Mayor A C Wharton, Jr.
A C Wharton, Jr. was elected the Mayor of Memphis in a special election held on October 15, 2009, to complete the former Mayor Willie W. Herenton's fifth term. He was selected with over 60 percent of the vote and has now ascended to become the new mayor of Memphis.
Mayor Wharton was first elected Mayor of Shelby County, Tennessee in August 2002 and was re-elected to this post in August 2006 with approximately 77% of the vote. Shelby is the largest county for the state encompassing its largest city, Memphis.
Born and raised just outside of Nashville in Lebanon, Tennessee, Mayor Wharton attended Tennessee State University where he received a bachelor's degree in political science in 1966 and later earned his law degree from the University of Mississippi in 1971. His long and storied career has included his time as the Chief Public Defender of Shelby County, as an investigator for the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in Washington, D.C., as an attorney for the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights under Law, and as a partner in his family's firm, Wharton & Wharton & Associates. His underlying devotion to the public is easily observable throughout his career, including his time as a legal services attorney when he took on landmark litigation to improve the plight of the economically disadvantaged in areas as diverse as housing, mental health, prisoner rights, and civil rights.
In addition to the multifaceted arenas of his practice, Wharton also maintained a position as Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi for over twenty-five years. He taught standing-room-only classes in the areas of employment, rights of the elderly, legal problems of the indigent and administrative law. It was there that he attracted the attention of one of his students later turned bestselling author, John Grisham, who featured him as the endearingly-titled "Geezer Law" professor in his 1995 book and later hit movie, The Rainmaker.
It was Wharton's unerring commitment to the public good that inspired his run for Mayor.
Upon his historic election as the first African-American mayor of Shelby County, he inherited a number of serious challenges, including several cases of public corruption and an escalating county debt. Hardly recoiling from these challenges, Wharton championed the cause for sweeping ethics reform, which led to a number of prominent policy changes for county employees and officials. To tackle the economic issues, Wharton spearheaded the County's first-ever efficiency study and strategic planning initiative, resulting in millions of dollars in savings, while boosting economic development by fostering relationships with local and international businesses. Moreover, his Needs Assessment Committee brought openness, close scrutiny, and savings to the County's capital expenditures on public education which had exceeded $360 million at its height.
To prove that efficiency could also bring about higher quality, Mayor Wharton improved the management of the County's Head Start program. His reforms attracted the attention of the United States Congress, where he was called to testify before the House Committee on Education, with many of his subsequent recommendations being translated into changes to public policy. In the way of early childhood development, he also was a strong advocate of the Books from Birth early-childhood education program, which under his leadership has provided books for over 28,000 children annually.
Mayor Wharton's recognition beyond the Mid-South continues to expand as evidenced by his personal invitation from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to assist in the review of New York's anti-poverty efforts, NYC Opportunity. This invitation came after Mayor Bloomberg's reading of Wharton's progressive writing relative to the use of incentives for student success. Additionally, Mayor Wharton has been heavily involved with the renowned Brookings Institution as a partner with their Blueprint for American Prosperity study. This report and accompanying policy initiative, which outlines the importance of metropolitan regions as economic drivers, has seen direct application in many of the regional approaches for which Mayor Wharton has advocated in the Mid-South.
Finally, Mayor Wharton continues to be a crusader for environmental awareness. He was the convener and impetus behind the community wide effort which led to the drafting of Sustainable Shelby, an environmentally sustainable agenda for the county. Recognizing the immense resources that Shelby Farms, the nation's largest urban park, could provide, Mayor Wharton entered into a conservancy agreement with the Land Trust of Tennessee to ensure that the park would be saved from commercial development and enjoyed for generations to come. He is currently advancing ways for the county to enhance its leadership in the realm of green energy.
Most importantly, Mayor Wharton's overarching goal to make government "more accessible, more sensible and more compassionate" has become the informal mission statement governing the divisions and departments within the City of Memphis system. As a parent, practitioner, professor, and public servant who, as one colleague describes, "has a small-town charm with a big city edge that finds itself equally at home in neighborhood barber shops and corporate board rooms," Mayor Wharton is committed to providing visionary leadership to the citizens of City of Memphis.
He lives in Memphis with his wife, Ruby, where they have raised their six sons.