MEMPHIS, Tenn — Each Thursday leading up to the October 5 election, ABC24 will feature a different candidate to highlight where they stand on hot-button issues before Memphis voters select a new mayor this fall. There are 17 mayoral candidates set to be on the October ballot. As we continue our mayoral candidate profiles, you can find the running list here.
Early voting in Memphis begins September 15, regular voting takes place October 5.
J.W. Gibson is a born and raised Memphian. He’s been a businessman in the city for years, owning multiple companies, including businesses people come across daily.
“The printing of the lottery tickets is being done right here in Memphis, and my company does that printing,” Gibson said.
Now, he’s looking to run for Memphis mayor.
The top three things he’d want to tackle in his first 30 days are crime, workforce and revamping the music industry.
Some of these issues relate to what Memphians have been upset about for a while now: juvenile crime.
“As we talk about dealing with those youth, there’s an opportunity for us to get into the high schools and collaborate with the school system to provide training through CCTE,” Gibson said. “Then there’s an opportunity for us to have outside programs through the community centers. After-school programming, weekend programming. All around the notion of giving our high school students something to do besides crime.”
A lack of jobs and affordable housing opens the door to things Gibson said he can address.
“Go into the communities, create jobs through renovating some of these plighted communities,” Gibson said. “We can also increase the low-income housing population. There’s a tremendous need for low and affordable housing properties.”
Gibson also addressed the local economy and plans to boost that as Blue Oval City, Ford Motor Company's industrial park in Haywood County, looks to employ thousands.
“We have a lot of elected officials and bureaucrats who are just maintaining the status quo, trying to be brilliant at the basics." Gibson said. "They aren’t taking some of the low-hanging opportunities that we have available to us to kickstart the economy. And we have to kickstart the economy with providing workforce development training. We have jobs that are available now that we can’t fill because we don’t have a workforce that’s trained properly. We have an opportunity to fulfill the needs of Blue Oval and we don’t have the skilled workforce that they’re asking us for.”
Mayoral candidate Van Turner is a native Memphian and NAACP leader. With young people at the front of a rising crime issue in Memphis, candidates are fleshing out their prevention and intervention plans for crime.
“We have to make sure that our young people are on grade for reading. 3rd, 4th, 5th grade. We do that with extending our community center hours to 24 hours a day,” Turner said.
Turner said a lack of equal investment opportunities throughout the community is the missing link Memphis's economic growth.
“We see all the investments that are going around in the city, whether it’s midtown or downtown,” Turner said. “But what investments are occurring in South Memphis, North Memphis and all of these other communities which have just been left out for so many years? When a young child is raised in these communities, and they have to go to schools in these communities, to the community centers, to the corner stores because there are no grocery stores, they give up. They know that there’s no options, and we see the behavior that we’re complaining about now.”
Turner and every other candidate knows the economy and crime are major obstacles the city’s next leader needs to address. But he also knows some of the issues the city and county are dealing with come from an area another candidate is very familiar with.
“We’ve had those who’ve been in law enforcement for years and the crime has gotten worse under their leadership,” Turner said. “We got a jail that’s ranked probably the number one worst jail in the community.”
While Turner has been at the forefront of seeking justice for Tyre Nichols, he hasn’t been very outspoken in favor of or against MPD Chief CJ Davis.
He said community meetings are the way to see if the public wants to retain Chief Davis or not.
“I'll read the DOJ report,” he said. “We’ll have community meetings; we’ll go to every community. We’ll ask the community where they are, what they want, what are the issues, where do they see the improvement. And then we’ll have to ask the question: is Chief Davis the one to make it better, or should we find someone else to carry forth the plan that we are hearing as it relates to these community meetings?”
Michelle McKissack is a school board member, lifelong Memphian and mom. But along with that, she is looking to tackle crime, including juvenile crime, in Memphis as the next mayor.
“For our young people today, they feel like they don’t have anything to do and nowhere to go, and the evidence is there to a certain degree," McKissack said. "The City of Memphis, I was looking at their website for the youth services division. In that division alone, they say that they serve about 1,500 kids a year. Well, there’s 110,000 in Memphis Shelby County schools, so there’s a disconnect there.”
Aside from crime, McKissack said she sees a lack of unity as a shortfall for Memphis.
“The City of Memphis, the county government. You have the public sector, the private sector. Everyone’s kind of working in silos and not really having that communication to work together so that we can pull on the sources and be most impactful,” McKissack said.
If elected, McKissack plans to work together to increase safety, communicate better and ensure departments are running efficiently, especially just months after an uproar in the city against the Memphis Police Department following the death of Tyre Nichols.
“I think our current police chief did an outstanding job in addressing the Tyre Nichols very swiftly and releasing the video and bringing a calm to our community, but anytime you have this level of upheaval in our community, you have to take a look at what’s best for Memphis, not any one individual. We need to take a look at all sorts of departments within the City of Memphis government," she said.
On the topic of department efficiency, the school board she sits on has been in the spotlight of frustration for more than a year.
“I don’t think this is a wildly unpopular school board," she said. "It is extremely time-consuming serving on a school board. There hasn’t been a new school superintendent search—a national one—in over a decade. So what we are approaching is trying to make sure we get it right.”
Getting it right is her plan for crime, the school board and economic growth.
“We need to invest more in entrepreneurs, into small businesses because they are the driving engines in the communities," McKissack said. "To give them some of those same sorts of tax breaks that the large corporate entities are getting to help our downtown flourish and other companies.”
Karen Camper has held her Tennessee House Representative seat for a 15-year tenure. Now, the legislator is tossing her hat in the ring for Memphis mayor.
Camper said her goals include “dealing with the public school system, dealing with juvenile court" and "dealing with these zones of creative activities that will eventually extend out into all the community centers.”
Her platform is looking to create what she calls an ecosystem of these community partnerships to handle crime in the city.
According to Camper, crime is a factor in deterring large businesses from building in Memphis, so investing in the 901 is crucial to her.
“Invest in our neighborhoods,” Camper stressed. “I was responsible and took part in bringing Blue Oval City. It's going to transform Memphis. There will be so many jobs created that our citizens can benefit from.”
Camper highlighted her pushes to have Black businesses involved in Blue Oval City to increase job opportunities for minorities.
Aside from investing in the community with jobs directly, Camper also has plans to use her work at the state Capitol to work with other entities locally. While the city mayor is a non-partisan position, Camper said her house representative role of negotiating across party lines is significant.
“Whoever the mayor is, is going to have to work with Nashville,” Camper said. “I have the relationships there, in the legislature, as well as the administration. That's a must.”
Not only does she feel working with Nashville is crucial, but also working with the local utility, insisting on a full audit of MLGW.
“Take a look at MLGW. What are we doing right?” Camper questioned. “What are the best practices? What can we do better? And I think we need to get on that with the quickness.”
Camper and all of the other candidates have big plans to tackle issues residents have been concerned about for years.
Sheriff Floyd Bonner was elected to Shelby County’s top law enforcement seat back in 2018 as the county’s first Black sheriff. Now, he’s running for mayor with his eyes on the city’s crime.
His plan is intervention and prevention for juveniles, the same plan outline in many of the candidates' campaigns.
“We need more police officers, and I think that number should be around 2500,” Bonner said. “Until we can get those officers hired, the ones that are working in the precincts, we need to get them out on the streets and working in the communities, not riding or just responding to calls, but in the communities talking to the citizens and finding out what’s really going on.”
Aside from the biggest talk of town, crime, Bonner sees education as a top priority.
“There are going to be some children that are not going to want to go to college, but we've got to show them that there is a path to success, and everyone does not have to go to college to be successful,” Bonner said.
However, when it comes to success and lack of success, the operation of the Shelby County jail is in the spotlight.
“Many things that we’ve taken hits on in the jail, for instance, some of the jail deaths, those detainees never even made it to the jail,” Bonner said. “For instance, the jail death where a gentleman was killed. Well, he had a DUI, and he never entered the jail, but he died at the hospital. So, I don’t think the complete picture has been told about our jail.”
In 2023, there have been three deaths in the jail as of August 10, and in the same time frame in 2022, there were seven deaths in the jail. Regardless, Bonner touts his management of the sheriff’s department as Memphians get closer to election day.
“I have a $193 million budget,” Bonner said. “I have close to 2,000 employees. So, when you look at the next leader of this city, do they have those type of management skills, and I do.”
While the race for mayor in Memphis is non-partisan, candidate Paul Young is still showing his true blue.
“I’m a Democrat, but I look at all people and all issues and try to make the best decision that’s going to be in the best interest of the constituents,” Young said.
He raised more than $750,000 with more than nine weeks until election day, and there are no plans of slowing down in sight. He does, however, have plans to address the mistrust between the community and the Memphis Police Department.
“We have raised over $750,000. We have over $600,000 cash on hand,” Young said. “The most important statistic from that is the fact that we have over 2800 individuals that have donated to our campaign.”
Young has an expectation for more young people to get out and vote this year. So he’s using funds to target all age groups and get his name into households.
“I think the younger voters will vote if they see someone that represents their interests, and I think to date they haven’t seen that,” Young said.
Addressing crime, one of the biggest interests in Memphis, he said when it comes to youth, it's important to make sure those who are committing the crimes are held accountable, but also important to identify who's likely to be in the pool of people creating crimes in the future and "injecting opportunities in their lives."
"When we know they've been trolling from school, we know they've been getting suspended, let's find programs that are located in their ZIP codes. Let’s work with their churches. Let's work with the community groups to make sure that we are getting those children enrolled in some programs. That's gonna change their trajectory.”
Young also stressed the culture of MPD as a top priority of his.
“We have some major issues that we want to address within MPD, the culture or subculture that led to the tragic incident of Tyre Nichols. We want to make sure that that's rooted out, but we also want to make sure that there is transparency, that there's a restoration of trust and faith from the public and we want to make sure that the person at the top is leading that charge.”
Aside from crime and MPD, there’s still blight. It’s an issue residents voice time and time again, with seemingly no end in sight.
“Our neighborhoods are not attractive,” Young asserted. “We need to make sure that they're being cleaned up, that we are addressing blight in a very aggressive way, and that's going to be one of my top priorities as mayor.”
Willie Herenton is a lifelong Memphian who served five consecutive terms as Memphis’s first Black Mayor. He talked about public safety, poverty, economic development and crime.
“We’re gonna implement some intervention, prevention and some restorative justice programs,” Herenton said. “The major thing I’d like to accomplish is forging ahead with a partnership with the Memphis Shelby County Schools.”
He said crime prevention is crucial because it’s the pipeline to how business grows in every corner of Memphis.
“It’s very difficult to recruit companies to a crime-ridden city,” Herenton said. “Low educational entertainment on the part of a large segment of our students, that’s an issue. Poverty certainly is an issue here. So, it’s just a whole array of urban issues that we need to attack and affordable housing.”
“There’s a critical housing problem here in Memphis that we need to address as well,” Herenton continued.
He also talked about the economic impact he said he already brought to the 901.
“In 1991, when I became the mayor, downtown Memphis was desolate, baron - we didn’t have any fortune 500 companies located in Memphis,” Herenton said. “Through our leadership, we forged ahead with some fantastic partnerships that today, you see big companies that have a major footprint in Memphis.”
He also addressed there were some shortfalls when he served as Mayor.
“We should have a metropolitan form of government – that was a missed opportunity for Memphis and it was on my watch,” Herenton said. “We missed getting an NFL and Nashville got that. We missed Casino gaming.”
The Casino gaming proposition could have been a high revenue source for the Bluff City.
Herenton kicked off his 2023 campaign mid-July with a group of about 100 supporters and $17,100 raised at the time.