Friday, October 9, 2015

UPDATED: Strickland Wins Mayoral Race, faces new council

Wharton concedes early on. New mayor will have a largely new Council to deal with as well.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 1:54 AM

click to enlarge Mayor-Elect Jim Strickland at his victory celebration - TOBY SELLS
  • Toby Sells
  • Mayor-Elect Jim Strickland at his victory celebration

No one is going to concentrate on this, but, for the — what, 5th?, 6th?, 7th ? election in a row, there were obvious glitches in the Election Commission’s vote reporting.

At various TV stations—including FOX 13, where I was privileged to be sitting with anchors Mearl Purvis and Darrell Greene trying to process returns — the tote board was showing less than 1 percent of the vote total, but there was Mayor A C Wharton on the feed from the Universiry of Memphis Holiday Inn standing at a dais and offering a concession of the 2015 mayoral election to Councilman Jim Strickland.

It was only somewhere around 10 o’clock, but the Mayor was offering Strickland his “heartfelt congratulations” for a “great campaign.:”   A sad but game Wharton began addressing what was obviously, from the video that Flyer editor Bruce van Wyngarden would email later, a crowd of dejected followers as the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)” began to die down.

Said the Mayor: “This is Memphis, Tennessee, known for its graciousness and its hospitality. And I’ve tried to epitomize that through all my public service. And nothing is fgoing to change. That’s just the way I roll.’

It had been, said the defeated Mayor, “a good run.” By which he must have meant his tenure in office, not the rather incoherent and uncertain campaign he had just concluded.

Here's another look at that sayonara from Flyer writer Chris Davis:

Mayor AC Wharton made concession look easy. His smile was broad, and his manner even more relaxed than it was following his special election victory in Oct., 2009, when he was serenaded by rapper Jay Smooth at Minglewood Hall, and spoke to an adoring crowd about the merits of running a clean campaign. When he won applause with his description of a Memphis, where people are more interested in, “what they can give than what they can get.”

Wharton didn’t hurry onto the stage, but took his time. The band that had been performing classic soul covers put down their instruments and a recording of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow,” blared ftom the PA, giving the affair a decidedly Clintonesque tone. Then the Mayor waved his hands and did something he’s always been very good at doing. He calmly delivered bad news wrapped in enthusiasm and hope. He’d already called his opponent, and the presumed mayor elect Jim Strickland and congratulated him on what looked to be a decisive victory. It was time to tell his supporters the contest had ended and it was time for everybody to start working together again. For Memphis.

“I’ve never been one for making excuses,” Wharton said. “What I want to focus on is the future of our city… This is a time for all of us to pull together.”

On two occasions the mayor stopped his speech to comfort his most disappointed supporters. “I hope those are tears of joy,” he told them before continuing with his speech.

“I came in under the theme of ‘one Memphis’ and I still feel that way about our great city,” Wharton said, recalling the political message he crafted in the shadow of Mayor W.W. Herenton’s divisiveness. “You have my commitment and my family’s commitment to keep aspiring and reaching toward that one Memphis of which we all dream. It is a just dream, and a just vision. The only thing that keeps us from fulfilling that dream are the limitations we place on ourselves.”

“Don’t worry about me,” he concluded, removing his glasses with a showman’s flourish, just to prove his eyes were dry. “I’ll be just fine… We’re all gonna be fine.

It had not even really been close. Strickland won with only a plurality but with what his own and Strickland’s precinct checks were indicating to be a double-digit margin.

Make no mistake: This was as much a Strickland victory as a Wharton loss. When Strickland, just before his celebration party at the Botanic Gardens was breaking up, said matter-of-factly, "We ran a perfect campaign," he wasn't blowing smoke. He and ace strategist Steven Reid stuck very carefully to a game plan  — focusing ad infinitum on three key points: public safety, blight, and 
click to enlarge The mayor at his concession - CHRIS DAVIS
  • Chris Davis
  • The mayor at his concession

Those were not grand visionary goals. They were simply reassurances that a city administration that had begun to seem rudderless would see order restored under new management. This was, as it turned out, enough, particularly when a series of badly handled mayoral snafus — the Robert Lipscomb firing and the Deidre Malone contract brouhaha notable among them  — gave volume to  that third point, "accountability," in Strickland's triad of issues.

So Strickland is right to feel justified — even a tad smug — in his recollections of a well-run campaign. His 42 percent of the total, compared to the defeated incumbent's astonishing low total of 22 percent,  was impressive indeed — especially for a white candidate running to lead an electorate that is two-thirds African-American.

But the fact is that the votes garnered by third and fourth-place finishers Harold Collins, Strickland's Council mate, and Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams added up to a full third of the total vote — 18 and 16 percent, respectively. Had either one of these candidates not been on the ballot, the other might have proved stout competition for the lead.

Awareness of that fact showed up clearly in the face of a dejected Collins in the aftermath — almost as disappointed-looking as the defeated Mayor had been.

All was joy, however, for winner Strickland. Here’s a report from the winner’s celebration at the Botanic Gardens from Flyer reporter Toby Sells:

The scene at Memphis City Council member Jim Strickland’s election party was upbeat but not electric at the Memphis Botanical Garden.

The crowd mostly old and mostly white but an optimism was in the air, the kind you didn’t want to talk about because you might jinx it.

At around 10 p.m., Memphis Mayor A C Wharton appeared on one of the two huge television screens that bookended Strickland’s stage. Wharton smiled and looked into the television cameras but at the Strickland party, Wharton’s voice was muted on the television.

Few knew what Wharton was saying but many crowded around the screens. Then a whoop went up and someone in the back of the huge hall cried, “Wharton’s conceding!” At that, the room erupted in cheers, applause, and laughter and hugs were given all around.

After a few moments, Strickland appeared on the stage, hugging his closest associates on stage to a hail of applause.

His speech was pre-empted by a prayer that asked for God to help inspire the people of Memphis and to help them all come together. The prayer asked God for help as Strickland fought crime and poverty and for the city’s “wound of division” to be healed.

Strickland’s campaign co-chairman Ken Moody said his election was “historical.” Strickland took the podium to chants of “Jim, Jim, Jim.”

Strickland said the election results showed that the city asked for change and that it got it.

“You said that Memphis can be a better place and it can be,” Strickland said. “We must address it challenges with urgency.

“I heard you. The establishment heard you. And I think by tomorrow morning, the whole country will have heard you.”

Strickland said his work was just beginning. He said it was “unacceptable” that half of Memphis children live in poverty and that “thousands” of men and women are out of work.

He promised that he’d start a new administration from the “top down.”

He also praised Wharton’s work for the city and said “we are all grateful for his service.”


Asked what he would be doing on the morrow of his remarkable victory, Strickland was vague. "I'll be planning the next move," he said, either being purposely coy or inadvertently echoing that famous line of Robert Redford's in the '70s movie The Candidate: "Now, what do we do?"

Whatever it is he will do will be at the helm of a transformed city government. Although several of the single-district City Council seats are, as was anticipated, still to be resolved in runoff elections culminating on November 19, Strickland will be dealing with a Council with a significantly newer and younger cast to it.

NEWBIES: One newcomer is FedEx sales executive Philip Spinosa, whose well-financed maiden race in Super District 9, Position 2, netted him 49 percent of the vote in a crowded field. Another is former School Board member Martavius Jones, whose narrow, stealth victory in Super District 9, Position 3, over Mickell Lowery, son of outgoing incumbent Myron Lowery, had the look of an upset.

Jones’ former School Board mate Patrice Robinson barely missed an outright win in District 3 but will face former Memphis Education Association president Keith Williams in a runoff. Yet another newbie will be either Worth Morgan or Dan Springer, runoff opponents and survivors of another seriously populated race in District 5. Frank Colvett Jr. barely missed winning in District 2 without a runoff but will need to deal with another new face, Rachel Knox, on November 19.

Jamita Swearengen and Doris DeBerry-Bradshaw will vie for the right to be the new occupant of the District 4 seat.

That’s six newcomers so far, and if you factor in the ultimate winner of a runoff contest in District 7 between interim seat-holder Berlin Boyd and Anthony Anderson, you could consider the new Council to be shaping up with a majority of new faces — a fresh cast for Mayor Strickland to deal with.

Returning members of the Council, all reelected with relative ease, are Bill Morrison in District 1, Edmond Ford Jr. in District 2, Joe Brown in Super district 8, Position 1, Janis Fullilove in Super District 8, Position 2, Kemp Conrad in Super District 9, Position 1, and Reid Hedgepeth in Super District 9, Position 3.

RANDOM NOTES: *One piece of unexpected possible fallout from the election was a sense, bruited about surprisingly often in conversations among the Botanic Gardens crowd, that 9th District congressman Steve Cohen might be facing a stiffer than usual challenge next year, partly as a reaction among African Americans that, with Cohen and two white mayors, Strickland and County Mayor Mark Luttrell, at the head of the local political pyramid, blacks are once again arguably under-represented.

Cohen has easily turned aside all previous challenges, however — many from ballyhooed name candidates. indeed, his steady success at the polls might be regarded as encouragement to Strickland, inasmuch as Cohen's first win, in 2006, was, like Strickland's.  by virtue of a plurality.

*The emergence of Spinosa and Morgan is an obvious commentary on the effectiveness of big money in politics. Neither candidate had any kind of political profile in the community before the election, and both bested initially better-known (and more publicly accessible) opponents largely on the strength of abundant yard signs, mailouts, and electronic advertising — all paid for, essentially, by a highly activated business community.

*Maybe all candidates for political office should be required to pass an arithmetic exam before being allowed to complete their petitions. It was a matter of of simple mathematics, for example, that in Council District 5, the progressive trio of Mary Wilder, Chooch Pickard and John Marek, all well-credentialed, would have to split their basde constituency three ways, while conservative candidates Morgan and Springer faced only a two-way division.

Similarly, former Judge Kay Robilio was a shoo-in for City Court Clerk once it became obvious that every name black candidate not running elsewhere on the ballot was engaged in the clerk's race.

*Springer, by the way, made a wise move in his post-election statement, making a point of praising the efforts of the aforementioned three white progressives, whose supporters he clearly hopes to acquire in the runoff.

*Yes, it's true that businessman Karl Schledwitz's prematurely released memo (first noted in the Flyer),  admitting that his candidate, Mayor Wharton, was a goner, played only an incidental role, if that,  in the Mayor's defeat. It is true as well that Schledwitz's efforts on Wharton's behalf  were the primary reason for the Mayor's healthy, million-dollar war-chest, and hjis ability to wage as aggressive a campaign as he did.  And it's also true that Schledwitz's often blunt reasoning in the memo was more or less on target. It's still a mystery, however,  as to why he should have felt compelled to say anything at all — early, late, or whenever.

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