If anyone in Memphis can appreciate what George W. Bush and Al Gore are going through now, its former mayor Dick Hackett.
In the 1991 mayoral election, Hackett lost to Willie Herenton by 142 votes out of 247,973 votes cast. As the last ballots were being counted, aides urged Hackett to continue to fight, even if it meant challenging certain precincts. Instead, he told his supporters to go home and go to bed and to let the results stand.
I had some information from the police department that there were starting to be some disturbances and some potential disturbances, Hackett recalled this week. As a result of that, I made a decision as mayor and said, lets all go home, sleep on it, and I sent everybody home.
Hackett said Tennessee law would have required a showing of fraudulent voting and the allegations would surely have gone to court. There is no recount provision. Still, his advisers wanted him to fight somehow.
I would say my advisers were 99 percent opposed to me doing what I did, initially at least. Since all of this has happened, 100 percent have come back and said, I know I told you not to do that but you did the right thing.
Like this historic presidential contest, the 1991 mayoral race featured pre-election polls which showed a close race, then a suspense-filled ballot count in which the lead changed hands as precincts reported. The final victory margin wasnt established until days after the election. There was even a spoiler ala Ralph Nader -- Robert Prince Mongo Hodges, who got 2,923 votes.
There were also charges of voting irregularities, which Hackett chose to ignore. His thinking, he says today, was driven partly by statesmanship and partly by the knowledge that the irregularities probably cut both ways.
Sure there were inequities, but I think there were inequities on both sides, he said. If someone moves from the city of Memphis to Shelby County and comes back to Memphis to vote, that is an illegal vote. At least my hunch is that is an illegal vote. Bottom line: you can find fraudulent votes on both sides. What was in the best interest of the community was for me to not start that warfare.
Hackett has little sympathy for claims of some Florida voters that they could not understand the ballot and therefore voted for Pat Buchanan or for more than one candidate.
If you were in a restaurant and spilled a glass of tea, would you not call a waitress to help you? If I voted for two people I think I would turn around and say Oh my gosh, look what I have done, and get some help.
And he has no regrets for the decision he made nine years ago. I feel stronger about what I did today than I did when I did it, he said.
(You can write John Branston at branston @memphismagazine.com