In the End, It Wasn't Close

As expected, A C Wharton Jr. was elected mayor of Memphis yesterday in a special election. Wharton had led all comers in polls but won ...
by | October 16, 2009
 

As expected, A C Wharton Jr. was elected mayor of Memphis yesterday in a special election. Wharton had led all comers in polls but won by an even more impressive margin.

He took 60 percent of the vote, easily outpacing his 24 other rivals. Of the 25 candidates, maybe four were considered serious. But Wharton raised far more money and was able to pursue a classic frontrunner's strategy of skipping the mob debates and appearing to rise above the fray.

Wharton, the outgoing mayor of Shelby County, will serve just over two years remaining in a term vacated by longtime Mayor Willie Herenton, who resigned in order to run for Congress.

Wharton claimed in his acceptance speech last night that his victory provides a mandate for his "One Memphis" platform. Next year, Wharton intends to put before voters a ballot measure to merge Memphis and Shelby County. It's an idea that has been talked about for decades but remains a tough sell.

Few areas of the country are as segregated -- by race, by income, by other demographic factors and urban vs. suburban mindsets -- as Memphis and Shelby County. But business leaders there are fully on board with the idea of a merger and it's possible that people will recognize that the area as a whole faces challenges that can best be addressed through formally linked efforts.

Memphis is the poorest metropolitan area of its size in the nation. As county mayor, Wharton has concentrated on issues such as infant mortality and Head Start. He has won plaudits for straightening out and strengthening those programs, but no one would claim, least of all Wharton, that the problems of poverty and income inequality have been solved in Memphis.

It's almost trite to say, but despite his resounding victory, Wharton's work is just beginning. But he'll be a fascinating mayor to watch.

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