Memphis Council Elections: Not Over Yet 

Five city council positions won’t have a winner until runoff elections on November 19th.

A substantial minority of the members of the Memphis City Council — five of the 13 overall — have yet to be chosen and will be determined after the runoff elections on November 19th.

The runoff races were made necessary when no candidate achieved a majority of the votes cast in the five districts in the regular general election that ended on October 8th. The five districts, and the two top vote-getters in each, along with the percentages they received as of October 8th, are:

DISTRICT 2: Frank Colvett Jr. (49.5 percent), Rachel Knox (22.5)

DISTRICT 3: Patrice Robinson (48.4), Keith Williams (20.8)

DISTRICT 4: Jamita Swearengen (33.0), Doris DeBerry-Bradshaw(24.4)

DISTRICT 5: Worth Morgan (31.9), Dan Springer (23.3)

DISTRICT 7:  Berlin Boyd (26.5), Anthony Anderson (24.0)

Going merely by the percentages, it would seem that the tightest runoff races would be in Districts 4, 5, and 7.

Dan Springer
  • Dan Springer
click to enlarge Worth Morgan
  • Worth Morgan

The one in District 5, based in Midtown and East Memphis and formerly occupied by Mayor-elect Jim Strickland, had one of the largest fields in the regular general election, with seven candidates competing. Of those, three — John MarekMary Wilder, and Charles "Chooch" Pickard — were generally lumped together as appealing to Democrats and progressives, while two — Morgan and Springer —  were considered to be candidates whose base was Republican or conservative.

The progressive trio finished with vote percentages of 18.55 percent for Wilder, 16.90 percent for Marek, and 6.37 percent for Pickard; Morgan and Springer got into the runoff with percentages of 31.92 percent and 23.28 percent, respectively.

No sooner had the votes been counted on the evening of October 8th than the two runoff candidates promptly began competing for the support of candidates who had been eliminated. 

Here was Springer in a Facebook statement on October 9th: "I've made many new friends over the past several months on the campaign trail. And I know voters are grateful for the willingness of John Marek, Chooch Pickard, and Mary Wilder to not only put their names on the ballot, but also to bring to the forefront serious topics that deserve our attention. I know how hard they all worked, but I also know them well enough to know that they will remain committed to making Memphis a better place to live for all of us.

"Over the coming weeks, I look forward to sharing my clear vision about how we can address our community's serious challenges in regards to job creation, education, and public safety, while promoting and building up all the good things about our city."

Translation: Springer, who had gained the endorsement of the Shelby County Republican Party in the general election, thanks mainly to his yeoman's service previously for GOP candidates and office-holders, notably for U.S. Senator Bob Corker and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, believed himself credible enough among moderates, independents, and Democrats to make an active pitch to the erstwhile supporters of Marek, Pickard, and Wilder.

Springer was rewarded with a statement from Wilder, the leading vote-getter among progressives, urging her supporters to consider Springer in the runoff. That was publicly hailed as a "classy" move on Wilder's part by County Trustee David Lenoir, a Republican considered certain to be a candidate for county mayor in 2018.

For his part, Morgan won the public approval of former candidate Pickard, the third-place finisher among progressives and the fifth-place finisher overall.

In a statement that paid tribute to the previous field of candidates ("amazing people who felt the call to public service in a similar capacity as myself"), Pickard, referring to himself as "an architect and community leader," said, among other things: "I want to make the public and formal endorsement of Worth Morgan. Over the 10 months we spent campaigning for the position, I was impressed with Worth's integrity and the ethical way he ran his campaign. I believe Worth Morgan will make a great city councilman and has the ideals to best represent the diverse population of District 5 through truly listening to his constituents and making rational decisions in the best interest of our community."

Early voting for the runoff races begins October 30th and runs throughNovember 14th, with final election-day voting taking place on November 19th.

• As a reminder, the council members elected outright on October 8th are as follows, with the winning percentages for them and their closest competitor:

DISTRICT 1: Bill Morrison (incumbent), 77 percent, over Wayne Roberts, 21.88 percent.

DISTRICT 6: Edmund H. Ford Jr. (incumbent), 72.24 percent, over Perry Bond, 18.43 percent.

SUPER DISTRICT 8, POSITION 1: Joe Brown (incumbent), 69.15 percent, over Victoria Young, 20.41 percent.

SUPER DISTRICT 8, POSITION 2: Janis Fullilove (incumbent), 76.78 percent, over Isaac Wright, 12 percent.

SUPER DISTRICT 8, POSITION 3: Martavius Jones, 44.93 percent, over Mickell Lowery, 40.97 percent.

SUPER DISTRICT 9, POSITION 1: Kemp Conrad (incumbent), 70 percent, over Robin Spielberger, 16.90 percent.

SUPER DISTRICT 9, POSITION 2: Philip C. Spinosa, 47 percent, over Kenneth Twigg Whalum, 23.61 percent.

SUPER DISTRICT 9, POSITION 3: Reid Hedgepeth (incumbent), 61.23 percent, over Stephen Christian, 19.59 percent.

MEMPHIS CITY COURT CLERK: Kay Spalding Robilio, 26.35 percent, over Wanda Halbert, 24.91 percent.

It will be noted that incumbents running for reelection had easy going, and that the closest of these decided races, Jones vs. Lowery in Super District 8, Position 3, and Robilio vs. Halbert for City Court Clerk, might well have ended with different results if subjected to runoffs.

The same 1991 decision by the late federal District Judge Jerome Turner that prohibited runoff elections for mayor that year subsequently has also prohibited runoffs for the clerk's position and for the super district council seats, all considered "at large" positions.

Turner's ruling permitted runoffs only in regular district races. The prohibition of runoffs for mayor is credited with the victory of Willie Herenton in 1991 (with 49 percent in a three-way race) and with that of Jim Strickland (with 42 percent) in this year's multi-candidate race.

The Shelby County Election Commission will meet to certify the October 8th vote results at noon, Friday, at the commission's operations center at 918 Nixon in the Shelby Farms government complex.

• Of the nine applicants to succeed former Chief Justice Gary Wade on the state Supreme Court, four claim to hail from Memphis, though only three have a current address in these parts.  

The ex-Memphian in the bunch is Ted Hayden, an attorney and compliance director in the state Department of General Services. Hayden now lives in the near-Nashville suburb of Gallatin, and his wish to be considered a Memphian boils down to his having been, as he stated on his official application, "extremely active" for 24 years at Bellevue Baptist Church.

Aside from his undoubted piety, Hayden makes the claim of a Memphis connection because two of the current state justices are from the Middle Tennessee grand division, where Gallatin is (and Memphis isn't), a fact which means that Wade's replacement must come from either East Tennessee or West Tennessee, where Memphis is (and Gallatin isn't).

The three real Memphians whose hats (or robes) are in the ring are: Memphis lawyer Robert D. Meyers, chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission; former state Representative Larry Scroggs, chief counsel and administrator for Shelby County Juvenile Court; and Memphis tax lawyer Matthew Cavitch, who caught the attention of the state political newsletter "The Tennessee Journal," with this line in his letter of application: "I work alone, so I handle everything. Unlike most tax lawyers, I actually know something about the rules of evidence and how to draft a motion in limine."

Under the new judicial selection formula approved by the state's voters in a 2014 referendum, the selection will be made by Governor Bill Haslam, subject to confirmation by both chambers of the General Assembly. Whoever is chosen and approved will serve for the balance of Justice Wade's eight-year term, which concludes in 2022 and is then eligible to serve another eight-year term if approved by the voters in a retention election.

Prior to Haslam's selection, a Council for Judicial Appointments, whose members were named previously by the governor, will interview the nine applicants next Tuesday, October 27th, in Nashville, and submit three names for Haslam to consider.

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