Dr. Willie W. Herenton’s mayoral-bid supporters filled his Westwood headquarters Thursday evening full of hope and dreaming of another history-making night, but it was not to be.
Very early after the polls closed and the precinct results started to roll in, it became clear that incumbent Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland had an insurmountable lead. By 8:30 p.m., Herenton – the first African American elected mayor and the longest serving mayor in the city’s history – was in concession mode at the podium.
“Tonight was a very momentous night,” Herenton said. “You know I’m a boxer, and I don’t like losing. This is the first time I have lost a mayor’s race. But I just wanted to thank each and every one of you who supported me and worked so hard in this campaign. I want to thank Robert Spence for doing such an excellent job as my campaign manager.
“We didn’t have a million dollars, but you all worked tirelessly, volunteering,” he said. “I appreciate everything each of you did to help this campaign. And I want you to know that I hold your commitment in the highest regards. I will always be grateful for all you have done.”
He thanked those who endorsed him, including the Memphis Police Association, the Memphis Fire Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees , and all of the city employee unions.
“I plan to call Mayor Strickland and congratulate him. Strickland will have our support,” Herenton said. “My candidacy represented a different perspective of leadership. But the voters decided differently, and we respect the process.”
After conceding, Herenton mingled in the crowd, shaking hands and giving hugs. News people crowded around for an impromptu press conference, where he allowed a period of questions and answers.
Supporters lingered about, chatting with one another, musing over what might have been.
“I love it that Dr. Herenton was so upbeat and positive in his speech,” said supporter Sandra Richards. “His spirit is still strong, and age has brought about maturity. He is offering his support to Mayor Strickland and his administration. Dr. Herenton wants the city to prosper. He wants Memphis to win.”