With the mayoral race winding down the remaining 12 candidates are preparing themselves for the looming October election. The three frontrunners for the campaign include incumbent Jim Strickland, former Mayor Willie Herenton and County Commissioner Tamara Sawyer.
Mayor Strickland is running on the same 2015 policies that unseated A.C. Wharton. His plans include expanding the city’s police force and the public school system, all while battling unemployment.
Herenton served as Mayor from 1991 until he resigned in 2009. Herenton said he is running to uphold the policies he put in place during his time five consecutive terms as Mayor.
Sawyer, who won her first seat on the county commission in 2018, said her early experience in politics proves her policymaking abilities.
Eric Groenendyk, a political science professor at the University of Memphis, said that voter turnout would play a pivotal role in the upcoming election.
“Voter mobilization is always key during this time in the race, particularly in local elections,” Groenendyk said. “Candidates don’t just need to convince people to choose them over the other candidates. They need to make sure they actually show up to vote. With early voting starting up shortly, this will be the big push. Supporters obviously do a candidate no good if they don’t actually turn out to vote.”
Groenendyk said that incumbent mayor Strickland has a good chance of winning the upcoming election.
“It’s difficult to say for sure, but endorsements and donations suggest Strickland is in a good position,” Groenendyk said. “For one of the other candidates to win, they’ll need to have high turnout from their base of support. For Herenton that means pulling his old voting coalition back together and getting them out to the polls. For Sawyer that probably means turning out young people in high numbers.”
Assistant professor of Journalism at the UofM Joel M. Nichols said that crime would be a significant focus for candidates.
“I’m not sure that Memphis’ crime issues are really any worse than other cities, but the perception needs to be better managed,” Nichols said. “Memphis tends to get the short end of the stick when it comes to crime publicity, and the local media doesn’t tend to help. The upcoming administration will obviously benefit from enhanced crime prevention efforts, but some sort of ‘PR campaign’ to publicize what’s being done will help as well.”
Nichols said whoever is elected as the next Mayor should invest in the redevelopment of downtown.
“A lot of progress has been and continues to be made in this area. The new development is great and needed, but some plan to restore and reuse all the vacant properties needs to be established,” Nichols said. “There’s no reason the main street mall can’t become similar to Gaslamp Square in San Diego or all the shops and restaurants in the Riverwalk area of New Orleans. I’d love to see the administration focus on how to get those existing buildings reused.”
Nichols said he does not believe the election will be a close one.
“I don’t believe Tami Sawyer has the name recognition. She may have accomplished a lot in her position as Shelby County Commission, but I don’t think the average voter really knows who she is,” Nichols said. “Frankly, I believe people have had enough of Dr. Herenton. To elect him as Mayor would be a definite return to the past. What new direction or new ideas can we get with someone who is 10 years out of office. Mayor Strickland seems to be doing many things right. He was elected in 2016, and really needs more time in office to begin to make a real difference.”
The Memphis Mayoral election will take place Oct. 3.