The crowd erupted in applause at Owen Brennan’s restaurant on Poplar Avenue Thursday night after Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell Jr. made his way upfront to address his supporters and campaign staffers.
“I am so very, very appreciative of the opportunities that you’ve given me. Eight years as your sheriff, now going into eight years as your county mayor,” said Luttrell, who’d just beat Democratic challenger Deidre Malone in a hotly contested mayoral race in the county general election.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Luttrell’s vote total came to 90,470 (62 percent). Malone trailed with 53,376 (36 percent) votes. The decisive victory is a mandate from voters Luttrell alluded to going forward.
“I hope more than anything else…what we’re able to do tonight is not only celebrate this victory on election night, but also resolve to go forward with those things that we emphasized throughout the campaign that were so vital to this community,” he said.
Economic development, providing a world-class education, improving the economy, protecting Shelby Countians, and managing a fiscally sound budget were some of the issues that Luttrell focused on during the campaign.
Malone fought hard to wrest the seat from Luttrell, but came up short. She was a mayoral candidate in the Democratic primary in 2010, but lost to then-interim Shelby County mayor Joe Ford, whom Luttrell beat that year in the general.
Malone called to thank Luttrell on winning reelection. Later she shared part of the conversation with supporters who gathered at the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery on Beale St.
“I said to him that my hope is that for the next four years that you will do something great for Memphis and Shelby County. And I think it is our responsibility to make sure that he does.”
Luttrell, she said, thanked her for “having a campaign that was honest” and one run with integrity.
“We (during the campaign) talked about the issues because I felt that that’s what the people wanted to hear from us.”
Malone pointed out the new ground her campaign was able to break during the primary.
“We were able to do something in the primary that no other woman had done. We won the primary for the Democrats. And no female has won it for Republicans – so excited about that opportunity, about breaking that glass ceiling in the primary.”
Noting that women are the majority of voters in Memphis and Shelby County, Malone said, “And we need to step up realize that we can lead as well. So I look forward to supporting a very qualified woman, whoever comes behind me to take this on. And I am sure that someone real soon will make it happen.”
Malone assured supporters that she would continue to be have a voice for the working folks in the community.
Luttrell campaign staffer Bryan Edmiston, a Cordova high school teacher, said Luttrell didn’t take anything for granted. “He made phone calls himself. I was impressed with his work ethic.”
Grassroots campaigning, Luttrell said, is his key to winning elections.
“We made 40,000 phone calls over the last six weeks. We hit the 40,000 mark yesterday (Aug. 6th). We knocked on hundreds of doors, reached out to people one-on-one and stood on street corners.”
Dr. Melvin D. Wade said he predicted Luttrell would beat Malone based on the mayor’s record in office and the reaction from those he’d introduced the mayor to while campaigning one day in North Memphis.
“I didn’t find a single person who said anything negative about the mayor, which, to me, was an indication they were pleased with the mayor and his administration,” said Wade, pastor of Christian Chapel Baptist Church in North Memphis.
“I personally felt like he’d done an excellent job in leading the county in the last four years,” he said.
Luttrell noted the challenges that Shelby County faces, but added, “What progressively moved us forward is that we have evolved in this community to solve problems…. We’re charitable. We get involved. We step out when we’re needed. We do the things that have to be done to move us forward.”
That includes praying, he said. “I think it’s important for those of us in public office that every night when we lay our head on that pillow we say our prayers.”
He said he did not want to disappoint those people who trusted him, those who believed he has the skillset to make a different.
“I want you to always feel comfortable with me, have confidence in me, and have faith in my ability to represent you as best as I can. I will continue to do that,” he said.
(This story includes a report by Nina Allen-Johnson.)