On Final Weekend Day of Mayoral Campaigning in Memphis, Church Visits Highlight Focus on African-American Votes

Mayor candidates Harold Collins (from left), Jim Strickland, A C Wharton and Mike Williams reached the final campaign weekend before Thursday's election. (Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal)
Mayor candidates Harold Collins (from left), Jim Strickland, A C Wharton and Mike Williams reached the final campaign weekend before Thursday’s election. (Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal)

A few minutes before 8 o’clock on a drizzly, chilly Sunday morning, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton popped out of a black Chevrolet Tahoe at Coleman Avenue Church of Christ. 

He worked his way through the vestibule shaking hands. As a speaker cited Psalm 46, the mayor and two associates strolled up the right aisle. He sat on a pew near the front, as the crowd of about 40 or so, which would swell over the next half-hour, began to worship.

That’s how Wharton started the final weekend day of campaigning to keep his job in what has turned into the most competitive city mayoral election in a generation. It was on-the-fly, too: The mayor said as he walked into the side door the rest of his Sunday schedule was still being hashed out.

In a campaign of record spending that could approach $2 million, with hundreds of TV and radio ads, with a long list of forums and debates, the start of the final weekend day before Thursday’s election day reckoning took place largely in an old familiar spot: the African-American house of worship.

A half-hour earlier, Harold Collins began a day of 11 scheduled church stops with a 7:30 a.m. drop-in at Brown Baptist, technically in Mississippi but with a host of Memphis worshippers. Jim Strickland was also walking into church at 8 a.m., visiting the early service at St. Paul Baptist Church on Holmes.

The churchgoing, which candidates have been doing for months, is part of a greater strategy by each candidate to maximize his standing among African-Americans at the ballot box. A month ago, a poll taken by the Commercial Appeal showed that 1 in 5 African-Americans remained undecided on their choice for mayor, with no candidate having a majority of the vote among blacks. In recent weeks, campaigns seemed to have heightened their push for black votes in a 63 percent African-American city.

Much of the radio advertising bought in the final weeks of the campaign was placed on urban format stations. Collins, for one, went to air Friday with ads voiced by City Council member Janis Fullilove, who represents the overwhelmingly black Super District 8, on WDIA-AM 1070 and WHAL-FM 95.7 (Hallelujah FM).

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Source: The Commercial Appeal |  Kyle Veazey