Herenton pulls petition to run for mayor

By Nick Kenney - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton pulled a petition Thursday to run for mayor in the October special election.

In a written statement, Herenton said he still fully intends to run for Rep. Steve Cohen's House seat, but is concerned about the city's current direction.

My recent retirement from the office of Mayor has created this situation and I feel obligated to seek alternatives to Myron Lowery and an "anyone can win" mayoral race," Herenton said in the statement. "The city I love deserves better."

Shelby County Election Commission Chairman Bill Giannini said an administrator confirmed to him that Herenton pulled the petition in person Thursday morning.

"(Herenton) asked them to speed the process up so he could get out of there before the press arrived," Giannini said.

Pulling a petition does not automatically put Herenton on the ballot.  Before he is certified as an official candidate, Herenton must collect 25 valid signatures from registered voters, pay a $100 fee, and return everything to the Election Commission.

Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery, who Herenton had strong words for in his written statement, said he was not shocked by the former mayor's actions.

"I'm not surprised at all," Lowery said. "A long time when ago, when people asked me about some of the things our former mayor did, my response was confusion.  My response was he lacks credibility. He says one thing and does another. This is just another indication of that."

"I am disappointed in Myron's reckless style of leadership," Herenton said in his statement. "He must be stopped."

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, considered to be a frontrunner in he special election, had little to say about Herenton's announcement.

"I really have no reaction," Wharton said. "That may seem odd, but simply the only candidacy I'm focusing on is my candidacy and shaping a campaign of bringing our city together and moving it forward."

Herenton ally, friend, and confidant Sidney Chism said he wasn't entirely certain Herenton would make another bid for mayor.

"Critics might say he's gone off in left field somewhere, but there's a method to his madness," Chism said.

Meanwhile, Giannini emphasized that elections aren't cheap.

"It's money that the city can ill-afford to spend right now if it wasn't absolutely necessary, and it became necessary because the mayor resigned, he said.

Herenton resigned from his post as mayor last month to focus on his run for a seat in Congress next year against fellow Democrat Steve Cohen.

Without knowing in which race Herenton will ultimately end up, Cohen said Thursday he would try to avoid the strange politics that seem to have engulfed Memphis this summer.

"You never know until the filing deadline and the withdrawing deadline, and the resignation date and the retirement date, and the next date, you know, so who knows," he said.

Cohen said he would continue to do his work in the 9th District, and no matter who winds up in the race, he fully expects to get 80 percent of the vote.

Herenton was the first black man to be elected Memphis mayor, and was reelected four more times, retiring after 18 years in office. Cohen became the city's first white congressman in more than three decades when he was elected in 2006.

Herenton, who was superintendent of the city's schools for 12 years before becoming mayor, oversaw 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 July resignation happened as federal investigators question how he used extra money from a pricey annual Christmas party attended by prominent businesspeople, according to the Commercial Appeal.

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.  The qualifying deadline to run in the election is September 3.

Statement from Dr. Willie W. Herenton

Citizens of Memphis:
My primary political goal is to represent the ninth congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.  I have every intention of being a congressional candidate during the August 2010 election.
However, during the interim, recent events have compelled me to step forth to provide leadership and express my sincere feelings on how our city can continue to move forward, despite our current dilemma.
My recent retirement from the office of Mayor has created this situation and I feel obligated to seek alternatives to Myron Lowery and an "anyone can win" mayoral race.
The city I love deserves better.
Therefore, I am also preparing a referendum resolution that would allow the citizens of Memphis to rescind the current charter amendment that elevated Myron Lowery to the office of Mayor Pro Tem.  This resolution would prescribe limitations on the powers of a non-elected mayor.
It is clear to many citizens that my retirement from office created opportunities for Mayor Pro Tem Lowery and a puzzling list of mayoral candidates to turn our city backward.  I am disappointed in Myron's reckless style of leadership.  He must be stopped.
We cannot allow Mayor Pro Tem Lowery to be elected mayor during the upcoming special election. Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict a clear winner with a complicated array of mayoral candidates in the race.
Therefore, I have pulled a petition to run in the upcoming mayoral special election.

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