People’s Convention selects endorsements for Democratic primary

By , Daily Memphian Published: April 24, 2022 4:00 AM CT

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Two of the three contenders in the Democratic primary race for District Attorney General compared experience as each called for a different way to diversity in the office Saturday, April 23, during the second edition of the People’s Convention.

The gathering of around 100 activists and candidates at the National Civil Rights Museum endorsed candidates in some but not all of the Democratic primary races on the May 3 ballot.

The convention, organized by UpTheVote901, also promises to remind candidates who are endorsed that they have aligned themselves with the group’s set of political goals, which are the result of online surveys and meetings before the convention.

“It is our job to support the candidates who support the agenda,” cofounder Siju Crawford said at the outset of the two-hour gathering. “Our big issue is issues. We are here for issues, not politicians.”


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Cofounder Earle Fisher was blunt about the group’s often challenging existence with those running for elected office.

“We’ve heard several candidates today talk about how they would govern. We’ve heard several candidates today talk about the political landscape as it is currently,” he said. “What we need to know as a community specifically is why it is like it is?”

Part of the answer, Fisher told the group is that low voter turnouts, especially in primaries, are not only expected but are encouraged.

“People bank on low turnout,” he said. “People bank on an ill-informed, uninformed or misinformed constituency.”


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DA contenders Steve Mulroy and Janika White sought the group’s endorsement. The third candidate in the Democratic primary, Linda Harris, did not attend, citing campaign activities including the last weekend of early voting before the period ends April 28.

The winner among the three advances to the August county general election where they will face Republican incumbent Amy Weirich, the only Republican currently holding a partisan countywide office.

Mulroy specifically touted his experience as a federal prosecutor after running through a resume that includes two terms on the Shelby County Commission and being a law professor at the University of Memphis Law School.

“I spent a decade as a civil rights lawyer in the Bill Clinton Justice Department. And I learned how to detect, root out and remedy systemic discrimination, which is what we’ve got here in the Memphis criminal justice system.”

Mulroy also again criticized Weirich’s office for not having enough Black and women staffing, something Weirich has disputed saying Mulroy is using outdated figures for an office that is more diverse under her leadership the last 11 years than it has ever been.


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Weirich has also pointed out that Mulroy is running in a race against two Black women.

“I want to make you understand that I value those things,” Mulroy said of diversity of representation. “And I have fought for them my entire career — as a civil rights lawyer and a county commissioner who pushed for diversity in county contracting.

“We need to find out who is best equipped to take Weirich on in August and who is best equipped to actually implement systemic and lasting change in our criminal justice system,” he said.

White, a criminal defense attorney, agreed and said she is best equipped.

“We can’t change the establishment by continuously giving it to those who are involved and over-involved in the politics that actually benefits from incarcerating more people,” she said. “We do need more diversity in our prosecutor’s office and it starts from the top.”

White noted none of the state’s 95 counties has ever had an elected Black district attorney general.


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The convention voted on an iPhone app after hearing from the candidates as they did in 2019. This time around the method did not include ranked choice voting as it did three years ago.

The votes showed up on screen live as they came in. The numbers were posted in percentages, with the exception of the polling between White and Mulroy for District Attorney General. Harris was not included in the polling.

The results showed 58 voted for White to 31 for Mulroy.


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Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris was the only county mayoral contender who agreed to come to the convention. Harris came late, among the candidates who were balancing appearances at early voting sites and campaign events with the convention.

He was allowed to speak near the end of the session after Fisher put the question to the convention and by a show of hands, most indicated they wanted to hear him speak.

Contenders in other races who came after the allotted time for them to speak at the gathering did not get the same opportunity.

The convention did not vote on an endorsement in the Democratic mayoral primary where Harris faces a challenge from Ken Moody, an assistant to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

The winner of that primary faces Republican city council member Worth Morgan in August. Morgan is unopposed in the May primary.

“It comes to those who wait,” Harris said after winning the show of hands to speak.

With the convention’s agenda of issues on a screen behind him, Harris outlined many of the same progressive issues.

“I’ve been the tip of the spear with respect to transit, bringing that issue to the fore. … Shelby County employees now have paid parental leave because our administration came into office and pushed for it,” he said.

“We are the tip of the spear with respect to a livable wage — taking that fight to wherever there are employees who don’t make at least $15 an hour,” Harris said. “And at this point they need to be making a lot more than $15 an hour.”

He also repeated his pledge to focus on more access to healthcare, if elected to a second term, for those without access as well as jobs, “Very, very specifically for those with a criminal history.”


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“That is driving our crime rate,” Harris said to applause. “I believe if we are going to get to public safety, we’ve got to address the root causes of crime. We’ve got to make sure the economy works in favor of all of us.”

Before Harris’ late arrival, Fisher talked about a private meeting recently between an unnamed candidate on the May ballot and a group of ministers including himself, as pastor of Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church, where the candidate was taken to task for not returning calls, texts and emails.


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Although Fisher didn’t identify the candidate or the race, Harris has been openly criticized by some religious leaders who have endorsed Moody specifically for not responding to their concerns — some noting that they contributed to his election effort in 2018.


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“They were upset with the candidate because that person was not known for responding expediently,” Fisher said. “I don’t need this person to be my friend. I don’t care if they invited me. I don’t care if they text me back or email me. What I need, what our people need, is for them to be responsive and accountable while in that office.”

Fisher said during The Daily Memphian’s “On The Record” podcast earlier this month that contenders in the Republican county primaries were invited to the convention but they either didn’t respond or indicated they would not attend.

Only one of the Republican county primary contests on the ballot is contested — the County Commission District 4 primary between incumbent commissioner Brandon Morrison and challenger Jordan Carpenter.


The return of the ‘People’s Convention’


That said, Fisher said the convention’s focus was more selective than it was in 2019.

“We understand that Shelby County is a majority Democratic county. As such, most of the people who will win in this primary will go on to win in August,” he told the group. “We chose those (county commission) districts that we know are important and impactful in the lives of Black folks especially —not Black folks alone — Black folks especially.”

In the county commission Democratic primaries the convention voted to endorse:

  • Former Memphis Shelby County Schools board member Shante Avant in District 5 over Quran Folsom, the administrator of the County Commission, with 60% for Avant to 40% for Folsom.
  • Frayser pastor Charlie Caswell over Alexander Boulton in District 6 with 57% for Caswell.
  • Memphis Shelby County Schools board member Althea Greene over Douglass activist Kathy Temple and former county commissioner Henri Brooks with 64% for Greene to 30% for Temple and 6% for Brooks.
  • Attorney Kathy Kirk over Terri Dockery and Britney Thornton in District 10 with 67% for Kirk, 32% for Thornton and 1% for Dockery.
  • Memphis Shelby County Schools board member Miska Clay Bibbs for District 11 over Candice Jones and Eric Winston. Clay-Bibbs got 79% of the votes to 16% for Jones and 5% for Winston.

Topics

2022 elections People's Convention Earle Fisher Sijuwola Crawford 2022 district attorney race Steve Mulroy Janika White 2022 county mayor's race 2022 county primaries Lee Harris

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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