Harris, Lenoir face off in Shelby County mayoral candidates’ debate

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Democrat Lee Harris, a former Memphis City councilman and state senator, and Republican David Lenoir, the Shelby County trustee, faced off at a debate at the University Club on Wednesday.

The two are running for the job of Shelby County mayor. WREG’s Stephanie Scurlock moderated the debate, sponsored by WREG and the Kiwanis Club.

Lenoir, who presented his opening statements first, said the next county mayor needs to be someone with executive experience who understood county finances, and who would be tough on violent crime.

“I believe I have the background, skills and ability to lead this county forward,” said Lenoir, who said he built three businesses in 20 years before his eight years of public service.

Harris, in his opening, said the big issue in our community is poverty, followed by inequality, and segregation.

“We have to have a leader in this county that can campaign and communicate across the entire county, from Collierville to Germantown, from Germantown to Boxtown from South Memphis to Whitehaven,” he said. “For too long, we have been too divided and there has been too much discord.”

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Education

Both candidates stressed support for vocational education and pre-K education funding.

Educational spending was the theme of several questions. The county approves Shelby County Schools’ budget.

“We spend $400 million out of the Shelby County budget, it’s one-third of the county budget” Lenoir said he would create an educational liaison to make sure the school system is using funds carefully.

Harris said the county mayor and commission needs to be working with the school board year-round on their budget.

Transit

But improving public transit was one of the first points of disagreement.

Harris said investing in public transit to get residents to jobs would help pull Shelby County residents out of poverty by giving them access to jobs.

“There are simple things that we could do to improve lives very fast in terms of public transit, and it could be a game-changer,” Harris said.

Lenoir said he agreed MATA needed reform, but said it was mostly a city issue. “Maybe Mr. Harris needs to run for city mayor and address the transit issues. …

“With the technology today, with Uber and FedEx, one of the best logistics companies in the nation, I find it hard to believe we can’t find a way to address some of the transit issues in Memphis,” Lenoir said.

Relations with county commission and City Council

Harris stressed that he had successfully worked on programs with Republicans including Commissioner Terry Roland and state Sen. Brian Kelsey.

“When I see a chance to get something done, I say bring it on,” Harris said.

Lenoir said he’d been working with the county and city for e

“I’m a bridge builder, not a bridge burner,” Lenoir said.