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.