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Two good candidates, one clear choice in District 7

City Council District 7 Runoff Election candidates, Kemba Ford and Lee Harris, spoke directly and frankly with the TSD regarding their motivations, vision and practical approaches to leadership. It is a priority of the New Tri-State Defender to provide insight and leadership to its readers and the community at-large in assessing key issues that impact the future of our city, including elections and the selection of candidates vying for elected office. Recently, the candidates in the City Council District 7 Runoff Election visited TSD for Q&A sessions designed to get direct information and cut through the morass of rumor and innuendo about the candidates and their positions on the issues.  

 Kemba Ford Lee Harris
 Kemba Ford

 Lee Harris

Both candidates – Kemba Ford and Lee Harris – spoke directly and frankly with the TSD regarding their motivations, vision and practical approaches to leadership. From these interviews and information provided by each candidate we have decided to endorse one of the candidates as the best currently suited to join the City Council in moving Memphis forward. This decision was made taking into account the candidates’ responses, their backgrounds and experiences and the challenges facing the Council, District 7 and the City as a whole.  

Ford and Harris represent a new brand of candidate for public office in Memphis in that each is young, smart, articulate, bold, energetic and assertive in engaging the community and addressing the issues. It was refreshing to engage both candidates in conversation about their views and ideas for a “New Memphis.” In that regard, both candidates would be equally positive for the District 7 seat.

The TSD analysis extended to other critical issues facing the City and the district and to the candidates themselves. When analyzing the candidates’ positions on the primary issues, their responses to us and in other published forums, including the Coalition for a Better Memphis, they broke down as follows on a 1-to-5 scale, with 5 being the highest:

  Kemba Ford
 Lee Harris
 Crime 4 3
 Passion and Energy 5 4
 Public Education 3 3
 Economic Development/Job Creation 2 4
 Minority/African American Business Development 3 4
 Neighborhood Improvement and Developments 4 4
 Governance 3 4
 Education and Training 3 5
 Experience and Service 3 4
 Total 30 35

On the issue of crime, Ford demonstrated a more detailed approach to dealing with the issue of crime, including providing better opportunities and choices to young people and focusing on prevention rather than arrest and enforcement. Harris’ responses reflected little creativity and basic support of law enforcement initiatives like “Blue Crush.” It was important to take a look at some of the intangible things such as a candidate’s level of enthusiasm and passion. And although subjective in nature, it was clear to gauge after spending over an hour with each candidate. They both demonstrated a high level of passion to serve the voters of District 7 and the City of Memphis and general enthusiasm for the City, with Ford slightly edging out her opponent in exuberance.

Both candidates need to become better versed on the issue of public education, specifically funding, reform, consolidation, and the relationship of the City Council to MCS and the consolidated school board. Neither showed a depth of knowledge on the subject and will need to get up to speed quickly to add value on the Council as it deals with ways to bring leadership to improving public education for all the students of Memphis and Shelby County and in working with a newly consolidated school system.

In the area of overall economic development and job creation, both candidates understand the importance of focusing efforts and creativity to ensuring constituents have new opportunities, but Harris provided more detailed plans on how to use and modify existing tools to ensure better local job creation.  His experience as a former small business owner and employer served to strengthen his rating in this category.

In the area of minority and African-American business development, clearly Harris’ experience in Atlanta and as a student at Morehouse College shaped his mindset and policy approaches about what can be done to affect positive change and growth in business development and wealth creation for African Americans in Memphis and Shelby County. Ford understood it as a priority and offered some positive solutions but not as detailed and focused as those presented by Harris. 

Both candidates presented strong and positive strategies for addressing citizens’ concerns in improving neighborhoods, cleaning up blight and revitalizing communities.

Ford’s family legacy obviously gives her a strong position in understanding governance. Her personal experience, however, is lacking in comparison to Harris who is an attorney and former president of the Shelby County Young Democrats.  He has worked with many of the current council members over the past several years, establishing positive working relationships that will be beneficial to hitting the ground running as the new council is seated.

Clearly, Ford is no intellectual lightweight. She proved to be very insightful, articulate and creative, exhibiting a strong ability to get her point across and connect with people.  However, she has not yet completed a formal college degree program after attending several colleges around the country. Harris has an undergraduate degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta and a law degree from Yale. He also is currently a law professor at the University of Memphis.

Lastly, in the areas of experience and community service, Harris’ track record of community service and commitment to the Memphis community, including serving youth at Head Start, Big Brother’s Big Sisters, restarting the Shelby County Young Democrats organization, organizing mock trial competitions, among others gives him a significant edge in demonstrated service to the Memphis community over an extended period of time. Except for the time away at school, he has been in Memphis and providing service to the community. Ford has spent a significant amount of time away from the city and did not demonstrate or provide any detailed level of service to the community prior to her current run for public office. 

Stripping away all of the political misinformation and in evaluating each candidate on their own words and records, Harris clearly has the edge as the candidate of choice for City Council District 7. His educational experience, track record of service to the community, ability to engage and work with the current council for progress, and progressive policy ideas on economic development and African-American business and wealth creation gave him the edge over Ford.

Despite some of her current deficiencies in this race versus Harris, Ford has proven herself to be a solid contender for public office benefiting from but not resting on the laurels of her politically powerful family name. While Harris should be elected to the City Council in District 7 on Nov. 10, Ford has the potential to be a strong public servant in the not too distant future.

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