MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A former mayor of Memphis announced he is once again running for mayor--a seat currently held by Jim Strickland.
Willie Herenton, 77, who served as mayor from 1991-2009, announced Thursday that he intends to run for mayor of Memphis in 2019.
"I am going back with the help of the citizens of Memphis, and 2019 help to realize the aspirations and the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King," he said. "We did it October 3, 1991. We made history, and we are going to make history again in October 2019. Let's do it again."
Herenton, who was the first African American mayor of Memphis, defeating then-incumbent Richard Hackett in 1991, made the announcement at an MLK50 event at Lemoyne-Owen College.
"I'm offering my services to citizens of Memphis, and they have the opportunity to vote for whomever they want to vote for in October 2019," Herenton said.
Lemoyne-Owen College was a significant location for Thursday's announcement. It's Herenton's alma matter--the only school in the city in 1958 that allowed him to get a secondary education during a time schools were segregated.
Herenton said this week's commemoration of the life and work of Dr. King caused him to reflect on his own life's plans.
If elected mayor, Herenton said his main goal will be to fix what he called the economic inequality of life in the city of Memphis.
"There have been some marches, but where are the people? Where are the plans that really move us closer realizing the aspirations of Dr. King? I want to be a part of the action planned. I want to be part of the solutions," he said. "As we move forward with this campaign, you're going to hear see us talk about the unfinished agenda. Dr. King's agenda has not been completed when I left the Mayor's office."
"We still have challenges with education," Herenton continued. "We still have housing issues. We still have deteriorating communities. We still have crime in the youth. We still got problems in the criminal justice system and poverty is still a big problem."
Herenton, an accomplished man who grew up in public housing, previously served as superintendent of Memphis City Schools--now Shelby County Schools--for 12 years before becoming mayor.
His time as mayor was not without controversy. During the latter years of his time in office, Herenton's critics accused him of corruption and sexual misconduct.
There was also a federal probe into a real estate deal that didn't result in any action against him. He revealed why he may have appeared erratic during very public criticism of him.
"My mother was alive then. If you remember the last two years of that term, I was involved in a whole lot media things investigations. It was really hurting my mother," he explained. His mother passed away nearly 18 months ago. Herenton said he's ready if any criticism surfaces during this campaign.
Recently, Herenton caught heat when he said that violent crime in Memphis was a "black problem." His comments and plans to reduce violent crime drew criticism from many African American activists who called Herenton's statements racist.
In 2009 after Herenton had resigned as mayor, he attempted but failed to take Steve Cohen's Congressional seat.
Since then, Herenton has founded six charter schools in Shelby County known as the W.E.B. DuBois Consortium of Charter Schools.
Some Memphians welcomed the news that Herenton was trying to get back in city hall, but others were skeptical.
"It's a free country. He's free to throw his hat in the ring like everyone else," Jim Rice said.
"All I can say is it never hurts but to try," Rita Burton said. "He made a lot of things happen."
"I think he benefited from the job when he was in it. He benefited. Not necessarily the city," Vernon Harris said.
Herenton will turn 78 in April, and he said he does not see that as a problem.
"God continues to give me good health, gives me good health. I have the passion to serve and I'm going to serve if the people select me," he said.
Herenton also said that he is not criticizing the current administration.
A spokesperson for current Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who has not yet announced if he'll run for re-election, released this statement about Herenton's announcement: