A C Wharton
A C Wharton Jr. is the 63rd mayor of the City of Memphis and the eighth mayor since city government was restructured into a mayor-City Council form of government in 1968.
Reared in Lebanon, Tennessee, Mayor Wharton attended Tennessee State University, where he majored in political science and graduated with honors in 1962. Six years later, he entered the University of Mississippi Law School, where he was one of the first African-American students to serve on the Moot Court Board and the first African-American to serve on the Judicial Council. He graduated with honors in 1971, and three years later, he became the first African-American professor of law at University of Mississippi, a position that he held for 25 years.
Following college graduation, Mayor Wharton worked in Washington, D.C., at the Office of General Council of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for two years and one year at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, heading up the Public Employment Project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.
In November, 1973, Mayor Wharton moved to Memphis to accept the job as executive director of Memphis Area Legal Services, a nonprofit organization providing civil legal assistance to low-income people. Legal Services was in severe financial trouble, but under his leadership, it not only survived but was recognized nationally for its innovative programs, including the nation’s first legal services office for seniors.
In 1980, Mayor Wharton was appointed as Shelby County's Chief Public Defender, heading up the office providing free criminal representation to poor people. In that position, his concern for the mentally ill in the criminal justice system gave birth to a national model program. He also was chair of the Jail Overcrowding Committee, which developed innovative ways to ease overcrowding without sacrificing public safety. In 1982, he wrote and worked successfully to pass one of the first state laws in the U.S. to combat domestic violence, and at a national level, he worked for a special appropriation for one of the nation’s first transitional living facilities for juveniles. At the same time, with his wife, Ruby, he formed the law firm of Wharton and Wharton.
In 2002, Shelby County Government was approaching bankruptcy and was racked with corruption, inefficiencies, and fragmented operations, and offered few opportunities for the public to have a voice in its decisions. Elected as the first African-American Shelby County Mayor in 2002 with 62 percent of the vote and easily reelected in 2006 with 77 percent of the vote, he developed the county’s first financial plan and decreased its long-term debt, he reduced the county payroll, he increased efficiency, and he limited county government to only one tax increase in seven years. In addition, he removed the threat to Head Start, began new programs for the youngest children in the community, and successfully lobbied for tougher gun laws, more funding for the drug court, and better victim’s rights programs.
In October, 2009, Mayor Wharton was elected Memphis Mayor with 61 percent of the vote in a field of 25 candidates. Filling the unexpired term left by the resignation of the former mayor, he announced the most detailed platform in modern Memphis politics, and since taking the oath of office, he has been energetic in implementing it. As a result, Memphis is in motion, achieving a record number of “firsts” that have reduced crime, improved city services, enhanced quality of life, and created new good-paying jobs for Memphians. In addition, for the first time in decades, Memphis is involved in national conversations about cities, including the Obama White House, U.S. Conference of Mayors, Brookings Institution, CEOs for Cities, National Endowment for the Arts, Mayor’s Institute of Civic Design. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked Mayor Wharton to help review his city’s anti-poverty plans, and with Mayor Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Mayor Wharton is a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition.
Mayor Wharton was reelected in 2011 for a full four-year term with 65 percent of the vote to 28 percent for his nearest opponent. He took office January 1, 2012, with a promise to usher in a new era of communication and collaboration and a concentrated focus on four key priorities: reinvesting in safe and vibrant neighborhoods, creating jobs and prosperity of all, giving every child a fair start in life through early childhood development, and a high-performing government that fights crime and inefficiency.
Mayor and Mrs. Wharton have been married 41 years and have raised six sons.