Rick Thompson introduces Dr. Willie W. Herenton as the mayoral choice of IBEW Local 1288. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow)

By Erica R. Williams

Mayoral contender Dr. Willie W. Herenton on Thursday picked up the endorsement of IBEW Local 1288, which also announced its support for a slate of other candidates running for city council, county clerk and municipal judge seats in the October 3 Municipal Elections.

IBEW Local 1288 is the union that represents Memphis, Light, Gas, & Water (MLGW) employees.

“I have always been an advocate for the working class because that’s what I came from,” Herenton told the crowd at the union’s hall on Lamar near Getwell.

City Council candidates endorsed were: Rhonda Logan (District 1), Britney Thornton (District 4), Davin Clemons (District 6), Jimmy Hassann (District 7), Craig Littles (Super District 8-2) and Erika Sugarmon (Super District 9-1)

Joe Brown gained the nod for City Court Clerk and Judge Jayne Chandler was endorsed for Municipal Judge, Division 3.

During the endorsement event Herenton was heralded a champion for the working class, as union members and city leaders praised him for “looking out” for public service workers during his tenure as Memphis’s longest serving mayor.

“He (Herenton) always took care of labor and made sure that when he left, that he left us a legacy,” Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams said. “He always made sure we had raises.”

MPA was one of the first groups to publicly endorse Herenton back in April.

Thursday, Herenton laid out his experiences and platform explaining why working-class citizens should vote for him over the other contenders. He specifically called out Mayor Jim Strickland, who is seeking re-election.

“You hear the incumbent talking about building up and not out. I will advocate and focus on building families, building children and building neighborhoods,” he said. “What we must have in Memphis is a paradigm shift from economic development for the wealthy developers to uplifting people — the human needs.”

Herenton criticized Strickland’s leadership, accusing him of favoring developers over working-class residents.

“What I’ve seen in the last decade or so is a movement from people to buildings and making the developers wealthy, while the working class suffers with meager wage increases and losses in benefits.”

Strickland has publicly denounced Herenton’s claims, saying the former mayor left the city in bad shape with “high crime, high poverty and low educational achievement.”

Last month, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported a decline in crime in Memphis for the first half of 2019. However, aggravated assaults were up by 8 percent and murders saw a 14.5 percent spike.

“Strickland ran on law and order and if you’ve noticed crime has been even worse in Memphis,” IBEW Business Manager Rick Thompson said. “If he’s supposed to be the law and order man, we all need to leave town.”

Despite Strickland’s claims, Herenton said, “I believe that the citizens of Memphis will look at my preparation and past proven leadership and will re-elect me as a mayor.”

He also referenced Strickland’s hefty financial war chest, about $1 million according to the second-quarter campaign finance report. Herenton brought in approximately $87,000.

“People power will prevail over money power,” Herenton reassured the crowd. “We only have a fraction of the money he brought in, but we will win because people power will prevail.”

Herenton also called out another mayoral contender, Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, though not calling her by name.

“There is a young lady in this race,” he said. “But this race will not see a division in the black political power. There will not be a divided community.”

Herenton, who in 1991 was the first African American elected mayor, said he’s expecting to see a surge of white supporters.

One of those is Henry Smith, a labor member and MLGW employee, who attended the endorsement announcement. The Memphis native acknowledged that he hadn’t always agreed with Herenton’s leadership; but that changed when he became a union member.

“I’ve been through two other mayors and as I’ve seen the others, I’ve wished that we could have Herenton back” he said. “He never took from us. He’s always respected the working man.”

Early voting begins Sept. 13.

This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender

POLITICS 2019: Herenton picks up more union backing

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