City Councilman Lee Harris on Thursday uprooted incumbent state Sen. Ophelia Ford who was vying to retain the District 29 seat held by a member of the Ford family for three-plus decades.
And in the race for Shelby County District Attorney, former TV judge Joe Brown was swamped by incumbent Amy Weirich in a high-profile race that ended up not being any where near the close contest that some had predicted.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Harris had 10,495 votes, or 42.4 percent, compared with Ford’s 6,750 votes, or 27.27 percent. Challenger Ricky Dixon had 6,878 votes, or 27.79 percent.
“We didn’t have a lot of signs. We barely had T-shirts. We didn’t have history on our side at all because there is a long history of Ford re-elections,” said Harris. “We also had a challenge because there were multiple candidates in the race. But what we did have, we had a message. And our message was that the community is ready for change.”
Harris, a law professor at the University of Memphis, faces Republican James R. “Jim” Finney, in the November election.
In 2005, Ford took over the seat of her brother John Ford, who resigned shortly after he was indicted and later convicted of taking $55,000 in bribes.
While in office, Ophelia Ford made headlines several times with her rants in legislative committees and on the Senate floor. She's also been in poor health during most of her tenure.
During the most recent session, Ford was reportedly listed as absent for 25 of the session's 53 days, more than any other lawmaker. She reportedly submitted letters to the Senate speaker for most of her absences, saying she was too ill to attend.
Voter Sylvia Daniel of Memphis said she voted for Harris, despite Ford's experience and recognizable name.
She said the negative publicity, such as missing days of work in the General Assembly, worked against Ford. “I know it’s from illness, but if you’re sickly, then you might need to kind of take care of your health,” Daniel said.
Harris was elected to the City Council in 2011 and has been an advocate for public safety and youth intervention. He is a tenured professor at the University of Memphis Law School and has a law degree from Yale.
Brown stumbles in DA bid
Brown, a Criminal Court judge before stepping down in 2000 to dedicate himself to his highly-popular TV show, was not able to turn his notoriety into enough support to seriously challenge the incumbent Weirich.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Weirich had 65 percent of the vote compared with 35 percent for Brown.
“The voters told me that they pay attention to who the best candidate is,” said Weirich after her victory became apparent. “And that it is about hope over hate, it’s about inclusion over division, it’s about doing everything we can to make Shelby County as strong as we can for all of the families that live hear.
Brown was not available for comment.
(This story reflects staff and AP reports.)