Districts 6 and 7 make up the western edge of Memphis, 6 in the south, and 7 in the north. They were two of the smallest districts population wise coming in to redistricting, and as a result had some of the most radical changes made to their districts.
They are, however, very different. One is an open seat, the other is represented by a first term incumbent. I’ll start with district 7 and work my way down to 6.
Perhaps one of the most exciting contests in this cycle is the race for City Council District 7. Longtime Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware resigned earlier this year under the cloud of an indictment, that was ultimately resolved when Ware accepted diversion on the charges.
Despite the foot draggingly slow redistricting that wasn’t resolved until late in July, just two days before the filing deadline, some 14 candidates qualified for the ballot in the only open seat contest this cycle.
The district, which is 76% African American, has a long list of candidates. With so many candidates, one would think that there would be a great deal of activity, both in and outside the district. While certain candidates have sought to make a splash, ultimately, few have been able to garner much in the way of media coverage.
The candidates are: Scott Banbury, Raymond A Bursi, Evelyn Fields, Kemba Ford, Erskine Gillespie, Lee Harris, Jesse Jeff, Michael Steven Moore, Julie Ray, Coby Smith, Artie Smith, Leandrea Rene Taylor, David Vinciarelli, and Darrell Wright.
Some potential candidates didn’t make the ballot due to decision by the Memphis City Council to effectively split downtown between district 6 and 7.
There’s an unpleasant mathematical reality in this race. With 14 candidates, its highly unlikely that anyone will garner the 50%+1 needed to win this election outright, which brings up the real possibility of a runoff between the top two contenders, which is really what this race is about now. Financial disclosures aren’t due until September 26th, so the funds race in this contest is also very much in question. The test for frontrunners is getting the momentum to come in first or second and ramp up into the runoff. Which leaves the question, who are the frontfunners?
Conventional wisdom and general activity leads one to believe that Kemba Ford, by virtue of her last name, Lee Harris, a former candidate for the Democratic nomination to the US House in 2006, and Michael Steven Moore, son of former City Councilwoman and Dist. 7 seat holder Barbara Swearengen Ware are the frontrunners. Only two will make it to the run off, and who those two will be is very much in question.
That’s not to belittle the other 11 candidates. In fact, many of them have been out there actively campaigning, some have shown no proof of life at all. The test for them is a little different, and much more uphill. Not only do they have to prove to the voters of District 7 that they have a chance against the odds of the front runners, they also have to have the funds to survive the run off, which is a tall order for any candidate, especially with conventional wisdom stacked against you.
I don’t have a good idea of who the top two are at this point, but I’ve seen a whole lot of activity from the Harris camp. That coupled with the reality that Ford is lagging behind in the online organizing, and Moore’s website still has an “about Barbara Swearengen Ware” page, that is blank (all of his sites pages are blank except for the first one), leads me to believe that Harris is, at least, the most organized of the three.
To her credit, Ford has been working her Facebook Page pretty hard, but there’s not much substance, and with only 65 likes, not much reach.
As for the rest of the field, community activist Scott Banbury has a long list of achievements and goals for District 7. Banbury has been active in the community for some time and, while often unconventional, he is effective at making a splash. However, there is a harsh reality for Banbury. District 7 is 76% African American. While I don’t believe that people vote solely on race, this seat has been held by an African American for a very long time. Demographics may be among many of the challenges faced by Banbury and other white candidates.
In addition to Banbury, Erskine Gillespie and Julie Ray have been pretty active here and there, though you have to wonder how they’ll fare against candidates who are better funded and have more name recognition.
Of course, anything can happen. In a field this large, one or two percentage points can make a huge difference. In fact, it will likely be the difference between making the run-off and watching the run-off.
Just to the south of the hot contest in District 7 is District 6, currently represented by Edmund Ford Jr., son of former City Councilman, and current candidate for Mayor Edmund Ford Sr.
While the field is smaller in District 6, the stakes are just has high. With two Fords in the race, even though one is not directly related to the Ford political family, there’s ample opportunity for voter confusion. Also, former MCS School Board member Sharon Webb’s entrance into the race is another cause of concern. While participation in school board elections is generally slim, Webb’s connection to the district is pretty well known, even if it wasn’t enough to carry her to victory, or even the runoff in the 2010 election.
Clara Ford, an educator, was active in asking the Memphis City Schools to hold firm in their decision to delay schools during the school funding dispute with the City. Other than that, however, Ms. Ford doesn’t have any positions posted on her Facebook page.
Candidate Rhoda Stigall has a list of answers to questions on her site, detailing why she wants to represent the 6th District. Like Clara Ford, and Edmund Ford Jr., Stigall is also an educator, meaning that no matter what, it’s likely that district 6 will continue to be represented by an educator.
Like all elections, turnout will be the key to winning in District 6 and turnout, at least on the first day of early voting, was high in the district. District 6 had the highest turnout of any district on the first day of early voting, making up 23.6% of all the votes cast. The average for the day was 14.3%. This may just be coincidence, one day of vote totals is hardly enough to spot a trend. I’ll be watching the vote totals daily as early voting continues.
Tomorrow we’ll look at Districts 1, 2, and 4 as well as early voting numbers through the weekend.