Winners and Losers: A Memphis Election Night Report 

The Flyer's Complete Election Coverage Package

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton won his fifth term tonight with 42 percent of the vote.

City Councilwoman Carol Chumney placed second with 35 percent, followed by former MLGW CEO Herman Morris with 21 percent.

The numbers were:
Herenton, 70, 177
Chumney, 57, 180
Morris, 35, 158

There were 11 also-rans, the best known of whom was former Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham, who had 1, 118 votes, or .68 percent.

Following a gracious concession speech from Morris and a rather ungracious concession speech from Chumney, it was time for Herenton's "victory" speech. And an odd one it was.

After thanking his supporters, Herenton began reciting a litany of grievances against various "haters" and "mean people," including a FedExForum crowd that booed him -- a crowd that was, in Herenton's words, "90 percent white."

Herenton went on to say he now knew "who was for him and who was against him."

For a man who'd just garnered 42 percent of the total vote, there is still ample evidence that there may more of the latter than the former. -- Bruce VanWyngarden

from the victory stand:

The song "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" blared over the public address system in a Memphis Cook Convention Center ballroom Thursday as supporters of Willie W. Herenton pushed toward the stage where the mayor delivered his victory speech.

The emcee barked "He shook the haters off," into the microphone, as the jubilant crowd roared its approval.

Campaign manager Charles Carpenter set, or at least reinforced, the celebration's defiant tone in his introduction to Herenton's comments. "Reporters ask me, 'What's the difference between this race and 2003?' In 2003 the mayor who had been doing an excellent job at that time, had business community support and white community support. But this election, he had little of either," he said.

Herenton took the microphone on a stage crowded with familiar faces, including former Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division head Joseph Lee, former Herenton hater Thaddeus Matthews, attorney Robert Spence, Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin, and Tajuan Stout Mitchell.

"I'm in a very serious mood," he told the crowd, before thanking God for His favor. "It is out of this favor, that we received this victory tonight. I now know who is for me and... who is against me. I thank God for discerning."

Herenton thanked the friends whom he said had supported him unconditionally. "I appreciate loyalty," he said. "This election was hard for me. There were people [who] I thought were with me, and I found out, they weren't."

"I'm going to be nice tonight," Herenton continued, "but there are some mean, mean-spirited people in Memphis. These are the haters. I know how to shake them off," he said, his last words lost in the applause.

"Memphis has some major decisions to make. Memphis has to decide whether or not we want to be one city, or... a divided city," he said.

He mocked the "haters," anticipating their criticisms of him. "He didn't get many white votes."

The mayor recalled two incidents in which he perceived racism. He said that a "90 percent white" crowd at a University of Memphis basketball game booed his honoring DeAngelo Williams with a key to the city. "I know the haters are going to say I need to pull the races together -- I didn't separate us."

He then told of his television appearance with Justin Timberlake, remembering the audience "95% young white kids that booed me on national television. The white citizens of Memphis were not in outrage. Nobody wrote letters and said that was shameful."

Herenton did single out his "few white brothers who have stuck with me," including developer Rusty Hyneman and used-car salesman Mark Goodfellow.

Returning to whites other than those few, Herenton warned, "If you're not careful, they'll work a game on you. They have psychology." -- Preston Lauterbach.

Chez Chumney

At ten o'clock Thursday night, Carol Chumney ended her campaign for city mayor in the same aggressive spirit that distinguished her term on the Memphis City Council. Promising to "work with mayor Herenton any way I can" in her concession, she nevertheless took the opportunity to launch a final volley at the city leadership, saying, "we have sent a message that Memphis deserves better."

The parting shot at Mayor Herenton rallied the crowd of more than a hundred close supporters and volunteers gathered in the Peabody Continental Ballroom, most of whom hadn't seen their candidate in person since the election results were announced on television. For many, it was clearly a cathartic end to a long and exhausting day.

Earlier, as the first few precinct reports trickled in by word of mouth, the mood at Carol Chumney's election night party was bouyant, if slightly tense, and continued to remain so even as the early returns showed Mayor Herenton with a significant lead. But by the end of the night, with the outcome all but certain, any trace of that early hope had given way to sore discontent.

"I'm disappointed in the people of Memphis," said longtime Chumney supporter Zenia Revitz. "I can't believe that they didn't open their eyes and see what's going on in this community." Her reaction may have best captured the mixed emotions felt by those present, as she quickly qualified her remark by adding, "So far, that is. We're only at fifty percent," referring to the number of precincts still uncounted. No one at the event was willing to fully give up the chance of a turnaround until it became unmistakably clear that none would come.

Another strong supporter, Joan Solomon, summarized what many at the party saw as a flawed election process, stating simply, "Everyone that voted for Morris was voting for Herenton." A Rasmussen poll commissioned by WHBQ Fox 13 taken just days before the election showed that in a two-way race against Herenton, either Chumney or Morris would have won with a comfortable majority. Together, the two candidates provided the embattled mayor with the chance to win a fifth term with a 42 percent plurality of the vote.

The message of the Chumney campaign was strongly populist, and as such, their election strategy was centered around volunteer support. Noting in her concession speech that she was "outspent probably about 2 to 1," the councilwoman credited "hundreds of volunteers" with the large measure of her success. Campaign manager Charles Blumenthal was also quick to praise the campaign's unpaid workers, calling the campaign operation "a well-oiled machine," adding that out of fourteen full-time staff, only four were paid.

Indeed, it was a different kind of campaign from what one usually sees in Memphis. In spite of the high-priced venue, the campaign began with small funds and very little financial support from the business community, not building fund-raising momentum until the final month of the race. Chumney's largest donations came from labor unions and trade associations, with most of the city's old money going to Herman Morris.

Also remarkable was the fact that compared with the two other major candidates, few current or former elected officials endorsed Chumney or participated in her bid for city mayor, with only two notables present at the election night event. State Representative Mike Kernell was there, long an ally and friend of Chumney's, along with freshman Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, who appeared with her onstage. Otherwise, the rest of her support appeared to come from family, friends, activists, and more than a few political neophytes.

While there were more whites than blacks at Chumney's final campaign stop, the racially mixed crowd represented a fairly adequate cross-section of the citizenship of Memphis. Chumney was pleased by the support she received from predominately black neighborhoods. "There were some [African-American] precincts where I was running at 30 percent, it made me feel good."

After the loss, Chumney was upbeat, but expressed disappointment in the low turnout. "The people who didn't vote should be kicking themselves because this was their chance to make a change."

This is Chumney's second bid for an executive seat, first running against Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton in 2002 and garnering only 17 percent of the vote. Ineligible to run for mayor and city council at the same time, she leaves her seat on the Council to Jim Strickland, who handily won the seat with 73 percent over Bob Schreiber. After finishing the remainder of her city council term, she said she plans to return to her private law practice, but she was otherwise undecided on any future political plans.

"Who knows?" she said, "we'll see what the future holds." --Derek Haire

Herman Morris' Last Dance

At 7:45 at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis Thursday night, things were quiet. A few folks were meandering in, riding the escalator to the mezzanine in twos and threes. Kevin Paige and his band were singing "Crazy" in the ballroom.

The crowd, such as it was, was racially mixed and age-diverse. The big-screen television at the back of the room flashed photographs of candidate Herman Morris and his family. Herman as a young track star, a young lawyer, a family man, etc.

Downstairs in the lobby, the South Carolina-Kentucky game was on a television in the corner. The game was close and exciting, but the numbers crawling across the bottom of the screen gave early indication that the race for mayor was going to be neither.

The early voting and absentee totals -- almost half the predicted vote -- showed incumbent Willie Herenton with 43 percent, Carol Chumney at 34 percent, and Morris a distant third, with 24 percent. Those percentages wouldn't vary significantly all night.

Kevin Paige is singing "Killing Me Softly."

The food lines and bar lines are growing quickly as the ballroom fills. There is little optimism. There are lots of hugs and wry smiles.

At 8:30, with a little more than 20 percent of precincts reporting, the percentages haven't changed: Herenton 43, Chumney 32, Morris 25. It's over. With perfect ironic, and no doubt unintentional timing, Paige's band breaks into "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."

Ooops.

Republican maverick Tom Guleff wanders about with five-year-old son Logan in tow. Adman Dan Conoway, sips a beer and chats up latecomers. Campaign cochairman and longtime judge and civil rights activist Russell Sugarmon, quietly works the door. Memphis schoolboard member Jeff Warren leans over a laptop, checking the discouraging numbers. Sadly, for this campaign, the only number getting bigger is the number of folks in the ballroom, which is near capacity. But their man Morris appears doomed to finish a distant third.

With 50 percent of precincts counted, the percentages remain markedly consistent: 42, 33, 24. As the numbers flash on the television screen someone shouts, "Time for a drink."

Warren shakes his head ruefully and says, "I'm very disappointed. I think Herman is the one man who could bring this city together."

There is a clattering of applause in the outer room. The candidate, surrounded by his wife, mother, and children enters the ballroom. The outpouring of affection seems genuine and somehow poignant.

Morris steps to the microphone and says, "It's a great day for Memphis." But nobody in the room believes him.

Morris continues, thanking his campaign committee and supporters, and thanking his wife Brenda for 27 years. It is, in fact, the couple's wedding anniversary. Morris presents a large bouquet of red roses to his wife and says, "Happy anniversary."

The rest of Morris' speech sounds suspiciously like a hurriedly edited "victory" speech. He repeats the "great day in Memphis" line, and thanks the crowd for playing a part in "bringing the city together." He implores the crowd to work with the apparent victor, Willie Herenton, and even asks for a round of applause for the mayor. When the crowd responds weakly, he exhorts them: "We can do better than that!" They do, barely. “

"And now," he says, "let's have one heck of an anniversary party!"

The band strikes up the old Etta James song, "At Last," and Herman Morris and his wife dance, staring into each other’s eyes, encircled by photographers and television cameras.

It could have been a helluva party.

As the crowd files out, the television in the corner of the lobby is showing happy women doing "The Electric Slide" at Herenton headquarters.

But here at the Holiday Inn nobody feels much like dancing.

-- Bruce VanWyngarden

Notes on the runners-up:

Opinions on the responses to their defeats by mayoral runner-up Carol Chumney and third-place finisher Herman Morris vary significantly.

Everybody seems to have regarded Morris' Election Night statement to have been a "gracious" -- if somewhat pro forma and dull-normal -- concession. (In other words, the staid Morris bowed out the same way he came in.) Particularly appreciated was the former MLGW head's suggestion to his supporters that they give the victorious Mayor Herenton a round of applause. (Some, however, thought he was smirking at the resultant Sound of One Hand Clapping.)

I remember Morris breaking through his cocoon of dignified restraint a few times during the campaign. Once in particular, when, at a fund-raiser before some of his well-heeled supporters at the Galloway House, he waxed passionate and eloquent with an analogy between the desperate emotions of the Memphians of the Yellow Fever era and those of today's city-dwellers hoping to ride out the crime menace.

When I moderated a Rotary Club debate between Morris, Chumney, and John Willingham, I gave each of them a chance to re-enact one of the glory moments I had glimpsed them in during the campaign. In Morris' case it was that speech at the Galloway House.

What he ended up doing was some wonky recitation of his published crime plan. Nothing even close to what I'd asked for. When I saw him elsewhere, a day or two later, I said, "Hey, Herman, what happened? I was trying to set you up."

He shrugged and said, "Well, that sort of thing isn't on call."

And my thought was: It's a good thing for the Yankees that Roger Clemens' fast ball is on call.

In contrast to Morris’s speech on Election Night, Chumney's swan song was more of a trumpet blast – some might say, a tooting of her own horn for some further campaign yet to be waged. Not until the end of a fairly extended address to her still enthusiastic troops did a note of conciliation creep in. And that, to mix a metaphor, was a rather left-handed note: "I had worthy opponents. I will work with them any way I can…"

Given her limited success in bonding with her soon-to-be-former councilmates and with the man who had just defeated her for mayor, that wouldn't seem to be an extraordinary number of ways. And she would probably be wasting her time if she sat by a telephone waiting on a phone call from one of the indicated worthies.

Also striking was her dismissal of the only one of the three late polls -- the one conducted by Steve Ethridge for The Commercial Appeal -- that hadn't shown her neck-and-neck with Herenton. A "disservice to the public," she called it. Gotcha, Carol. That's how I feel about the folks who don't show me proper appreciation, too.

Still, there was something gallant, even impressive (if arguably myopic), about Chumney's bulldog attitude, her persistence, and her refusal to stop finding fault with the Herenton administration in her concession speech, even at a time when protocol called upon her to make nice. (No observer of protocol she, for better or for worse, and actually for both.)

If she had somehow managed to win, she would have become an instant cynosure for the national media. Governing? Well, who knows….

Morris vs. Chumney for county mayor in 2010? Not impossible.

-- Jackson Baker

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