Confident that his campaign would prevail, Mayor-elect Paul Young told supporters at Minglewood Hall that only one speech was written for the evening because he and his team believed they would "be victorious., and what people will hear from me is a unifying message…." (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

On the strength of a positive message, political neophyte Paul Young captured the race for Memphis mayor Thursday (Oct. 5).

With 17 candidates in the race, no runoff, and no incumbent (Mayor Jim Strickland is term-limited), Young won the mayor’s seat with 28 percent of the vote. He will take office Jan.1.

A sign of the future. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

As expected, the race came down to the four “main” candidates. With 98 of 98 precincts reporting, complete but unofficial results showed:

  • Young, president and CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission with 24,408, 28 percent.
  • Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. with 19,895, 23 percent.
  • Willie W. Herenton, the city’s first elected African-American mayor, with 18,990, 21 percent.
  • Van Turner Jr., a former Shelby County commissioner and former president of the Memphis Chapter NAACP, 18,778, 21 percent.

(To see how the remaining candidates fared go to:

Paul Young’s post-election gathering at Minglewood Hall turned into a victory party. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

“We only wrote one speech because we believe we are going to be victorious., and what people will hear from me is a unifying message…The same message we have communicated throughout this campaign that Memphis is stronger together,” Young said.

“All parts of our city no matter what your background is, orientation, partisanship, we are all team Memphis,” said Young, while addressing supporters at Minglewood Hall.

Young added, “The city that we love, the city that people forgot about. The one that they want to write off … It’s time for us to write the next pages of Memphis history.”

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. said his concession call to Mayor-elect Young was cordial, with both expressing appreciation that neither campaign had directive negative ads toward the other. (Screen capture)

As Bonner’s supporters gathered at Memphis Botanic Gardens, Bonner took the podium at 9:18 p.m. The crowd seemed to be expecting a rally speech.

However, with the Election Commission website only reporting results from 38 precincts and early voting, Bonner conceded to Young.

Flanked by family members and key supporters, Bonner thanked his campaign staff, supporters, volunteers, and family.

He told the audience that “I still will be sheriff in the morning” and that he will continue to work to make Memphis a safe and prosperous city.

Shortly afterward, Herenton, who won five consecutive mayor’s races, took the podium at his South Memphis campaign gathering and told the crowd he would call Young to congratulate him after the former mayor finished thanking his supporters and volunteers.

“We want to wish him (Young) well,” Herenton said. “The citizens have spoken, and we respect that.”

Dr. Willie W. Herenton exchanges with supporters. (Photo: William Weeks/The New Tri-State Defender)

Although he lacked the name recognition of some of his opponents, Young’s optimistic platform, which called for investments across the city, resonated with enough voters to cobble together a plurality.

“I believe in our city. I believe in Memphis. I believe in every one of you. I believe that we can be better. In fact, I know that we’re going to be better,” said Young.

However, the lack of name appeal belied a wealth of experience. In addition to the MDC, the career public servant’s resume includes Director for the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development. He also served as Administrator of the Memphis & Shelby County Division of Planning & Development.

“I want to make sure that together, we go through a transformation … that’s gonna take us from hopelessness to hopeful; from poverty to prosperity; from hurt to healed (and) from stalled to thriving,” Young said.

Young had strong support from the business community. He also received the endorsements from the Shelby County Young Democrats and Planned Parenthood Tennessee, which he shared with Turner.

He was also endorsed by film director Craig Brewer, rapper NLE Choppa and former University of Memphis and NBA player Elliot Perry.

During the campaign, he faced attacks from several of his opponents, including television ads on behalf of opponent JW Gibson, who criticized his stewardship of the DMC by not attracting business.

During a September debate, Young defended his record, pointing out it largely coincided with the COVID pandemic.

He was also chided for past forays into Republican politics, by voting in past primaries. He defended the votes, by saying he was trying to influence the process, while ultimately voting for a Democratic Party candidate.

Mayor Strickland, Young’s former boss, said, “Congratulations Paul Young! Your many years of public service will benefit you at City Hall. I look forward to working with you and your team as you prepare to become mayor on January 1.”