Harris, Morgan clash again at Memphis Rotary mayoral debate

By , Daily Memphian Updated: July 26, 2022 9:06 PM CT | Published: July 26, 2022 9:06 PM CT

The race between Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and Republican challenger Worth Morgan kept much of its intensity Tuesday, July 26, as they confronted each other at the Memphis Rotary Club.

Morgan, a Memphis City Council member, continued to accuse Harris of being absent in his leadership on economic development, in particular since winning the mayor’s office in 2018.

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Harris said Morgan has “never led on any initiative” and “never had a career” while he (Harris) has been focused on relevant issues of middle and working class families.

The debate is the second face-to-face meeting of the two since their first televised meeting last week on the WKNO-TV Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”

The debate was moderated by The Daily Memphian’s political columnist Otis Sanford.

The sharp exchanges Tuesday before a group of 75 continued to reveal very different approaches and philosophies on the role of the county mayor.

They also show two political leaders who until the campaign had never talked, according to Harris.

Morgan said the “personal attacks” by Harris don’t bother him.

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“I know my heart,” he said. “I know my record.”

Morgan called Harris’s record on crime and economic development “disappointing.”

“I hope we have haven’t been left behind,” he said, calling for a county mayor who will collaborate more with other elected leaders and be a “pitch man” to grow the local economy.

Harris rejected that kind of role for the county mayor, calling himself the “tip of the spear for years” on issues of living wages, second chances for those coming out of prison and healthcare access for working families.

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Morgan called Harris’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic a “disaster” in which the state took the responsibility for distributing vaccines from the county and handed it off to the city after problems with the distribution.

Harris said the problems cited by the state and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee specifically were “made up” and that the county outperformed the rest of the state in vaccinations.

He then said Morgan “could not be found in the last two years of the pandemic.”

Morgan said council member Jeff Warren was the council’s representative in closed meetings of local leaders at the height of the pandemic because having more than two council members would have required the meetings to be open to the public.

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“The only statistic that matters was the 3,400 dead,” Morgan said, citing the local death toll from the pandemic, as counted by the Shelby County Health Department.

Harris remained on the offense.

He called Morgan out for abstaining or voting against city council resolutions that take positions on national issues — specifically challenging Morgan’s abstentions on a council resolution condemning the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection and another congratulating Ketanji Brown Jackson on her status as the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Morgan has called such resolutions “grandstanding.”

“This is a pattern and a practice of all the reasons he is not able to lead,” Harris said. “We need you to vote. We need you to act.”

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“I’m happy to take over all of his responsibilities of office,” Morgan said of Harris, adding the characterization of his votes was “really not intellectually honest.”

Morgan said those breaking the law in the insurrection should be held accountable.

The Rotary debate, which is a political tradition for decades, comes as turnout in the early voting period has picked up ahead of Saturday’s final day of the voting period.

The Shelby County early voting turnout Monday was the highest of any day so far with 6,142 early ballots cast.

The total for the period so far in Shelby County is 42,406 — by far the highest turnout of any of the state’s 95 counties.

By numbers from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, 24,386 of the county’s early voters through Monday cast their ballots in the Democratic state and federal primaries.

Another 17,204 voted in the Republican primaries with the remaining 816 voting the county general election ballot only.


August 2022 election 2022 county mayor's race Memphis Rotary Club

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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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