Herenton's history full of ups and downs - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Bill Lunn

Herenton's history full of ups and downs

Herenton as Memphis City Schools superintendent in 1983. Herenton as Memphis City Schools superintendent in 1983.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's life in Memphis has been full of ups and downs.

It was one of the most dramatic nights in Memphis history when Herenton was elected in October 1991 as the first African-American mayor in Memphis' history, beating incumbent Dick Hackett by just 146 votes. 

Herenton's path to city hall was as the superintendent at Memphis City Schools, where he served for 12 years.

Under Mayor Herenton, downtown Memphis enjoyed a renaissance. New venues like AutoZone Park and FedEx Forum were built.  The city also enjoyed good financial management early in Herenton's tenure, as the city's depleted financial reserves increased and its bond rating improved.    

But the mayor's tenure in office has often been rocky and contentious.

Herenton sometimes butted heads with Memphis City Council members.   In one encounter, Mayor Herenton threatened to take then council member Brent Taylor  "outside".   

In an idea that fizzled, the mayor was criticized for a proposal to sell MLGW.

1999 brought was what probably Herenton's most interesting political challenge.  That year, the mayor took on popular wrestler Jerry Lawler and the powerful Ford political machine as Joe Ford ran for mayor.  But the Mayor's support proved too much for both the King and the Fords.

But controversy lay ahead.

In July of 2003, Herenton was in Little Rock at a political fundraiser as the city was rocked by Hurricane Elvis.

In January of 2004, during his annual New Year's Breakfast, Herenton famously threatened to make footstools of his enemies.

In 2005, the mayor was the subject of a recall campaign that failed.  That same year, after rumors started swirling, the mayor announced he had fathered a child out of wedlock.

In December of 2006, the former boxing champ parlayed his skills into a highly publicized exhibition against former World Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier.  The match raised money for the Memphis' drug court.

In 2007, the mayor's friend and choice to lead MLGW - Joseph Lee - was indicted on corruption charges, and crime continued to be a major problem that the mayor himself expressed frustration in solving.   

Herenton was elected to an unprecedented fifth term in October of 2007, defeating Carol Chumney and former MLGW President Herman Morris.

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