has been called by The New York Times one of the last great political machines.” — M.J.

8:20 p.m., Ford victory party, Adam’s Mark Hotel: Harold Ford Sr. has already told television reporters that the election is lost, but no one knows where Joe Ford is. The ballroom is full, but the atmosphere is far from festive. A banquet table full of food sits untouched, and business is slow at the bar.

Harold Ford embraces a disappointed supporter.

“The parties are always dull when you don’t win,” he tells her. — H.H.

8:25 p.m., Adam’s Mark Hotel: Harold Ford Sr. freely admits he’s had “better nights,” but his speech from the podium in the Tennessee Grand Ballroom — is that of a true political professional. No sour grapes here. “Harold Ford and the Ford family respect what the voters have done,” he says manfully. “We will offer our support to do what we can to work with the mayor.”

The crowd of several hundred supporters — perhaps 20 percent of whom are white — mills about, waiting for Joe Ford to arrive and make the concession speech that will now undoubtedly be something of an anticlimax. Harold Ford Sr. drags his remarks on for another five

minutes, like a bad warm-up act, telling the crowd that his younger brother “will be here any minute now.” In the meantime, many Ford loyalists are making their way through the buffet line — a fine spread has been laid on — many with their eyes down, a tad embarrassed, respectful as if at a funeral.

Still no Joe Ford. The two Harold Fords stand off to one side, obviously as bemused as the rest of the crowd by the candidate’s absence. Finally, he appears, making his way from the ballroom entrance toward the podium. The crowd surges in his direction, as does Alex Coleman of Channel 3. Within seconds, Joe Ford has a broadcaster’s mike around his head; on the two big-screen televisions on either side of the podium, he can be seen answering Coleman’s questions.

Seen, yes, but, unfortunately, not heard; the sound has long been turned off on the TVs. For half a minute, the crowd is in suspended animation, confused by this turn of events. Surely Joe Ford knows that he’s supposed to give these remarks from the podium. But their candidate seems blissfully unaware of all this, wrapped up in his conversation with Coleman.

Finally, Harold Ford Sr. can take no more. After rolling his eyes toward the ceiling, he strides in the general direction of his younger brother. “To the podium!” he exclaims, and almost instantaneously, the crowd catches the mantra: “To the podium! To the podium!”

Joe Ford looks up, sees that he’s wanted elsewhere, and cuts off his interview. He is a trim, fit man, one whose appearance is vastly different from what we see on television — where his round, cherubic face makes him appear pudgy. There is an air of gentleness about him.

The candidate makes his way to the podium, and delivers an eloquent, understated, three-minute concession speech. “I think the people have spoken. I’m man enough to be able to take a loss or take a win.”

One senses that Joe Ford really means what he says. The crowd gives him an enthusiastic response. He steps down and shakes a few hands. Small talk with his brothers and sister Ophelia; a quick interview or two with the other news anchors. And then he is gone, into the night. — K.N.

8:35 p.m., live from the Adam’s Mark: Joe Ford officially concedes. Only WREG-TV carries his message live. — D.F.

8:37 p.m., The Eagle’s Nest: As the crowd in the front of the bar goes into another refrain of “Take It Back,” a Lawler campaign anthem penned by two brothers calling themselves Catfish Johnston, the mood in the back room is somber. Volunteers and others close to Lawler watch Joe Ford’s concession speech and realize it isn’t going to happen. Dinners are offered but few are ordered.

On the projection screen, Channel 3’s Pam McKelvy says the Lawler party is “one camp where they’re not giving up.” The roar from the front of the house is deafening, but the back room remains unmoved.

“I thought it would be a better showing than that,” Lawler says quietly. “I feel bad for the people who worked so hard and thought we’d do better than that.”

On his way to the door, one caravan volunteer looks back at Lawler.

“At least he beat Sisson,” he says.

Minutes later, cheers grip the room. The latest returns show Lawler pulling past Sisson into third. — J.H.

8:43 p.m., Shelby County Election Commission: With Dirk Winters bringing up the rear, all of the mayoral candidates finally have at least 10 votes each now (not including early and absentee ballots.) Here’s how many precincts had to be tallied before each of the following candidates reached double-digits:

Charles E. Yates Jr...........69 of 234 precincts

Tim Olcott..................................76 of 234

Ralph McGhee..............................83 of 234

Dirk L. Winters...........................141 of 234

Their percentage of the vote is listed at zero. — T.S.

8:45 p.m., Adam’s Mark Hotel: Memphis Police Association President Steve Brown calls the election results “devastating.”

“We kind of put our eggs all in one basket with this,” he says. “We have had a very good working relationship with Harold Ford Sr. for a quarter of a century. We haven’t been able to get anything productive done with Mayor Herenton. So we had nothing to lose. We jumped into this thing, trying to win. Going to headquarters tonight, I still thought we would win.” — A.F.

9:10 p.m., live from the Herenton party at the Convention Center: WREG reporter Mike Matthews is interviewing Kenneth Moody, the former University of Memphis basketball star who is head of the Mayor’s Action Center. As the interview progresses, Moody becomes more and more excited. Suddenly he begins to shout: “Four more years, four more years, four more years… .” The crowd picks up on the cheer, turning the Convention Center into a pep rally. Matthews, his interview unexpectedly interrupted, can only look on with detached bemusement. — D.F.

9:12 p.m., The Eagle’s Nest: After giving interviews to television reporters, Lawler straps on a headset microphone and takes the podium.

“We want to say congratulations to Mayor Herenton,” he says, eliciting boos from the crowd. “But we also want our voice heard. Right?”

The cheers and hollers leave no doubt.

— J.H.

9:45 p.m, Herenton victory party, Cook Convention Center: Mayor Herenton arrives to the rhythm of Will Smith’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” pumping through the PA. Joining Herenton on the podium is a diverse lot of his supporters, including his campaign co-managers A C Wharton and Florence Leffler, developer Jack Belz, and former local head of the NAACP Maxine Smith.

An unexpected visitor to the grandstand is another candidate, attorney Shep Wilbun, who finished the night with just 3.5 percent of the vote. “The mayor is the victor and he’s everybody’s mayor and I’m here to get behind him,” Wilbun says.

Another unexpected presence is that of Mayor Bill Campbell of Atlanta. He and Herenton have been friends since Campbell first ran for office in 1993.

“It’s tough being a mayor and this was a mandate,” Campbell says. “It was unexpected because the media had the race so close. But he’s done a good job as mayor, and he deserves another term. And tonight the people have given him a mandate.” — M.J.

The Day After: Osbie Howard’s prediction of 47 percent for Herenton and a 40 percent turnout are each within one percent of the actual results, giving him “Prognosticator of the Election” honors along with Rhodes College political scientist Marcus Pohlman, who predicted Herenton would win by 20 percent over Ford, and pollster Steve Ethridge, whose polls consistently showed Herenton in the lead by 10-20 percent.

“You have to kind of stay back from the action and look at what is really happening,” Howard says in a post-election analysis of his prescience. “As the campaign unfolded, I saw no issues emerge. I didn’t see any reason for anybody not to want to continue with the leadership the city has had. I think it was a bad idea to run Joe. It might have been closer if Harold himself had run, but the result would have been the same.”

In an ironic note, despite the early optimism and Joe Ford’s day-long presence, the Westwood community center fell to Herenton camp 960 to 395 votes. — J.B.


SPOTLIGHT

After the Knockout

His big win behind him, Willie Herenton trashes the opposition and takes stock.

by Jackson Baker

t was four days after the election, and a newly reelected Willie Herenton -- clad in a short-sleeve polo shirt and looking a little like pictures of the the old turn-of-the-century fighter Jack Johnson -- was relaxing on a couch in his 7th floor City Hall office. This was the room, newly refurbished for Herenton a year ago, which opponent Joe Ford had called a "penthouse" but which, in its smallish dimensions, was clearly something less than that.

"Did you ever visit me in my office when I was sitting behind a desk?" he asks a visitor, more or less rhetorically. (The answer is, in fact, No.) The mayor goes on from this to tell a story about a recent visit to Washington, during which he checked in with four of the Memphis area's five congressional representatives -- Senators Fred Thompson and Bill Frist and Reps. John Tanner and Harold Ford Jr. "The only one who sat behind a desk when I entered the office was Harold Ford Jr. I knew then what he was all about. He was small-minded. He had all these nervous young guys around."

Herenton chuckles, remembering. "I called him 'Harold,' and he said, 'I'm Congressman Ford. You call me Harold, and I'll call you Willie.' So he called me 'Willie!'" The smile vanishes. "Now I have two sons who would never call Harold Ford Sr. 'Harold.' Never! Because Harold Sr. is old enough to be their father. Harold Jr. is disrespectul. He has deep character flaws, maybe worse than his father. Egomania! Brashness!" Say what you really think, Mayor.

Does this suggest that Mayor Herenton is disinclined to support Rep. Ford, a fellow Democrat, if the young congressman should follow through in his oft-rumored intent to make a Senate race next year against Frist, a Republican? Bingo! "I would not. I cannot imagine supporting him!"

Could he support Frist? Herenton nods. "I'm open to it. He's a statesman and a good person. I have the highest respect for him."

This respect would seem to be totally reciprocated.

"It's clear that Memphians have realized that the Ford political

machine's choke hold is no longer a positive force for the city. We think Mayor Herenton will do a good job and Sen. Frist looks forward

to working with him to make Memphis an even better place to live": That was the senator's spokesperson, Margaret Camp, reacting to Herenton's blowaway win over Ford Jr.'s Uncle Joe Ford and several other opponents last Thursday.

Indeed, Herenton and Frist were said to have been in fairly steady contact in the days and weeks before the election, and Frist was one of Herenton's first congratulatory callers early Thursday night. He was followed closely by President Clinton and Vice President Gore. "This race was of significance to natonal figures," says Herenton evenly, but not without some obvious pride.

And the race was clearly of significance to statewide figures as well. Tennessee Republican chairman Chip Saltsman talked hopefully of the "wheels" coming off the "Ford machine," while the Democrats' state executive director, Greg Wanderman, said he still thought Ford Jr. could carry Shelby County.

Herenton tended to take the Saltsman tack. His victory over Joe Ford, he said, had exposed "the myth of a well-oiled political machine." Despite their fearsome reputation, Herenton said, the Fords "had no political organization." Truth was, "they've never had any opposition. True champions are when you fight other champions. Bullies fight weak opposition and gain the reputation of being good."

it was hard to argue against the man who had beaten his main opponent two-to-one in returns from the two-week Early Return period when a fleet of leased cars ferried voters back and forth from the Ford headquarters on American Way. "We were well organized at the ward and precinct level. I always told you we would beat him in Early Voting and beat him on Election Day."

When Herenton mentions the last name of his recent opponent, it seems obvious that he means not councilman Joe Ford, against whom he harbors little rancor, but Harold Ford Sr., the former congressman who founded his family dynasty 25 years ago and had solemnly proclaimed his "guarantee" last year that he would turn back Herenton's bid for a third term as mayor.

"I really wanted to beat Ford in the 6th District. We really worked the 6th District," Herenton says, indicating the city council district which is the site of a hand-me-down Ford seat, won this year by Edmund Ford, brother to Harold Sr.. to Joe, to State Senator John Ford, and to County Commissioner James Ford. Herenton won the 6th District.

Herenton owns up to being a political lone wolf. "But I can form coalitions when I need to. With business, with many Republicans, with Democrats, poor people, rich people, middle income, men, women.How do you think I get results like that?" he says, meaning in the recent election, when a grid map of his votes shows that, just as he says, he romped up and down the census tracts.

Some months back, before the 15-member field of candidates formed itself, Herenton's campaign manager, lawyer AC Wharton, tried to effect a coalition with the Shelby County Republican Party. The mayor indicates the north-facing couch, where his visitor sits. "They sat right there -- Alan Crone, John Ryder, John Bobango," Herenton said, naming the local GOP chairman, the Republican national committeman from Memhis, and the retiring city councilman who thought long and hard about running for mayor this year.

The Republican trio, as it happens, resisted Herenton's pleas for an alliance. "They kept telling me their polling had me way down. I said, 'I don't know who's doing that poll, but they ain't no damn good!' " Herenton -- who had his own polls, done by Ron Lester of Washington and Philadelphia -- shakes his head, disgustedly. "They were using the situation to try to get a Republican in office. They had two African Americans in conflict. They saw the opportunity to ease in and take advantage of that situation."

The eventual Republican entry was Pete Sisson. a 72-year-old former county commissioner and a longtime Herenton adversary, dating from the days when they faced off over Herenton's administration as superintendent of the city schools system. "He was an embarrassment to the Republican Party." Herenton snorts. "And he was a blatant liar," the mayor says, repeating a charge he made in a WDIA radio forum and later apologized for.

His other opponents don't fare much better. County Commissioner Shep Wilbun had made a point, on election night, of hustling over to the mayor's victory platform at the Convention Center in order, as he said, to heal old wounds and make common cause.

Herenton waves aside the gesture. "Shep Wilbun got on my nerves," he says of the Dartmouth grad and sometime developer. "He's got a good academic background, but pragmatism and common sense elude him. He doesn't make sense, has no grasp of reality. That's why he's a loser. He crossed both me and the Fords."

Surely there was someone in the ranks of hs opponents who earned the mayor's respect. Herenton shakes his head slowly from side to side. "Nobody," he says. "I didn't respect any of them. I was bored and embarrassed to be a part of that circus."

Asked what his plans are for a third term, Herenton does a peremptory run-through of some of his staple talking points: economic growth, Memphis 2005, expansion of the ecnomy and the tax base, development of the riverfront. He is somewhat more animated when talking about the connections he has made during his eight years so far as mayor.

As he notes, in the recent election "the money people, the business community, all the many PACs" were committed to him. "The Fords and Shep were always tring to make me ut to be a friend of fat cats. Shep was idiotic, asinine, all that talk about ending poverty . There's always going to be economic disparity . The trick is to narrow the ecnomic disparity ."

It wasn't just the "fat cat" charges that got to Herenton. There were also the constant allegations from his rivals of inaccessibility or of arrogance. "Inaccessible?" he asks rhetorically . "The only people who say I'm not accessible are people who don't go anywhere. I'm everywhere. The people see me at Picadilly's, see me at Sears & Rosebucks, see me at Seesel's, see me at shopping centers." Why, the very night of his election triumph, some of the media were askng the mayor where his "after-party" was. "My after-party? You know where I went after the victory party? I went down to a CK's down on Shelby Drive and ate myself big stack of pancakes with the people down there."

As for that "arrogance" thing.. The mayor muses on this as he sees his visitor off, walking him to the glass door that separates his inner work chambers from the visitors' anteroom (the same door, presumably, which Joe Ford kept vowing during the campaign to "hear off its hinges.") "Arrogant! That always surprises me. I think of myself as fairly humble."

He reminisces about his years as a Golden Gloves fighter back in the late 50s and early 60s. "You know, I wanted to be a professional. But God put me on another course. I never got beat once I got my size. I'm convinced I would have been a champion."

Nobody who followed this last election or read the returns last Thursday night doubts that Willie Herenton, runaway winner of a third term as mayor, conqueror of the Republican Party and of the Ford machine, leader of Memphis as a new millenium beckons, champion of the local political world, has finally got his full size as a politician.


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