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 broke 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 September 25th to October 10th.
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 tête-à-tête 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, or Charles Carpenter, or 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.
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 smile, which 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 have 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, wondering if 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 total, over 24 opponents, including some name candidates, was a way of saying, "Okay, A C, let's see what you can do."
And if he can't do it, this dapper and inevitable man for all seasons and sects, then, truly, nobody can.