Herenton Leaves, What’s Next — The Latest

In some ways, Willie Herenton had already become a mayor in past tense just minutes after announcing he would resign effective July 10.

The immediate declaration of intentions by those interested in taking his place is proof of just how long a vacuum can exist in politics.

The Memphis City Council will vote on a resolution at its July 7 meeting declaring a vacancy in the office of Memphis mayor, according to Council chair Myron Lowery who put in an appearance late Thursday afternoon before the Shelby County Election Commission.

Once the Election Commission has that resolution, it will then set a deadline for candidates to file and for the special election. Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini cautioned that no official dates for either have been set by the body and that until then any dates are “pure speculation” and “tentative.”

With that in mind, the city charter reads that if there is no regularly scheduled general election with 180 days of a mayoral resignation or other kind of vacancy in the office, there must be a special election in 90 days. That would put the city election in early October. But the deadline for candidates to file their qualifying petition could come about a week after Herenton’s departure from City Hall or three weeks from now.

Giannini told Lowery that once the Election Commission gets the formal paperwork “there’s no backing up,” a reference to Herenton’s 2008 dalliance with the idea of resigning which Herenton took back days later.

“Don’t look at me,” Lowery replied.

Herenton’s letter to Lowery announcing his resignation says it is effective July 11. But at his Thursday press conference, Herenton said the resignation is effective July 10. Lowery told election commissioners that July 10 is the correct date and that is the date the city paperwork to be sent to the Election Commission will reflect.

Late Thursday afternoon, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. confirmed what many had thought since late last year when he opened his campaign for Memphis mayor in the 2011 city elections. Wharton will run in the special election. But he will not give up the office he now holds to campaign.

Wharton will have to battle a perception among some citizens that he and Herenton might have coordinated these events. The perception has been present at varying levels since 2007 when there was an effort to draft Wharton to run against Herenton in the city elections that year. Wharton turned down the draft movement after considering it for several days. During that time, he and Herenton met at an Overton Square restaurant for a dinner Wharton has always denied was about such a scenario.

Wharton told The Daily News he found out about Herenton’s resignation when most Memphians did — when he saw Herenton’s press conference. An aide to Wharton was among those gathered in the Hall of Mayors to watch.

“I didn’t know anything official (before that), but was in a position to not be shocked if it happened,” Wharton told The Daily News. He also again denied any coordination between his and Herenton’s plans. “Firm word from him — I didn’t have that, but one could deduce that he was going to make this decision. I know how he operates, and thought it highly unlikely he would try to do both,” he said referring to Herenton’s bid for Congress and continuing to serve as mayor.

If Wharton wins, he would have to give up the office of county mayor which would prompt another succession scenario in which the County Commission chairman would serve as county mayor.

If the commission follows its tradition, the chairman in October would be Joyce Avery who is now chairman pro tempore of the 13 member body. Current commission chairman Deidre Malone, who is running for county mayor in 2010, ends her one year term as chairman at the end of August.

Northwest, Delta & The Memphis Airport

I spent far too much time in a number of different airports over the last few days, including a number of visits to the single worst airport in the United States: ATL, the Atlanta airport.

I was thinking about this in the context of our recent article on ongoing improvements to the Memphis Airport, a starkly different article in the New York Times today about delayed and canceled improvement projects at many other airports nationwide, and the steady and perhaps ominous (for Memphis, at least) replacement of Northwest Airlines signage with Delta signage that I saw during my trip.

Atlanta is the worst US airport I’ve ever used. It’s not for a lack of amenities: there appear to be a nearly unlimited range of dining, entertainment and retail options throughout the airport. The concourses are architecturally interesting. The high windows offer beautiful, panoramic views.

The problem is that I’m never able to use or enjoy any of these apparently wonderful options or features because, in Atlanta, I’m always sprinting from Concourse A to Concourse D, bag in tow, frantic because, as always, I’ve arrived late.

In all my years traveling, I’m not sure I’ve ever not been late arriving in Atlanta only to find that, after sprinting across the airport, my flight is delayed, be it an official delay that leaves you wandering around the gate hoping for some news or explanation of what’s going on, or the unofficial “we’re 19th in line to take off” delay that gets you in your seat on time but leaves you rolling across the tarmac at a somewhat sub-supersonic 2 MPH.

On one recent trip, the pilot actually announced, “It’ll take longer to get to the runway today than the flight itself will take.” I thought it was an expected but welcome bit of irony from the pilot. It wasn’t. I fell asleep on the plane, woke up thinking we must be in the air, but then realized we were still only number 3 for takeoff.

All this makes me hope that Memphis does in fact benefit from the Northwest/Delta merger by taking some flights from the obviously overburdened Atlanta airport. I’m sure Delta will make its decisions about cutbacks or expansions in service at the Memphis airport entirely on cost and profits, which is fine. But one has to think — or maybe it’s just hope — that all those delays in Atlanta must result in some sort of additional cost, some diminishment of profit, that could be addressed by utilizing Memphis more, not less.

Memphis is an imperfect airport — a number of truly surreal delays in getting luggage from baggage claim come to mind and the airport lacks the amenities and architectural grandeur that swept through so many airports over the last decades. But it’s a perfectly pleasant, thoroughly manageable airport that, for the time being at least, will get you anywhere you want to go. Let’s hope it stays that way — or even gets better.

Posted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, The Memphis News and Chandler Reports.

Herenton Cohen & More at Chism Picnic

Shelby County Commission Sidney Chism held his 9th annual picnic in southwest Memphis this afternoon. Billed as a bipartisan political event, the picnic is a rite of passage for any Democrat seeking local or state office.

2009 is an off election year, except for those of you living in Arlington and Lakeland. But there is no such thing as an off year for politics in Memphis. That is certainly the case this year.

‘Some of you I love to death but I am not going to support you,” Chism said as candidates took turns speaking.

Here are a few observations from the Chism picnic:

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton showed up in campaign mode even though he had no campaign literature or t-shirts touting his bid in the 2010 Democratic Congressional primary. As he arrived, Herenton spotted Steve Steffens, also known by his blog name Left Wing Cracker. Steffens was wearing a Cohen campaign t-shirt — the only Cohen t-shirt seen in the crowd. Herenton saw it and immediately said, “Why are you wearing that loser t-shirt?”

“I wish all of you well, except one candidate,” Herenton told the crowd weighted heavily with politicians active, inactive and prospective. “That’s the one that’s running against me. I don’t wish him well.”

Cohen showed up shortly after Herenton left. And he minimized Herenton’s presence in the race. “If I have an opponent or don’t have an opponent, the issue is Steve Cohen and how I do in my district,” Cohen said. “It’s really not the opposition, it’s me.”

Neither Herenton nor Cohen had signs up.

The most surprising campaign signage of the day came from County Commissioner James Harvey. He had three large placards reading: “Memphis Mayor 2011. James Harvey vs. A.C. Wharton. Who Should Be Mayor? Harvey 2011.”

“They are not campaign signs. It’s basically a campaign notice. I’m putting a notice to the community that there are other options, other than A C Wharton,” Harvey told The Daily News. “I think the bench of black leadership is very thin. I want to expand the bench and be competitive.”

“I appreciate him helping me get my name out. We’re glad Commissioner Harvey’s helping us out,” Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. responded when asked about the sign. “Tell him to get it right though. There’s no periods after A and C.”

Democratic candidates for governor Kim McMillan of Clarksville and Mike McWherter of Jackson were at the picnic as was Republican candidate for governor and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons. Democratic contenders Ward Cammack of Nashville and Roy Herron of Dresden had been in town the day before for a local Democratic party fundraiser at the Hatillo Theater.

State Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle had said he would make his decision on joining the Democratic pack once the legislative session ended. The session ended Thursday.

“I’m going to take a deep breath, take a break for a couple of weeks and talk to folks and see where we are. I’m awfully tired. We’ve had a hard year,” Kyle told The Daily News.

Shelby County Commission chairman Deidre Malone brought her still unofficial campaign for Shelby County mayor in the Democratic primary to the picnic along with plenty of supporters wearing t-shirts reading “Who Knows Shelby County?”

Also at the picnic, Bank of Bartlett president and 2002 mayoral contender Harold Byrd who was surprised to see some signs with his image and the slogan “United in Our Dreams.” Byrd is considering a bid in the 2010 Democratic mayoral primary but has made no decision yet. Chism has been a prominent backer of Byrd now as well as in 2002.

City Council chairman Myron Lowery was among the Malone supporters in the crowd. He took a turn on stage, saying “I am not running today, but I may be soon.” Lowery has expressed interest in running for Memphis mayor should Herenton leave before the end of his current term of office.

Herenton seemed to discourage that possibility, telling reporters that his supporters don’t want him to give up the mayor’s office while running for Congress.

Read more in Tuesday’s edition of The Daily News.

Dansette

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