Postmortem reports on the demise of A C Wharton as Memphis mayor

From the CA’s Kyle Veazey, under the headline ‘In humiliating loss, Wharton only has self to blame’:

A C Wharton’s long-successful electoral career came to a humiliating end Thursday night, the victim of fumbles and too little follow-through, of half-measures and hubris, to a candidate who connected with an undercurrent he couldn’t touch.

This didn’t happen overnight.

No, don’t blame this loss on the Deidre Malone contract. Don’t hang it on the Robert Lipscomb scandal. The past couple of months weren’t kind to the veteran mayor, but it’s not as though the past few years were, either.

The city benefit cuts were one thing, but the execution of them kept them alive, made people angrier. The animal shelter. The so-so economy. Potholes and problems, over and over.

And everyone’s seen the cranes in Nashville, seen the resurgence so many other cities are enjoying, and wondering why they weren’t seeing enough of it here.

Memphians wanted change, and in Jim Strickland, they got a candidate — and a campaign — that spoke to that desire. When the city’s political establishment — and a good chunk of its business establishment — rallied around the incumbent, Strickland found a connection to voters that the establishment didn’t grasp.

Excerpt from Jackson Baker’s election report:

Make no mistake: This was as much a Strickland victory as a Wharton loss. When Strickland, just before his celebration party at the Botanic Gardens was breaking up, said matter-of-factly, “We ran a perfect campaign,” he wasn’t blowing smoke. He and ace strategist Steven Reid stuck very carefully to a game plan — focusing ad infinitum on three key points: public safety, blight, and accountability.

Those were not grand visionary goals. They were simply reassurances that a city administration that had begun to seem rudderless would see order restored under new management. This was, as it turned out, enough, particularly when a series of badly handled mayoral snafus — the Robert Lipscomb firing and the Deidre Malone contract brouhaha notable among them — gave volume to that third point, “accountability,” in Strickland’s triad of issues.

So Strickland is right to feel justified — even a tad smug — in his recollections of a well-run campaign. His 42 percent of the total, compared to the defeated incumbent’s astonishing low total of 22 percent, was impressive indeed — especially for a white candidate running to lead an electorate that is two-thirds African-American.

But the fact is that the votes garnered by third and fourth-place finishers Harold Collins, Strickland’s Council mate, and Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams added up to a full third of the total vote — 18 and 16 percent, respectively. Had either one of these candidates not been on the ballot, the other might have proved stout competition for the lead.