Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mayor Willie Herenton to Resign, Effective July 31st

Congressional Race, City School Superintendency, Legal Woes All Suspected as Reasons

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 at 4:00 AM

At mid-afternoon on Thursday, all of downtown Memphis was suddenly beset with a rumor -- quickly confirmed by word of a resignation letter signed by Mayor Willie Herenton and addressed to city CAO Keith McGhee -- that Memphis' fifth-term mayor, elected again only last October, intended to resign, effective July 31.

As the news began to sink in, even close associates of the mayor were puzzled. One of the closest, Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism, confided, however, that Herenton had recently discussed with him a desire to serve in two non-mayoral offices -- those of Memphis City Schools superintendent and 9th District congressman.

"I surely didn't expect anything to happen this soon," said Chism, a political adviser and confidante of Herenton's for two decades. "And I don't know anything for sure. But he talked to me about doing both those things just after he got reelected." As to why the mayor, who served a lengthy term as schools superintendent in the 1970s and 1980s, would be interested in returning to that job (now held by interim superintendent Dan Ward), Chism said only, "Well, you know, education's always been closest to his heart."

As the rumor of Herenton's departure was spreading Thursday, speculation about the superintendency had been circulated right along with it. But that Herenton might be interested in running for the congressional seat now held by Democrat Steve Cohen was something of a bombshell. "Well, he talked to me about it," said Chism, who repeated, "I just didn't think he'd be doing anything else quite this soon."

But Chism made one thing clear, confirming a suspicion that many observers had speculated on. "He didn't really want to serve again as mayor for a fifth term, and, if people had just let him alone, he wouldn't have run. But, as it was, he just wanted to prove none of those folks could beat him." Herenton defeated former City Council member Carol Chumney and former MLGW president Herman Morris in a hotly cntested three-way race last fall.

And there was other speculation, as well. The Commercial Appeal, in a brief item, suggested to its readers that a federal grand jury looking into Herenton's relationship to an unnamed city contractor may have served subpoenas at MATA's offices.

Rumors of various legal problems have dogged the mayor for several years, but nothing has yet materialized as certain.

More to come on this story as details emerge.

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