Quicker than Memphis starts to replace fall gray with spring green, the campaigns for Memphis City Council are coming to life at about a dozen or two dozen people at a time.
Contenders for the 13 council seats on the Oct. 3 ballot are announcing their intentions and holding fundraisers across the city. In some cases, mostly the council Super District races, there are still some decisions to be made.
In the case of Erika Sugarmon, her exploratory committee was key to a decision to run again for city council or go for city court clerk or perhaps city court judge.
When Sugarmon, a Shelby County Schools teacher, announced last Monday to a group of a dozen supporters at a flea market at Madison and Cleveland, the choice was the same Super District she ran for in a special election on the August 2018 ballot but a different position.
With the winner of the special election, Ford Canale, expected to seek a full four-year term in Super District 9 Position 2 this year, Sugarmon decided to run for position 1. That’s the seat held by council chairman Kemp Conrad, who is term-limited and won’t be running.
“By me going in so late, a lot of the people who contributed told me they were spent out and that was a huge issue,” Sugarmon said of her run and second-place finish last year. “With more money, I could have done a lot more. I don’t know what I would do differently.”
Before the special election, Canale was appointed to the council seat by the rest of the council following the resignation last year of Philip Spinosa.
It’s something Sugarmon concedes was an advantage in the seven-candidate field for the special election.
Since then, Sugarmon has been part of an Emerge Tennessee workshop focused on improving the candidate skills of women running for office since the 2018 race.
“I am not seasoned and I’m not a career politician,” she said. “When I went out there, I went out there with all of my heart and that’s how I ran.”
Four days later in Midtown, Cody Fletcher drew several dozen business leaders to his second fundraiser this year for the same Super District 9 seat.
“The city I grew up in needs leaders who can put neighborhoods first, leaders who can listen to constituents and leaders who can compromise with other leaders to get things done,” he told supporters.
Fletcher thought Sugarmon was going for clerk, but said it wouldn’t affect the path of his campaign.
“I’m running to be a reasonable voice on the Memphis city council,” he said in his speech.
Fletcher runs the University of Memphis Development Corporation as an employee of the university. The community development corporation includes a Highland Avenue revitalization tax increment financing – or TIF – district with a $21 million portfolio of public improvement projects in the district.
“I am a pro-economic growth person, pro-incentives,” Fletcher said later. “I do believe that claw backs are necessary. I think there should be some.”
Sugarmon, a Shelby County Schools teacher who was also deputy finance director for the Criminal Court Clerk’s office, is the daughter of the late General Sessions Court Judge and civil rights icon Russell Sugarmon and the sister of City Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon. She is also among critics of economic development policies who question who has benefited from the city’s economic development boom in recent years.
“There’s a lot of development going on all around Memphis. My concern is who is getting this contract?” she said. “Why isn’t it open? It appears to me they are not reaching out to other contractors.”
“There are people who want to work and they want a living wage,” Sugarmon said. “They need help from leaders like me and other progressives. … We have to have a seat at the table and be able to speak at the table.”
Fletcher called for the kind of “shared prosperity” programs the UMDC is pursuing in the dis-invested Beltline and Messick-Buntyn neighborhoods bordering the university.
“We should be pushing economic development to every single neighborhood in Memphis, not just Downtown, not just Midtown, not just East Memphis,” he said. “We need to be pushing small business growth and economic development in all of these neighborhoods. … Union Row is fantastic but on the neighborhood level, there are small wins that people can accomplish that are very important.”
Fletcher also endorsed Mayor Jim Strickland’s “brilliant at the basics” philosophy.
Meanwhile, Chase Carlisle’s council bid is in the fundraising stage.
The Avison-Young vice president is also running in Super District 9 but hasn’t said which of the three positions he is seeking.
Carlisle has also aligned himself with Strickland’s philosophy.
“We’ve got great momentum. But our work is never done,” he said in a video on his campaign Facebook page. “I want to continue to build our infrastructure, fill in those potholes. I want to continue to make our neighborhoods and communities safe by continuing to strengthen our police force.”
The council elected in October and that takes office in January will have at least three new members because of term limits. All three of the open seats are Super District seats now held by Conrad and Reid Hedgepeth in Super District 9 and Joe Brown in Super District 8. Brown said earlier this week he will run for City Court Clerk on the October ballot.
Former Memphis City Schools board member Dr. Jeff Warren has said he is running for Super District 9 Position 3, the seat held by Hedgepeth.
The council has two Super Districts – each taking in half of the city. Each Super District has three council positions. The multi-position districts are in addition to six single-member council districts that, like the Super Districts, cover the entire city.
No one can pull a qualifying petition to go on the October ballot until May 20, which is the earliest candidates could put their decision on which seat to run for in writing. It’s at the top of the petition when it is issued.
Even then, a candidate could pull multiple petitions for all three Super District positions and the single member district in which they also live. They can only file for one seat and have to do that by July 18.