Canceled debate, racist caricatures highlight increasingly vitriolic mayoral race

Mayoral race heats up after debate gets cancelled

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - With only a month left before the mayoral election, a debate between candidates was shelved and a political caricature sparked an outcry.

In a campaign season where there has yet to be a debate between the major candidates for Memphis mayor, WMC Action News 5 partnered with the University of Memphis, NAACP, League of Women Voters and The Commercial Appeal to organize a debate and extended invitations to the four candidates that met fundraising qualifications.

Tami Sawyer and Lemichael Wilson accepted. Willie Herenton and Jim Strickland did not.

While campaigning in Whitehaven on Monday, Strickland laid blame on former Mayor Herenton, who’s refused to take the stage.

“I think you have to have all the major candidates in a debate for it to be worthwhile,” said Strickland. “And when Mayor Herenton said he was not going to debate, it undercuts the effectiveness of any debate.”

Saturday, Herenton’s campaign reiterated in a Facebook post that the former mayor wouldn’t debate.

WMC Action News 5 political analyst Michael Nelson says Memphis voters are the ones that will miss out.

“It is a disservice on the part of Mayor Herenton and Mayor Strickland to the people of Memphis,” said Nelson. “It denies them a chance to see these candidates side by side by side.”

Meanwhile on Sunday, Memphis Magazine announced it’s pulling its September issue from store shelves amid outrage over political caricatures of Sawyer, Herenton and Strickland.

All three candidates have denounced the caricatures and the CEO of Contemporary Media Group has apologized, writing, “We failed Memphis.”

“The cover really does I think convey an overall bad impression that they don’t have a good choice,” said Nelson. “They do have a good choice.”

Nelson says the trio of top contenders represent all walks of life and generations in the Bluff City.

It will be up to the voters to decide who they want to carry Memphis forward.

“The truth is every one of these candidates brings something to the race that makes him or her a legitimate contender,” said Nelson.

Tami Sawyer spent Monday campaigning at the AFSCME picnic but was unavailable for an interview when inquired this morning.

A representative for former mayor Herenton also said he was unavailable.

Early voting in the municipal election starts Sept. 13. Election day is Thursday, Oct. 3.

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