Herenton kicks off campaign in Memphis mayor’s race, secures police association endorsement

Willie Herenton kicks off campaign

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton wants his old job back. Saturday, the man who led the Bluff City for 17 years formally kicked off his campaign to become Memphis mayor in the municipal election this fall.

Herenton said he’s confident Memphis voters will send him back to Memphis City Hall in October’s municipal election. Saturday he also secured a key endorsement.

“We really want to heat this place up,” said Herenton.

Herenton, the city’s first African-American school superintendent and first elected African-American mayor, wasted no time Saturday telling a packed house of supporters off S. Third Street in Memphis that he wants another shot. The room appeared to contain more than 200 people.

“There’s a thirst for the type of leadership I’m capable of giving and you’re going to see that,” Herenton told reporters.

The former mayor resigned in 2009 after 17 years and unsuccessfully challenged Congressman Steve Cohen for the 9th District seat in Congress.

Herenton said he’s seeking the top job now because of an unfinished agenda, with a desire to train a new crop of political leaders and put a dent in the city’s generational poverty.

“I’m going to surround myself with a lot of bright, smart young people and help get them into positions of leadership,” he said, “You cannot have a thriving metropolis with half of your population in poverty.”

Saturday, Herenton also received the endorsement of the Memphis Police Association from President Mike Williams. Williams indicated Herenton has been receptive to restoring benefits cut by the Memphis City Council in 2014. Williams made the announcement on stage at Herenton’s rally.

"We've talked to Dr. Herenton prior to endorsing him, and he has asked, what is it going to take to restore the benefits, how can I help," said Williams.

WMC Action News 5 political analyst Michael Nelson said a strong Herenton candidacy, as demonstrated by his Saturday rally, no doubt makes the race more interesting.

“He still has strong appeal to a solid constituency of Memphis voters,” said Nelson.

Incumbent Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland is running for re-election, along with grassroots activist and Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer. Small business owner Lemichael Wilson has also indicated he will run.

“The question is, as the campaign unfolds, who are Willie Herenton and Tami Sawyer going to be aiming their fire at,” Nelson asked, “Are they going to be aiming it at Jim Strickland or aiming it at each other?”

Herenton, who will turn 79 on the campaign trail, said he’s up to the challenge of seeking elected office again.

“I’m lean. I’m mean. I used to be a fighter. I can go ten rounds now with the best fighter. I’m ready,” he said.

The city’s municipal election is October 3. Candidates can pull petition in late May.

There is no runoff in the mayor’s race, so whoever gets the most votes wins.

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