In a landslide victory, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland was re-elected for a second term, easily defeating his two highest-profile opponents, former mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton and Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer.
“Thank you, Memphis,” Strickland shouted to a vibrant room of supporters gathered at the Memphis Botanic Garden for his official election watch party Thursday evening. Cheers and applauses filled the room as he stepped on stage shortly after 9 p.m. to deliver his victory remarks.
“Today in numbers that shattered all expectations, the people of Memphis said let’s keep moving forward,” Strickland said to the crowd.
The unofficial results from the Shelby County Election Commission showed Strickland winning with 62 percent of the vote. Herenton received 28 percent; and Sawyer lagged far, receiving 7 percent.
Although Herenton’s campaign strategy was to focus largely on early voting, election results showed Strickland took the lead during the early voting period with more than 33,000 votes.
Herenton, who had hoped to win an unprecedented sixth term, conceded at 8:30 p.m.
“I want to thank you all for your hard work and support,” he said to a room of about 100 supporters who had gathered at his South Memphis headquarters. “And I want to thank all the organizations for their endorsements.”
Herenton raked in most of the city’s union endorsements, including the Memphis Police Association and the Fire Association; but it wasn’t enough to bring home a victory.
During his concession address, the city’s longest serving mayor congratulated Strickland, saying that he would “place a call to congratulate him.” And he did.
Strickland referenced Herenton’s call in his own speech.
“I just got off the phone with Mayor Herenton,” he said. “I want to thank him for his kind words and for his service to our community.”
While Strickland didn’t mention Sawyer by name, he did reference “all of the other candidates in the race,” thanking them for their desire to make Memphis better.
In a message via her campaign website, Sawyer had this to say about the outcome of the election.
“I am overcome with love, pride and gratitude for what we accomplished in this race,” she wrote. “We might not have the outcome we hoped for and wanted, but our progressive message for equity and opportunity changed the conversation.”
Both Sawyer and Herenton had previously criticized Strickland for being an exclusive mayor; but Thursday the re-elected mayor highlighted his openness to diversity.
“Politics can be toxic,” he said. “But today’s vote shows that it doesn’t have to be. We can disagree without being divisive. That is the campaign I have run. That is the way I lead. I have been and will continue to be everybody’s mayor.”
Strickland, who ran his campaign by attempting to remind voters that, “Memphis has momentum,” said he’s confident that the city is headed in the right direction, though there are challenges that lie ahead. He pointed out that many of those obstacles have existed for generations.
“I believe that the challenges and roadblocks that have blocked us in the past — like crime and poverty — are great, but they are not insurmountable,” Strickland told the crowd, as he reverted to a tone of assurance.
“For the first time in generations, we can see the future with optimism,” he said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me serve as your mayor. God bless you and God bless Memphis.”
Election results are set to be certified by the Election Commission on October 21 after a mandatory audit.
Gallery: Photos by Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises