On the Cusp 

The Memphis mayor’s race approaches a defining point.

Mayor A C Wharton talks to the hand and to members of Women for Wharton at Waterford Plaza

Jackson Baker

Mayor A C Wharton talks to the hand and to members of Women for Wharton at Waterford Plaza

Let the record show that Harold Collins, the city council member whose mayoral candidacy is one of the key variables of the 2015 election season, was able to sport the first prominent campaign signs around town.

And Collins' reported second-quarter financial receipts of $48,812, giving him a total on hand of $61,405, support the idea that his candidacy is feasible, depending on developments in the roughly two-and-a-half months remaining in the city election period. (That's when, as conventional wisdom has it, people actually start paying attention.)

As will be seen, Collins' financial assets don't begin to compare to those of the two presumed mayoral frontrunners (incumbent Mayor A C Wharton and Collins' council colleague Jim Strickland) or to a couple of unusually well-endowed council candidates, for that matter. His candidacy, of necessity, will focus more on grass-roots activity, especially on his home ground of Whitehaven, one of the areas with a voter population large enough to be one candidate's base (or the source of another's swing vote).

From that standpoint, the early campaign signs are a good omen.

And let it be said that Kenneth Whalum, Jr., the New Olivet pastor and former school board member whose will-he or won't-he attitude toward a mayoral race has made him the great unknown quantity of 2015, had scheduled to announce his plans for 2015 on Tuesday night at Church Park, well after this column must deadline for the week. We'll catch with up the news online.

In April, Whalum drew petitions for mayor, for city council District 5 seat, and for the council's Super District 9, Position 2 seat. The fact that he finished a close second in the 2014 Democratic primary for Shelby County mayor, even while being out of the country during the final weeks, has given his announcement a certain suspense value.

Memphis Police Association's Mike Williams, who filed last week, has, at the very least, a niche following among aggrieved city employees, and especially among fire and police employees. He has a tight but active support group, but his reported second-quarter receipts of $6,204 make his race an uphill battle.   

County Commission chairman Justin Ford has also filed, as has James Harvey, his predecessor, but it remains to be seen how serious their candidacies are.

There is no doubting that Wharton and Strickland are still the big dogs in the race, certainly financially. Strickland raised $140,521 in the second quarter, while Wharton raised $129,700. Each appears to have $400,000 on hand, and their campaign treasuries are still growing. One possible caveat regarding those figures: The mayor has committed more money to date than has Strickland.

The possible relevance of that fact became obvious on Saturday, as Strickland and an aide braved 100-degree weather to go door-knocking on Walnut Grove, looking in particular for places to locate yard signs on that highly visible thoroughfare. Strickland got reasonably good feedback from the homeowners, but he won't have the signs ready for delivery until August 1st.

Wharton continued last week with a series of modest-sized fund-raisers, located in upscale areas where he faces competition from Strickland. One of these was at Waterford Plaza, where he spoke to a group of women supporters and delivered one of those point-by-point surveys of city projects at which the mayor is both glib and convincing. He also addressed his concern that opponents portray him as "the Grinch" for having to impose austerity measures in response to intractable budget problems.

Thursday is filing deadline for city positions, with the withdrawal deadline a week later. Then we'll know for sure what we're dealing with.


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