Mayor's race

Memphis Mayor’s Race 2023: Willie Herenton

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 05, 2023 4:18 PM CT | Published: September 05, 2023 4:18 PM CT

Willie Herenton, the 83-year-old former Memphis mayor, remains certain that voters will propel him back to office and that his hold on the electorate is still near complete. 

Residents still recognize him around Memphis, doing a double take when they see the six-foot-six former mayor striding by.

Four years ago, in 2019, he maintained he had never lost the mayor’s office. He had only left it.

Walking with Willie Herenton as he makes another bid for mayor

Then he did lose it: by almost 40 percentage points to Mayor Jim Strickland. Despite that defeat, Herenton’s confidence, never in short supply, still shines through.

Herenton concedes he was not perfect in the mayor’s office before his resignation in 2009 amid a federal probe into his business dealings in which he was never charged. After he left office, he ran a controversial campaign for Congress and had an unsuccessful run starting a chain of charter schools, which closed amid poor performance. 

But a handful of recent polls show reasons for Herenton’s continued confidence — he’s leading or near the top of the 17-person field. In fact, one poll by Emerson College for WREG News Channel 3 had him first with 16% of the sample favoring Herenton.

Read more about Herenton here: Walking with Willie Herenton as he makes another bid for mayor

To learn more about all of the candidates, visit The Daily Memphian’s City of Memphis 2023 election landing page

Herenton is scheduled to appear on “Behind The Headlines” on Friday, Sept. 8. 

In his own words

The Daily Memphian: What is the most pressing issue facing the city today?

Willie Herenton: Like many Memphians, I am deeply concerned with the crime problems plaguing our city today. As a diverse city, we must unite around a well-thought-out, strategic action plan to reverse some negative trends. The challenges facing Memphis today drives me back to the arena of public service.

As your mayor, I am prepared to do something concerning some deplorable conditions that undermine the future of our city. Let me make it clear: I am pro-law enforcement, and defunding the police makes no sense to me. I fully recognize that we must restore public trust in our police department. With effective leadership and community support, we can make a turnaround. There is no question that public safety is a priority issue that must be addressed with a sense of urgency in the city of Memphis.

What do you think the City of Memphis budget should spend more on?

Education and mental health.

What do you think it should spend less on?

Special-interest grants. 

Is the City of Memphis going in the right direction?

Similar to many urban cities, we are plagued with crime, poverty, poor education and a declining infrastructure.

I agree with many Memphians that the city is going in the wrong direction.

Would you ever be in favor of increasing property taxes?

To address the critical needs of the city, I would support a reasonable property-tax increase.

Do you believe that, as a representative of the public, your vote should reflect how your constituents would vote or are they electing you to use your own judgment?

After receiving the input from my constituents, my decision would be made using my best judgment.

What do you think are the keys to your success?

My work ethic and motivation to succeed in life, my formal education, my high level of executive management experience (and knowing) the breadth and depth of how organizations function.

What was the last book you read?

“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” by Isabel Wilkerson.

If you got to choose a last meal, what would it be?

A mixture of soul and Italian food.

What talent or skill do you wish you had?

The skill of masonry.

What activities do you enjoy outside of work?

I enjoy home building, real estate and daily walks.


Willie Herenton 2023 Memphis Mayor's race


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