By John Branston 

Again and again this summer (twice) someone has come up to me and said, “Hey Old Guy Who Used to Be in the News Business, what do you think about the mayoral election?” 

Responding to such overwhelming interest, I say something profoundly insightful like “well, it’s going to be interesting because Memphis is really different than it was 40 years ago when I came here.”

Here in easy-to-read click-bait form with no bothersome context or analysis are 15 factoids (bullet points if you prefer) on same.

In the 1982 mayoral election Dick Hackett beat Mike Cody and J.O. Patterson Jr. A month later he beat Patterson in a runoff because none of the three got a majority of the vote as was required in those days. 

Hackett was 33 years old. One of the leading candidates this year is Willie Herenton. He is now 83 years old. 

You may remember Herenton because he was mayor for a good many years and school superintendent before that. 

The next mayor, like Herenton, won’t need a majority to win because a federal judge said so a long time ago right before Herenton beat Hackett in a “cliffhanger”. 

A veritable horde of people – more than 250,000 – voted in the 1982 and 1991 elections. This year, October 5, there’s a chance that the turnout will break the magical 100,000 barrier. Going down. 

Memphis has about as many people now; they just don’t care about voting. 

Memphis is bigger geographically than it was 40 years ago because it has invaded suburbs and their citizens and annexed them but not as violently as Russia and Ukraine. 

Memphis elections used to attract colorful characters like the “bosses” of the Ford family and the peerless political reporter Jackson Baker of the Memphis Flyer. It was a big deal. You had to be there, really be there, not just on your Smartphone. 

The Memphis City Council used to consist of “preachers and teachers” who had some name recognition and political chops. Their names used to appear in newspapers that were printed on paper. 

Then as now, it mattered whether one was Black or White, although LGBTQ and Woke and Trumper had not been invented. Blacks now outnumber Whites by a bigger margin than 40 years ago. 

Back then there were two school systems – Memphis and Shelby County. A candidate could get some attention taking part in one of them or spouting off about them. Now there are separate systems in all the suburbs as you may have noticed.       

There were some other big “players” downtown next to City Hall and they made things lively and interesting now and then. The county mayor, for instance, was a dynamic, colorful guy named Bill Morris who sometimes acted as a foil for Dick Hackett or vice versa. In the federal building there were prosecutors and judges who stuck their noses into public business pretty often and the reporters would pay attention to them and sometimes even ask them questions. The current mayor just sends out emails. 

Public meant public. There were no “authorities” or “quasi-public partnerships” cherry-picking duties from the politicos and the rabble. 

A mayor from a famous family used to go drinking with “the press corps.” 

That’s fifteen. Pretty different, huh? You get what you pay for.


John Branston covered Memphis as a reporter and columnist for 35 years.  He is author of Rowdy Memphis: The South Unscripted.