Longtime Memphis city government official Ken Moody launched his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Shelby County mayor Thursday with criticism of current and recent administrations, saying the county must do better.
"As I was able to have a front row seat in city government and acknowledge and see the areas and challenges that city government faced, the one area I saw that lacked the commitment and service to move the city forward was in the county mayor’s office," Moody said.
Moody, who is a special assistant to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, is also a former University of Memphis basketball player. He previously served in former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's administration, working as the director of public services and neighborhoods before resigning in 2009.
In 2022, he will challenge incumbent Mayor Lee Harris in the Democratic Primary.
On the Republican side, Memphis City Councilman Worth Morgan has announced he is running for mayor.
Moody turned up the heat on the Harris administration, criticizing Harris on a variety of issues, although not by name.
One issue people are considering is how the current mayor administration handled the COVID-19 pandemic, Moody said, including how Harris visited Ghana in the early days of the virus arriving in Shelby County. The trip was a Memphis in May trip which Harris attended along with other local officials and business leaders and from which he returned once he heard of the first school closures due to COVID-19.
Then, the county was in charge of testing, with lines often stretching for hours, Moody said. Later, the county became responsible for vaccine distribution, a responsibility they were ultimately stripped of by the state after issues with wasted doses and inadequate handling procedures.
"I think we’re all going to come out of this pandemic and move forward," Moody said. "I don’t want to make this pandemic political, but it shows a lack of leadership that took place. … That one time when county government should have stepped in and taken over they failed.”
Moody also stressed that the county mayor must take the lead in economic development, and in bringing together crime agencies from different municipalities to craft a crime prevention plan for the entire county.
"You're going to get that from our administration," he said.
The county mayor also can't have an antagonistic relationship with the commission, he said.
Moody was introduced by Vickie Finch, wife of the late Larry Finch, a legendary player and coach for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.
Larry Finch coached Moody when Moody was a basketball player at the UofM.
Vickie Finch recalled how Moody helped care for her husband when he was ailing during his last years of life.
“When I was at my lowest point, Kenny was one of those people who came to my rescue once Larry’s health failed him. I didn’t call for him, I didn’t ask for help. I had no idea that he would be the one to come and say Ms. Finch, what do you need? What is there that I can do to help you? He won my heart that day.”
If elected as county mayor, Moody will “do everything he can” to take on the whole city, she said.
In his announcement, Moody drew several times on his faith as well as his upbringing in South Memphis as the youngest of 11 children born to a single mother.
"Any decision I make will be based on prayer with the Lord and knowing that I'm doing what he has led me to do," Moody said. "This opportunity isn't about me. The bulk of my professional service has been in city government, for 20 years, and God has blessed me with positions to serve. We're at this moment in time now for me to continue that service but at a different level."
Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 901-529-2799 or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Ken Moody launches campaign for Shelby County mayor