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Willie Wilbert Herenton (born April 23, 1940) is an American politician who was elected in 1991 as mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, and re-elected to a total of five terms. Herenton resigned July 30, 2009 to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2010, he was a candidate for election to the U.S. House of Representatives, until his defeat in the Democratic primary against incumbent Steve Cohen.

Willie Herenton
62nd Mayor of Memphis
In office
1991 – July 30, 2009
Preceded byRichard Hackett
Succeeded byMyron Lowery (pro tem)
Personal details
Born (1940-04-23) April 23, 1940 (age 79)
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materLeMoyne-Owen College
University of Memphis
Southern Illinois University, EdD

Dr. Herenton is running for a historic sixth term as Memphis Mayor in 2019



Herenton was born in 1940. He graduated from Le Moyne-Owen College and the University of Memphis. He received his doctorate in education at Southern Illinois University. He was married and has four children; he and his first wife divorced.

He was the first African American to be elected mayor of Memphis. In earlier history, an African American had succeeded to the position. Herenton won his first term by defeating incumbent mayor Richard Hackett in 1991 by 146 votes.

Prior to serving as mayor, Herenton was the superintendent of Memphis City Schools for twelve years. He resigned from his position as superintendent amidst public accusations that he was having an affair with one of his employees; there was a lawsuit in connection with the case. In his State of the City address in 2006, Herenton announced his intention to run for a fifth term in 2007.

He was elected to his fifth term in office on October 4, 2007.

Herenton was selected to the long list for the 2008 World Mayor award; however, he was not selected for this honor.[1]

On March 20, 2008, Herenton announced that he would be stepping down from his position as Memphis' mayor, effective July 31, 2008. This move angered many politicians in the city including Councilwoman Carol Chumney, a candidate he beat for mayor of Memphis in October 2007. He made this announcement just a little over 90 days after his re-election.[2] Herenton stated his early departure was to seek the position again of superintendent of Memphis City Schools, dispelling speculation that he was stepping down because of a run for Congress or impending legal troubles from an ongoing criminal investigation at City Hall.[3] He later stated that he would not leave the office of mayor unless he got the position as the superintendent of schools.[4] Herenton said that he ran for re-election only in order to protect the city of Memphis from the other main candidates, Herman Morris and Councilwoman Carol Chumney.[5] When the day came, Herenton failed to step down as Mayor and said he would serve out his term until 2011.

In April 2009, however, Herenton formed an exploratory committee to run in the 2010 US Congressional Election for the 9th District of Tennessee, presumably in the Democratic primary against incumbent Steve Cohen.[6] On June 25, 2009, Herenton announced his resignation as Mayor, effective July 10.[7] On July 6, he announced that he would delay his retirement until July 30.[8]

He resigned from office on July 30, 2009. Memphis City Council Chairman Myron Lowery was appointed as mayor pro tempore, with a special election to be held on October 15. The law states that such an election must be held within 90 days of the resignation. On August 13, 2009, Herenton pulled a petition to run for the Mayoral office from which he had resigned only two weeks prior, raising questions of a possible lawsuit against the former Mayor for the more than $1 million in City funds needed for the October 15 special election.[9]


In his latter days in office, Herenton faced many criticisms from the citizens of Memphis for the following:

  • 2011 Effects of failing to have a sound fiscal management of the City of Memphis causes the Memphis City School System (MSC) to fall short $155.5 million which was taken away from the school system slowly by the Mayor when he was in office. Which has caused an "Indefinite school closing"
  • Failing to ensure sound fiscal management of the City of Memphis [10]
  • Fraud allegations involving national money for the building of the FedEx Forum [11]
  • Failing to communicate effectively with the City Council [12]
  • Failing to address multiple allegations of improprieties regarding Memphis Light, Gas and Water[12]
  • Serving as the prime target and catalyst for the City Charter rewrite[13]
  • Angering citizens to the point of becoming a target of a (failed) citizen recall effort[14]
  • Calling for a halt to early voting due to alleged "irregularities". The Shelby County Election Commission stated that early voting would continue.[15]
  • Doing little in response to the significant rise in crime under his leadership; he stated that "No mayor in any American City can solve the crime problem."[16]
  • Appointing new leadership of the Memphis Public Library over the objections of the Tennessee Library Association.[17]

2010 Democratic PrimaryEdit

In 2010, Herenton announced that he would run against Congressman Steve Cohen in the Democratic Primary for Tennessee's 9th congressional district. The 9th is a heavily Democratic, black-majority district, and the Democratic primary has historically been the real contest.

In September 2009, Herenton attracted controversy with his statement in a radio interview that Congressman Steve Cohen "really does not think very much of African-Americans" and that "[Cohen]'s played the black community well." Herenton's campaign manager Sidney Chism, who is also African American, told the New York Times that the Memphis-area congressional seat Cohen holds "was set aside for people who look like me. It wasn't set aside for a Jew or a Christian. It was set aside so that blacks could have representation." The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) criticized Herenton for these remarks, stating that his comments were "unacceptable in a Democratic primary or anywhere in our political discourse."[18][19]

Despite Herenton's attempts to isolate Cohen from the African-American voting demographic, Cohen received endorsements from both President Barack Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus.[20] Cohen won the Democratic primary election, and Herenton gained only 20% of the vote.[21]


  1. ^ CityMayors profile
  2. ^ Charlier, Tom; Maki, Amos (2008-03-20). "Herenton to step down July 31". Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  3. ^ Perrusquia, Marc (2008-03-23). "Herenton: It's about schools". Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
  4. ^ Maki, Amos (2008-03-24). "Herenton says he'll stay put in mayor's office if he doesn't get city schools' superintendent job". Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2008-03-27.
  5. ^ Maki, Amos (2008-03-25). "Herenton says he ran for re-election to protect Memphis from Chumney, Morris". Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2008-03-27.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Eye on City Hall: Latest updates on the resignation of Mayor Willie Herenton, June 25". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
  8. ^ Baker, Jackson (2009-07-06). "Herenton Delays Retirement, Threatens Lawsuit | The Daily Buzz". Memphis Flyer. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
  9. ^ "Memphis Mayor Candidate Petition Pulled for Willie Herenton | MyFox Memphis | Fox 13 News". MyFox Memphis. 2009-08-13. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
  10. ^ City Of Memphis - 2007 budget address
  11. ^ Smart City Memphis - Compliance With Federal Regulations Receive Heightened Attention
  12. ^ a b "Are You Following Me?". Memphis Flyer. 2005-05-88. Retrieved 2099-03-22. Check date values in: |accessdate=, |date= (help)
  13. ^ Memphis Flyer - Charter Commission Tune-Up
  14. ^ WREG - Herenton Critics Can Begin Recall Effort
  15. ^ McMillin, Zack (2007-09-20). "Mayor cites irregularities with early voting machines". Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  16. ^ Fontenay, Blake (2007-08-27). "Mayor's crime quote may be a 'risky tactic'". Commercial Appeal. The Commercial Appeal.
  17. ^ Tennessee Library Association Executive Board (2008-03-01). "Letter sent to Tennessee Library Association membership". Commercial Appeal.
  18. ^ Ex-Mayor of Memphis Starts Bid for Congress, Invoking Race in Campaign by Robbie Brown, New York Times, September 13, 2009.
  19. ^ NJDC defends Cohen, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), September 18, 2009.
  20. ^ Baker, Jackson (2010-07-27). "Cohen Gets Black Caucus Support, Herenton Gets Busy as Finish Nears | Politics Beat Blog". Memphis Flyer. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
  21. ^ Luttrell Cohen Win Most-Watched Races
Political offices
Preceded by
Richard C. Hackett
Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee
1992 - 2009
Succeeded by
Myron Lowery

External linksEdit