MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton is accusing current Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, the County Administrator of Elections Linda Phillips, and City Council Chair Berlin Boyd of conspiring to keep him from being able to run for Memphis mayor in 2019.
At a news conference on Wednesday morning, he threatened to sue.
Herenton claims there's an effort afoot to ice him out of returning to the city's top post, and he says it's spelled right on the ballot.
Memphis City Council Attorney Allan Wade said it’s a drafted mistake.
“It’s deception. It’s conspiracy. It’s fraud,” Herenton said, “It’s a damn shame.”
The former mayor came out swinging Wednesday, saying six days ago he discovered suspect language in a term limit referendum question on the city ballot that he says targets his mayoral candidacy.
“This is the ‘Willie Herenton ordinance to prevent him from being a candidate as mayor’ in 2019,” he said.
Herenton announced his desire to run for Memphis mayor once again earlier in 2018.
The Memphis City Council approved a referendum ordinance in January asking voters to extend imposed term limits for city council members and the mayor from two to three terms.
The language in the document says, “If any person has served at any time after December 31, 2011….”
An August city council order to the Shelby County Election Commission signed by Council Chair Berlin Boyd and prepared by Council Attorney Allan Wade drops the December cutoff date, leaving the phrase, “At any time…”
Herenton was mayor for 17 years and contends it’s a sly attempt from city hall to keep him off the ballot. He vows to sue.
“We will prosecute a lawsuit against all of those who are involved,” said Robert Spence, Herenton’s attorney.
“Someone threw a rock at Willie W Herenton, but pastor, the rock cried out,” Herenton said of the supposed effort.
Wade said by phone Wednesday that the order sent to the commission had an attachment with the December date included on it. He called this a “drafted mistake” and said if Herenton were to file a post-election challenge, he would agree that the item had an “inadvertent” effect, and he should be allowed to run.
Wade also said he spoke to the mayor Tuesday.
Herenton called the matter a conspiracy among Mayor Jim Strickland, City Council Chair Berlin Boyd, and County Administrator of Elections Linda Phillips.
All parties categorically denied the allegations on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Shelby County Election Commission said the claims were false.
“Neither myself, nor Allan Wade, at any time, conspired to put anything in place to keep former Mayor Herenton from running for office,” said Boyd.
“The ballot initiative is council-led, council-driven,” said City of Memphis Chief Communications Officer Ursula Madden, “The mayor didn’t even sign off on it for it to go to the Shelby County Election Commission. All the allegations leveled against the administration are untrue.”
Multiple sources indicated to WMC Action News 5 there is a lingering question over whether Herenton can run again, because of the initial term limit measure voters approved in 2008, limiting the mayor and city council to two consecutive terms, starting in the 2011 election year.
Sources indicated it could be up to legal interpretation depending on the wording of the charter commission items.