John Branston ("City Beat," July 5th issue) says Willie Herenton will win. I say: no way.
Put simply, Memphians are tired of Mayor Willie Herenton, including his shenanigans and histrionics. This is not unlike the fatigue the American public is suffering with our current president (and the members of his party), which was substantially responsible for the transfer of power from Republicans to Democrats in last November's congressional elections.
Just like the W. in the White House, W.W. Herenton has an Iraq. It's called crime. Memphians are scandalized by an upsurge in violent crime in the Bluff City, a troubling trend that has placed Memphis in the first tier of the most dangerous cities in the country. History has a way of showing mayors who preside over dangerous trends in their cities to the door. So too will it happen in Memphis where, other than calling for an unfunded and — probably unfundable — dramatic increase in the number of police, our mayor has done little or nothing to stem the advancing tide of criminality in our city.
The second element in Herenton fatigue is also analogous to the national scene. Memphians have watched as an arrogant, aloof, frequently disconnected mayor launched all manner of attacks on those he perceives as his enemies. The last unhinged politician who compiled an "enemies list" was Richard Nixon, and we know how well that turned out for him.
Herenton attacks the media and anyone who dares speak out against him as being racist or, worse, ungodly. One need only look at the recent, surreal press conference conducted by the mayor in which he accused several unnamed "snakes" of mounting a campaign to unseat him. Never reluctant to play the race card when it suits him, the mayor suggested that those out to get him were motivated by racial animus.
Never mind that the Memphis electorate (including black voters) is increasingly showing the ability to discriminate among candidates, not on the basis of race but on the basis of competence — a phenomenon most vividly displayed in the elections of Steve Cohen to Congress and A C Wharton as county mayor. So, where's the race card in that deck (other than the mayor's joker)?
The mayor's credibility is at an all-time low. One clear proof of that comes from the recent thumping that his man, Robert Spence, took in a race for the state Senate seat vacated by Cohen. The fact that voters apparently were more influenced by a circular circulated by lead "snake" Richard Fields calling attention to Spence's shortcomings than by Spence's close affiliation with the mayor bodes ill for the voters' willingness to credulously accept the mayor's conspiracy theory.
The ultimate factor in Herenton fatigue is doubt about his competence. Whether it's raising city property taxes to the point where Memphis enjoys the distinction of having the highest property taxes in Tennessee, presiding over a failing public school system, demonstrating the same kind of cronyism in the appointment and retention of city officials (remember Joseph Lee?) or the granting of favors to his pals like the other "W" (remember beer board baron Reginald French?), Herenton has disaffected wide swaths of the Memphis electorate regardless of race, and several early polls (which the mayor predictably discounted) showed that.
Finally, the one potentially superseding force that would assure Herenton's loss would come when and if Shelby County mayor A C Wharton comes to his senses and realizes that the future of this city is far more important than his sense of loyalty to a man who is dragging down both Memphis and Shelby County.
I predict that 16 years of King Willie will be end up being enough for most voters in Memphis. What's more, I think black voters are tired of being played by a mayor who has no problem, when it suits him, of cozying up to the same constituency of white businessmen he now accuses of turning on him. I predict they will see through his transparent tirades and turn him out of office.
Marty Aussenberg writes the "Gadfly" column on www.memphisflyer.com.