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Jim Strickland Elected New Mayor Of Memphis

Posted on October 20th, 2015 in News, TV

Tenn.’s largest city elects 1st white mayor in 24 years

The Commercial Appeal, Clay Bailey and Thomas Bailey Jr., 10/9/15 – Voters in this majority-black city elected their first white mayor in 24 years, rebuffing a three-term incumbent whose campaign sagged under rising crime, poverty and troubled finances, according to unofficial election returns.

Although a computer glitch caused a delay of several hours in tallying the vote, Mayor A C Wharton conceded to Councilman Jim Strickland shortly after 10 p.m. CT Thursday, saying he had no regrets about the race. Strickland declared victory a few minutes later.

Complete but unofficial returns showed Strickland took 42% of the vote to Wharton’s 22%. Harold Collins, also a councilman, captured 18% and Mike Williams, president of the Memphis Police Association, had 16%.

Six other candidates stood at less than 1% each. The city’s mayor’s race has no runoff.

Strickland was the only white contender among the four major candidates and will be the first white mayor in the city, the most populous in Tennessee and almost two-thirds black, since 1991. In the city where civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a white man in April 1968, race is a consideration for many voters.

The election also was a rare victory for a challenger against an incumbent — the most recent was the win of Willie Herenton, Memphis’ first elected black mayor, over Mayor Dick Hackett in 1991 — and the first time a council member will move into the city’s top job since 1972.

“Today the people of Memphis spoke loudly and clearly. You want a new direction for this city,” Strickland told a crowd at the Memphis Botanic Garden. “Today, the people of Memphis — you — said, ‘We want change.’ “

Wharton, first elected in 2009 special election, won his previous two races by 60% or more of the vote. In his campaign this year, he had pointed to the creation of thousands of jobs and increased economic development on his watch as signs that the city was ready to bounce back but conceded to Strickland in an upbeat speech to supporters.

“This is Memphis, Tennessee, known for its graciousness and its hospitality. And I’ve tried to epitomize that throughout all my public service and nothing is going to change,” Wharton said. “That’s just the way I roll.”

In his victory speech a few moments later to deafening cheers, Strickland said he would be the mayor for all Memphis — including the majority of people who didn’t vote for him. He said he would spend the next years trying to win them over.

Strickland called Wharton “an outstanding ambassador for the city of Memphis” and thanked him for his service.

Toward the end of the evening, none of the 510 colorful balloons, the skewered chicken and crab cakes, the live band, or even the cash bar could lift the Wharton watch party’s spirits.

“It’s been a good run,” the smiling 71-year-old said as 15 of his family members stood behind him on the stage.

Commodities broker Charles McVean praised Wharton for a key meeting in which the mayor persuaded top Union Pacific Railroad executives to share their railroad bridge for the Big River Crossing bike/pedestrian path over the Mississippi River.

“He was a great, great salesman for the city of Memphis,” said McVean, the crossing’s biggest supporter. “He’s a class act.”

A sex scandal that ousted Robert Lipscomb, Housing and Community Development Division director, hurt Wharton’s campaign as well as a controversy that erupted when an $880,000 police body camera contract was given to the public relations firm of Wharton campaign manager Deidre Malone, said David Cocke, former four-time county Democratic Party chairman.

“There were several events in this campaign, whether they were his responsibility or not, but they did impact the campaign,” Cocke said. “I don’t think he was involved at all, … but the perception was bad.”

Financial problems, the seeds of which were sown long before Wharton took office, also have hit the city hard. Memphis’ tax base has shrunk because residents have moved away. Budget shortfalls led to pay cuts for police and fire in 2011, resulting in protests before the reductions were reversed two years later.

Steve Mulroy, a former county commissioner, said Strickland’s win was a mandate for change that would cross social and racial lines.

“I think everyone was expecting a Strickland victory,” he said. “No one was expecting a Strickland blowout.”

Contributing: Jody Callahan, Jennifer Pignolet, Ryan Poe and David Royer, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal; The Associated Press

See original USA TODAY story.