Mayor seeks to leave post to head public schools in city

Posted: March 31, 2008 in Uncategorized

Mayor Seeks Job Switch, but Response Is Lukewarm

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MEMPHIS — In the last 10 days, Mayor Willie W. Herenton has upended this city’s political order by announcing first that he would retire in July, a mere six months into his record fifth term, then explaining that he was doing so in order to return to his previous job as superintendent of city schools.

But what might have been perceived as a magnanimous gesture — a voluntary step down the career ladder out of concern for the city’s children — quickly became a debacle when the school board made it clear that the job was not his for the taking.

The tepid response — underscored by what amounted to a chorus of boos from many of his constituents — was a comedown for a man accustomed to hero status in a city where, until he came along, blacks held a majority but not the political power to match. In 1979, Mr. Herenton became the first black superintendent after working his way up through the school system, and in 1991 he became the first black mayor, beating the incumbent by 142 votes.

Over the years, his political base broadened and he gained white support, winning re-election by 20 points or more until last year, when polls showed virtually all of his white support and some of his black support had ebbed. He got 42 percent of the vote in a three-way race, enough to win but apparently not enough to hold his interest in the job.

On March 20, reports surfaced of a letter to the city’s chief administrative officer from the mayor that read, “This personal letter serves to alert you of my plans to retire from the office of City Mayor on July 31, 2008.”

That set off pitched speculation about Mr. Herenton’s motives, fueled by a recent revelation that his dealings with contractors were the subject of a federal corruption investigation. Some even conjectured that the mayor needed the $89,000 salary increase that the new job would bring.

Two days later, in an effort to squelch the rumors, Mr. Herenton offered proof of his interest in improving the school system, releasing a Feb. 7 letter to the board. “I have sadly watched the deterioration of what was once a respectable school system,” he wrote, citing the board’s choice of superintendents from outside Memphis. “National searches produce résumé builders and often candidates with no long-term commitments to a community.” (more…)

  1. J. Dakar says:

    Talk about drama…

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