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Harris rides ‘working-families’ message to a second term

Voters Thursday (Aug. 4) gave Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris another four-year term to build on his vision.

The incumbent mayor defeated Memphis City Councilmember Worth Morgan in Thursday’s county general election.

Shelby County Election Commission totals as of 1:05 a.m. Friday (Aug. 5), with most precincts reporting, showed Harris with 77,140 (57.9 percent) votes to Morgan’s 56,072 (42.09 percent).

Early voting numbers reflected a likely victory for Harris. It was one of 80 races on the ballot.

Harris’ victory was part of a Democratic sweep of county offices, including District Attorney General, Sheriff, and Juvenile Court judge.

Many polling places were still open at 8:30 p.m. because of long lines.

“Our message was all about working families and their needs and making sure that government worked on behalf of working families. That really was the message that stitched together a huge coalition in Memphis and Shelby County,” said Harris.

He also gave part of the credit to the groundwork laid during the previous election.

(Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

“I think the Democratic Party was really strong largely because of our recruitment efforts. That was really the main thing,” Harris said.

The win follows a Democratic primary victory that yielded Harris 70 percent of the vote over Ken Moody.

In addition to continuing the work started during his first term, his second term goals include healthcare and employment programs for ex-offenders.

Harris also wants to put forth another MATA-funding proposal after the rejection of his first pitch by the Shelby County Commission. Harris’ plan called for a $20 wheel tax to expanded routes. It also would have covered hiring 50 new Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies.

After riding the “Blue Wave” to office in 2018, the former state senator made bread-and-butter working class issues his focus. This included the “Fight for $15” minimum wage increase for all Shelby County employees.

The effort extended to workers outside his authority too, like University of Memphis employees and cafeteria workers in county schools.

This time around, Harris nabbed endorsements from several unions and labor groups. They include Teamsters 667, AFL-CIO Labor Council, the West Tennessee Building and Construction Trades Council and United Campus Workers – Communications Workers of America.

However, first-term campaign promises were a mixed bag of successes and failures. In addition to the MATA setback, the former University of Memphis law school instructor and Yale graduate once again failed to convince Shelby Commissioners to approve a $16.50 wheel tax. This pool of revenue would have been dedicated to education, including the construction of new schools.

Harris also drew his share of criticism for his handling of the COVID pandemic. So did other community leaders, who were tasked with maintaining a balance between keeping the economy open — and people working — and public safety mandates, like vaccinations, testing, masks, and business closures.

Memphis City Councilman Worth Morgan on the campaign trail for county mayor. (Courtesy photo)

For his part, Morgan is at a crossroads in his political career. His run on the council ends at the end of 2023 due to term limits. He was first elected in 2015.

Running on a slogan of “We Deserve Better,” the Republican gained the backing of many Shelby County’s suburban mayors.

The pro-police councilman’s campaign focused on violent crime reduction. During the recent council term, he also supported a public referendum to loosen requirements for police and firefighters to live within the county limits.

A private investor by trade, he opposed raising Memphis’ property tax rate to give city employees a three percent raise and fund MATA, along with other services.

He also has supported tax breaks to encourage development, including One Beale St.

In July, Morgan voted with the majority to cover 100 percent of the debt issued to the build a 350-room Grand Hyatt Hotel. The 30-year bonds will run $178 million with interest.

During the campaign, Harris criticized the East Memphis politician for a lack of real-world work experience. Morgan ran unopposed in the Republican primary.

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