Herenton has left the building - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Herenton has left the building

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Veteran Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton resigned Thursday to focus on his run for a seat in Congress next year against fellow Democrat Steve Cohen.

Herenton was the first black man to be elected Memphis mayor. Cohen became the city's first white congressman in more than three decades when he was elected in 2006.

Herenton has been mayor of Tennessee's largest city for 18 years, setting a record in January when he was sworn in for a fifth four-year term.

The former mayor said Thursday he was partly motivated to run against Cohen because none of Tennessee's congressmen is a minority - the same thing that motivated him to run for mayor.

"Nobody looked like me. That's totally unacceptable to me," Herenton said.

The 69-year-old Herenton announced his resignation last month but delayed his official departure until Thursday, saying he needed to complete "important city business matters."

After submitting his letter of resignation Thursday afternoon, Herenton said he will meet with interim mayor Myron Lowery, chairman of the Memphis City Council, to discuss issues such as tourism and crime.

Herenton, who was superintendent of the city's schools for 12 years before becoming mayor, has overseen a major revitalization of downtown Memphis and improved economic development in the city.

However, the 6-foot-6 former Golden Gloves boxer also has had his share of controversy.

Herenton, who is divorced, publicly acknowledged four years ago that he had fathered a child with a 31-year-old woman he was dating.

However, that disclosure and Herenton's quick acceptance of paternity caused him little trouble politically.

In 2007, Herenton was re-elected in a contentious three-way race after claiming that political enemies conspired to tarnish his campaign by involving him in a sex scandal.

Gwen Smith, a former cocktail waitress, said she was offered money to seduce Herenton and videotape their encounter.

His current resignation comes as federal investigators question how he used extra money from a pricey annual Christmas party attended by prominent businesspeople, The Commercial Appeal has reported.

The newspaper has reported that the money, acknowledged by Herenton's lawyer, is being scrutinized by FBI and IRS agents.

Much of that probe has focused on a separate venture involving a $91,000 payment Herenton received while pushing a public plan to redevelop Greyhound's downtown property.

The election commission in Memphis has set a special mayoral election for Oct. 27.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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