Herenton suing city, claims ballot measure designed to keep him out of mayor’s race

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Willie Herenton, the former Memphis mayor who has announced he’s running for the office again, is suing the city of Memphis, claiming city leader are actively trying to keep him from running for mayor next year.

The lawsuit concerns the referendum on next month’s ballot that asks voters to extend term limits for city leaders from two four-year terms to three.

Herenton claims the ballot language — as originally approved by City Council early this year — applied only to people in office after December 31, 2011.

It was later modified to apply to any candidate who’s ever held office.

Herenton’s attorney, Robert Spence, says the change clearly targets his client.

“The only mayor that it could apply to is Dr. Herenton, so it is obvious why these words were removed,” Spence said. “They were removed to prevent Dr. Herenton from running for mayor in 2019.”

But the city attorney who drafted the language said the error is his fault, and the city would concede if Herenton filed suit after the election.

“It was my drafting error,” council attorney Allan Wade said. “There was no intent to deceive anybody.”

Wade said he was working with several different versions of the document and the wrong one ended up on the ballot, although he says he also sent the full language as approved by council to the election commission. The issue was discovered last week while the city was researching another lawsuit related to a different ballot measure.

He said according to a state Supreme Court ruling, Herenton could challenge the ballot measure after the election, but not before.

“We would concede that” if Herenton filed suit, Wade said.