MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Nine candidates for Memphis mayor faced off in their first debate Thursday night on WMC-TV.
Each candidate answered a rapid-fire series of questions from a trio of panelists well-versed in Memphis politics.
Candidates also answered questions from Action News 5 viewers.
Before the debate started, protesters from the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center gathered outside Opera Memphis, where it was held.
"I think Memphis is wonderful, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done," said protest organizer Brad Watkins. "It's not going to be done until the candidates stop the namecalling, the gimmicks, and start talking about what's really important - the issues."
Two other people stood outside waving campaign signs in support of candidate Charles Carpenter.
When the candidates arrived, Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton headed in the other direction when he saw Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges, a repeat mayoral candidate who claims to be a space alien from a planet called Zambodia.
Hodges was seated next to candidate and pro-wrestler Jerry Lawler, who slowly moved away from him.
Panelist Wendi Thomas, a columnist for the Commercial Appeal, said it was hard to keep from laughing when she had to ask Hodges a question..
"That was a joke, and I really feel like it was an insult to the serious candidates - the people who really want to help Memphis improve - to have to sit up with somebody...I mean, the man smells. He's not wearing shoes. He has one leg painted purple," she said. "I mean, seriously...and I'm supposed to ask him a question."
Panelist and political analyst Jackson Baker said that despite the comic relief, the debate had a lot of substance.
"I think people are going to be talking about this for a long time. There were good, penetrating questions, good answers," he said. "Some center-ring circus stuff went on. A real, intense give-and-take between Carol Chumney and Mayor Wharton.