No matter how close the results, no runoff possible in mayoral election - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Anna Marie Hartman

No matter how close the results, no runoff possible in mayoral election

The Memphis Mayoral race has been close from the beginning, and polls indicate it will be tight to the end.  But no matter how close the final results are, there will not be a runoff election for mayor.

University of Memphis political professor Dr. Larry Moore said a ruling by U.S. District Judge Jerome Turner in a 1991voting rights lawsuit eliminated runoff provisions in Memphis citywide elections.

"There was some indication, according to Judge Turner's decision, that race probably played a role in it," Moore said.

Turner ruled that runoff elections gave white mayoral candidates an advantage in racially polarized elections.  The ruling came in time for Willie Herenton to defeat incumbent Mayor Dick Hackett by 142 votes.  But since then, Memphis has become a majority black city. 

"With the city demographics being as they are now, you could make a legitimate argument that runoff is appropriate."

According to Moore, 2007 is the first time since 1991 that people are revisiting the concept of a runoff.

"People are looking at that, and they say. 'You know, maybe the next may have a real powerhouse white candidate get in there and without a runoff could very well win the election,'" he said.

It's too late to consider the issue before Thursday's election.  Moore said 16 years later, it still gives Mayor Willie Herenton an edge. 

"Not having a runoff favored the contender in '91," he said. "Now, not having a runoff favors the incumbent."

For Herenton, it's a political advantage that has come full circle.

Moore said the city can go back and amend its charter if citizens want to return to a runoff in the mayor's race, but it will be 2011 before it will impact the mayor's race.

Click here to email Anna Marie Hartman.
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