Government of Memphis, Tennessee

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Memphis, Tennessee is governed by a mayor and thirteen city council members, six elected at large from throughout the city and seven elected from geographic districts.

In 1995, the council adopted a new district plan which changed council positions to all districts. This plan provides for nine districts, seven with one representative each and two districts with three representatives each.

Memphis Mayor[edit]

Memphis mayors serve four-year terms. [1] The current Mayor of Memphis is A C Wharton, who won a special election October 15, 2009 and was sworn into office October 26, 2009.[2][3] Prior to his election as mayor, A C Wharton had served as mayor of Shelby County, Tennessee. The previous mayor, Dr. W. W. Herenton had resigned as mayor prior to the end of his term of office.[4] City Council Chairman Myron Lowery served as interim mayor from July 30, 2009 until the certification of the results of the special election.[5]

Former mayor, Dr. Herenton has been a formidable and controversial local political figure. At the time of his resignation he was serving his fourth consecutive term as Mayor. He was elected for the first time in 1991 and became Memphis' first elected African American mayor.[6] J.O. Patterson, Jr., had previously served as mayor on an interim basis, thus preventing Herenton from actually being the first black mayor. Prior to his election, Dr. Herenton served for 12 years as the superintendent of Memphis City Schools.

Consolidation efforts[edit]

In recent years, there has been discussion of the potential of a merger of Shelby County and Memphis into a metropolitan government, similar to that in Nashville.

Racial polarization[edit]

Memphis politics have been very racially—and ideologically—polarized for many years. Most whites have supported the Republican Party since the 1960s, while most blacks have remained loyal to the Democratic Party.

A major influence in Memphis' black politics is the Ford family of funeral directors, whose political prominence dates to the Crump era. The best-known member of this family is Harold Ford, Sr., who represented most of Memphis in the U.S. House from 1975 to 1997. His brother, John, was a state senator for 30 years, but in 2007 was convicted on federal bribery charges in the Tennessee Waltz scandal.

Congressional representation[edit]

Memphis is split between two congressional districts. Most of the city is within the Ninth Congressional District, which has been represented by Democrat Steve Cohen since 2007. Cohen is the first white Democrat to represent a significant portion of Memphis in over 40 years. Previously, the district had been held by the Ford family—in the persons of Harold, Sr. and his son, Harold, Jr.--for 32 years. Harold, Jr. gave up the seat to make an unsuccessful run for the United States Senate seat being vacated by Bill Frist.

Much of east Memphis is in the 8th District, represented by Republican Stephen Fincher. From 1973 to 2013, this area had been part of the 7th District, represented by Republican Marsha Blackburn.

The district lines reflect the heavy polarization of the Memphis area. The 9th is a heavily Democratic, majority-black district and is considered one of the most Democratic districts in the South; it has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+25. In contrast, the 8th is a heavily Republican district with a strong tinge of social conservatism. Eastern Shelby County is reckoned as the most Republican area of the state outside of East Tennessee, and its move from the 7th turned the already Republican-leaning 8th into of the most Republican districts in the nation; it has a PVI of R+19.

Memphis City Beautiful Commission[edit]

Established in 1930, the Memphis City Beautiful Commission is the oldest beautification project in the United States.[7]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Daniel Connolly, Zack McMillin Wharton sweeps into City Hall with a broom Commercial Appeal (Accessed October 26, 2009)
  3. ^ Alex Doniach, A C Wharton wins with 60 percent of vote; turnout less than 25 percent, Memphis Commercial Appeal website, updated October 15, 2009, 11:00 pm.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Dr. Willie W. Herenton, Mayor of Memphis, TN.
  7. ^ "Memphis City Beautiful Commission". City of Memphis. Retrieved 2008-05-30.