By John Branston

The Memphis mayoral election is October 5th and early voting starts September 15th. There are 17 candidates for mayor. One of them is Willie Herenton.

He could win. Whether you think that is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion, but it is unquestionably a possible thing. The analytics, as sportswriters and techies say, are strong and analytics are stronger than God. In plain language, the numbers are pretty good for him. Here are some of them.

Herenton is 83. Biden is 80. Trump is 77. Boss Crump was 80. Elvis was 42. MLK was 39. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was 87. Strom Thurmond was 100. Methuselah was 969.

In the 1991 mayoral election Herenton got 122,596 votes. He won. Prince Mongo from Planet Zambodia got 2,923 votes. He finished third. It was a winner-take-all election after years of must-get-a-majority mayoral elections.

In 1995 Herenton was reelected with a big majority. Ditto 1999, when wrestler Jerry Lawler finished third, and 2003. I can’t remember or find the particulars and frankly don’t care.

In 2007 Herenton got bored and unpopular and things got interesting. He won a fifth term but hinted that he would not serve it all, and sure enough, mayorality interruptus.

In 2009 Herenton decided to run for Congress, and in the 2010 Democratic primary, Steve Cohen (who had years before won the nomination with around 30 percent in a crowded field) whipped his butt 79 percent to 21 percent. Keen political observers noted Cohen is white.

In the 2009 special Memphis mayoral election and the 2011 regular election A C Wharton won handily but there were warning signs in the lower turnout.

In 2015 Wharton (22,490 votes) lost to Jim Strickland (42,020 votes) in a four-man race. The turnout was 100,275. Herenton sat it out but no doubt was watching.

In 2019 Herenton ran for mayor again but was clobbered by Strickland. Turnout was 96,959.

In 2023 there are 17 candidates. Winner take all. Nine of them have at least some credibility because they have either held public office of some kind or raised a decent amount of money. None deserves to be called a political heavyweight based on his or her record in the last decade. One is the current sheriff of Shelby County, a good job for political base building and base rallying. One is a former television judge, a good job for making noise. Eight are unknowns or perennial candidates likely to get, in aggregate, a few thousand votes.

And one is a knocked-down-but-not-out former boxer and five-time mayoral election winner. If the turnout is a lot closer to 100,000 than 248,000 in the old days, well, do the math.


John Branston was a reporter and columnist in Memphis for 40 years


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