Race, Power, and Political Emergence in Memphis

By Sharon D. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7

The Limits of Mayoral Power and the Ethnoracial Transition in Memphis

INTRODUCTION

Professors Rufus Browning, Dale Rogers Marshall, and David Tabb found that minority groups pursue political objectives in two ways: they petition government from the outside (interest-group strategy) or they achieve representation and a position of influence from the inside (electoral strategy). The electoral strategy includes group mobilization that leads to electoral activity, group representation, and incorporation. 1 The ultimate goal of the electoral strategy is to achieve governmental responsiveness. In other words, blacks and other minority groups must organize themselves by registering to vote, pursuing political offices, electing their desired candidates, ensuring that their representatives serve their interests, and reaping the benefits from a responsive government.

During his 1991 campaign, W.W. Herenton promised that his administration would allow both blacks and whites to have a role in governing the city and that a greater level of racial harmony would be achieved. During the first two years of his term, however, the new mayor discovered that his power to address the city’s problems was limited by its racially polarized citizenry and City Council members, its deficits, and its power struggles among black political figures. After his victory, Herenton received a number of racially motivated death threats and wore bulletproof vests when appearing in public. Also, few whites attended the January 1992 inaugural ceremony.

This chapter analyzes W.W. Herenton’s first term as mayor. One major issue is whether black citizens have come closer to achieving po-

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