Herenton vs. Frazier (and Whoever in 2007) 

Let's face it: The faux fight is a warmup for the real one -- next year.

Herenton vs. Frazier

Branston: The headgear (surely), one-minute rounds, the ages, the legal agreements -- everything points to an overpriced exhibition of good-humored sparring. Joe Frazier may be old, but he was heavyweight champion of the world, and it's a big world, buddy. Smokin' Joe has thrown more leather than Gucci and his hands are still lethal, I don't care how fit Herenton is. You'll see harder contact on Dancing With the Stars -- and much better footwork.

Baker: Once Herenton savors the experience of fox-trotting around Smokin' Joe, whose patented powerhouse lunges are going to find naught but thin air, he'll forget all over again that he's supposed to be mortal. Which is to say, yes, he'll "win" the exhibition. In boxing as in politics, he won't just stand there and take the hit. And he likes dealing it out so much he'll pick a fight if he doesn't have one!

Herenton vs. Himself: Will he run again?

Branston: No. This is the last hurrah, the victory lap, the final dance with youth. Herenton holds the record, he's tired of the game, he's accomplished what he set out to, his popularity is fading, and he's not invincible. (Ever heard of Mike Tyson, Joe Paterno, and Bobby Bowden?) He can exit the ring as the undefeated heavyweight champ for 16 years. And when a plausible successor steps forward next year, that's what he'll do.

Baker: Yes. One keeps hearing various handicappers opine that the four-time champ has lost a step, taken too many hits due to scandal rumors or problems relating to crime or taxes or the city's on-again/off-again credit rating. Or that, at 66, he's just too old to keep on stoking that fire in the belly.

Knock yourself out, wise guys! Or let the mayor do it for you. Freshly intoxicated by the go-round with Smokin' Joe, he'll be ready again for all comers in 2007. Don't forget, here's a guy who enjoys shadowboxing, and, as he surveys the likely field for next year, that's all he sees: mere shadows!

The Contenders: Will Harold Ford Jr. run for mayor?

Baker: No. Ask yourself, when was the last time this contender was forced to take a knee to the floor before November 2006? Right -- 1999. That was back when the congressman -- then still in his 20s -- was first mulling over a Senate race against GOP incumbent Bill Frist in 2000. As something of a warm-up, Ford decided to take a hand in the mayor's race being run by Uncle Joe Ford against Herenton and got caught up in a messy argument over who was stealing whose signs in South Memphis. He ended up with his suit of shining armor too caked from the opposition's mudballs to do the Senate race then. Lookit, Prince Harold's vista is altogether national. He won't get mired down in local ooze again.

Branston: He might, he should, and he would win. He needs to beef up his resume and forge some political convictions before he turns 40. He'll lose that Don Imus celebrity appeal quickly, now that he's an ex-congressman. Odds are there won't be another open Senate seat for a while. As mayor he would be a magnet for talent and federal funds. Plus, he's the ideal thirtysomething for a city that needs some fresh horses and pizzazz to compete with Nashville, and if the right leaders flattered him, then he would listen.

Can a white candidate win the Memphis mayor's race in 2007?

Branston: Yes. Look at Steve Cohen. Remember, there is no runoff in the mayor's race. In a crowded field, a credible white candidate with money, name recognition, and black supporters could win.

Baker: The Cohen example is a wee bit chimerical in that the new U.S. representative-elect presided for a full quarter-century over a state Senate bailiwick at the heart of the 9th Congressional District. And he had an issue -- the lottery -- that made him famous and touched everybody. No likely white candidate can boast as much in the city mayor's race, unless you throw in another variable like, er, gender and some damn-the-establishment populist fervor that crosses the lines.

Herenton vs. Carol Chumney

Baker: Case in point: Here's where the demographic form sheets could be seriously misleading or just plain wrong. First of all, Chumney has to be counting on a multiple-candidate field, with or without Herenton in the ring. A battle royale, with everybody flailing at everybody else (if no WWH) or at His Honor (if Herenton, as I expect, runs again).

Now ask yourself, who else among the officials of this or any other city has experience with multiple opponents, taking everything they can dish out without ever crying uncle? That's right, Madame Chumney. Been there, done that.

She has gone up against the entire council, one by one as well as all together, and the mayor and all the king's horses and all the king's men! Count it foolhardy or count it crazy like a fox, but Chumney can by God take a punch. And she can sucker punch or duke it out straight on.

Branston: Good questioner, too. But winning elections is about building bridges, not burning them. Council members overestimate their appeal as mayoral candidates. And name one woman who has run a close race for city or county mayor. Time's up.

Herenton vs. Council Wannabes, aka Marshall, Peete, Lowery, Sammons, Vergos

Branston: Yeah, I know, Ali's camp used to call them Bum-of-the-Month fights and all that. Their best news is some kind of bad news for Herenton -- Tennessee Waltz indictments or a financial crisis -- but things don't seem headed in that direction, for now at least.

Baker: Looks like we agree for once. Lots of talent and experience in this combo of present and past council members. But nobody in the bunch is used to running citywide -- the Memphis political equivalent of having to go 15 rounds as against putting something together to win a round or two. And let's have no talk of Herenton being past his prime, when all these guys are pushing it, too.

Herenton vs. Herman Morris

Baker: Are you kidding me? As savvy as the former NAACP main man, MLGW CEO, and blue-chip attorney might be, he's utterly untested as a crowd-pleaser, and politics is the ultimate test of tangible numbers and real energy. So what if he'll have some smart money with him? Remember the sad case of Robert Spence? Morris, who'll plot his fight from the Marquess of Queensberry textbook, won't be nearly streetwise enough to handle the bare-knuckles stuff that'll be aimed at him.

Branston: Well, I watched those debates last month and didn't see anybody who reminded me of Jon Stewart. Maybe Memphis has had enough crowd-pleasers. Morris is savvy, blue-chip, NAACP and MLGW, family man -- what's wrong with that? There's a grudge match here just waiting to happen. And Herenton may have been 16-2 in the ring, but Morris still holds the 100-yard-dash record at Rhodes College.

Herenton vs. A C Wharton

Baker: Many see a city mayor's race as a cinch for the likable Wharton, a nonpareil stylist and crowd favorite whose ability to clinch and hide his shortcomings is a decided contrast to Herenton's bully-boy stuff and, for better or worse, more open style. Before a countywide audience, Wharton easily outclasses Herenton, but this is a city election, remember? Fighting city-side, the elegant county mayor would play Billy Conn to Herenton's Joe Louis -- i.e., he'd be ahead on points before the heavy stuff started coming in the late rounds. Anyhow, A C's got the job he wants. Why would he seek a contest -- and a job -- where the risk of serious injury is prohibitive?

Branston: Term limits, for one thing. His number's up in 2008. I read somewhere that Wharton does 70 pushups every morning, which is eight more than his age. If he avoids a knockout by retirement he can win on style points every time.

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