Special election date set; Herenton challenges City Council

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton

By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - The date has been set to vote for Memphians to vote for a new mayor.  At a meeting Wednesday afternoon, the Shelby County Election Commission voted to hold the special election for Memphis Mayor on October 27.

But in the world of city politics, nothing is set in stone.  Moments before the Election Commission voted, they received a letter from Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, addressed to city attorney Elbert Jefferson, claiming the City Council and Election Commission are jumping the gun.

"I have not executed a declaration waiving my right to rescind my retirement," Herenton said in the letter.

Tuesday night, the City Council voted to declare the mayor's seat vacant July 30th - a date he has announced publicly, but not in writing.

Council Chairman Myron Lowery, who would become mayor pro tem and get a salary increase, voted on that resolution.

"In my opinion, any council member, having a potential benefit following a vote on the resolution declaring a vacancy in the Office of Mayor should have recused himself or herself," Herenton said in the letter.

If Herenton's drags the city council to court, the election commission may follow.

"I think that we may have jumped the gun in moving forward," Election Commissioner Shep Wilburn said.

But Commission Chairman Bill Giannini says his orders come from the City Council, not the Memphis Mayor.

"It's just one more sideshow in this long puzzling drama that has unfolded in the past three weeks involving the mayor," Giannini said."

In his letter, Herenton does not directly say he's filing a lawsuit.

City Council chairman Myron Lowery issued a statement Wednesday night, saying, "Dr. Herenton has the right to say or do anything he would like to do. He is still the Mayor."

Action News 5 attempted to contact all Memphis City Council members for reaction to the mayor's letter.  These are the responses we received:

Shea Flinn
"I remain mystified by the idea that this is somehow forcing the mayor out or disrespecting him. We're just respecting his wishes."

Kemp Conrad
"He's packed his office and is having a retirement party.  We take him at his word and the wheels of government must keep turning."
Jim Strickland
"I don't think the action by the city council was wrong at all.  It was just based on what the mayor said.
(In reference to the mayor's actions by writing the letter)
"It distracts from the real issues that we're facing."

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