Democrat Steve Mulroy defeated Republican incumbent Amy Weirich Thursday, Aug. 4, in the race for District Attorney General.
With all 142 precincts reporting, the unofficial totals showed Mulroy with 74,940 votes to Weirich’s 58,582.
With 20 precincts still out late Thursday, Weirich had not conceded. She said she wanted to wait for all the numbers to be counted.
“The numbers are not trending the way we wanted them to, but out of respect for that last voter that stood in line until 8:45 p.m. tonight, we’re going to let those numbers play out, and we’re going to see what the next hours bring,” she said.
At the headquarters Mulroy shared with Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, who won re-election, Mulroy and 200-300 attendees celebrated with dancing, karaoke and chants of “Our DA!”
Those in attendance included state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, Memphis City Councilwoman Patrice Robinson and Shelby County Commissioner-elect Britney Thornton.
The race was the highest profile contest on the ballot as crime continues to rise in Shelby County. Other prosecutors nationally touting the same progressive platform that got Mulroy elected have met with mixed results, including a recall of the San Francisco District Attorney.
When asked how he felt about the campaign, Mulroy was pragmatic.
“Both candidates were battered and bruised. I mean, the rough and tumble of politics is something that sometimes can’t be avoided,” Mulroy said. “I think by Shelby County standards, this was a pretty rough race. I wish that the tone of the campaign could have been a little bit dialed down a few notches.”
Mulroy said he will use various resources as he makes the transition from law professor to District Attorney.
“There are people in the DA’s office with institutional knowledge,” he said. “There are defense lawyers who have a unique perspective on the problems of the DA’s office. There are national criminal justice reform groups, some of whom, whose sole job is to advise reform prosecutors after they’ve been elected during the transition period. There’ll be no shortage of resources for me to draw upon.”
Mulroy will serve as the head prosecutor in Shelby County for the next eight years, the longest term of office for elected prosecutors in the country.
Both candidates said their priority was fighting violent crime and both agreed gun laws in Tennessee are too relaxed. But each has different ways of prosecuting crimes.
Mulroy’s campaign was about criminal justice reform, including decreasing the number of juveniles tried as adults, giving low-level offenders more lenient sentences with alternative programs and restructuring the bail setting system.
Weirich’s campaign was about being tough on crime and holding people accountable, such as with a recently passed Truth in Sentencing bill she supported. But she also has supported programs to attempt to prevent people from committing crimes in the first place.
Mulroy has been a law professor at Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law since 2000. He is a former County Commissioner, who served for District 5 from 2006 to 2014; civil rights lawyer under President Bill Clinton’s U.S. Justice Department, a criminal defense lawyer and a federal prosecutor.
Mulroy has said he plans on diversifying the prosecutor’s office, which employs about 30-31% people of color. Mulroy has argued the district attorney’s office should better reflect the Memphis population, which is predominantly African American.
He has also said he would put a low priority on prosecuting people for performing abortions, which will become almost fully illegal in Tennessee Aug. 25, when a trigger ban kicks in.
“It is definitely the case that it would be a very low priority for me,” he said during a previous interview. “So I think as a policy matter, there are problems with using the criminal justice system to handle matters of reproductive choice.”
He is also against truth in sentencing, which will in many cases ensure people convicted of certain crimes will serve their full sentence with no chance of parole.
He thinks alternative programs should be offered to juvenile and adult defendants, such as through a partnership with Youth Village’s Memphis Allies program and the implementation of other gun violence reduction and restorative justice programs.
He also supports a conviction review unit and ramping up efforts to conduct DNA testing.
Mulroy was endorsed by Mayor Lee Harris; entertainer John Legend; the rapper Common; the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake; and civil rights attorney Ben Crump.
Weirich was appointed District Attorney General in 2011 by former Gov. Bill Haslam and elected in 2012 to serve the remaining two years of the term of predecessor Bill Gibbons. In 2014, she was reelected to serve a full eight years. She joined the District Attorney’s office in 1991 as a courtroom prosecutor.
Weirich holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Tennessee at Martin and a law degree from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
As District Attorney, she established vertical prosecution, which ensures prosecutors see the same cases as they rise from General Sessions Criminal Court, downstairs at 201 Poplar, to the upstairs Criminal Courts.
Shortly before election day, Weirich was targeted by protesters, who hung protest banners on her headquarters, 6645 Poplar Ave. The same organizers created a bogus website with her name on it.
Some supporters had seemed resigned to a possible loss by Weirich even before the votes were counted, including Ray Lepone, deputy District Attorney. He posted a cryptic message on Facebook Wednesday, Aug. 3.
“I realized today that the position I’m in going into … tomorrow’s election is like having someone you love on a train track,” he wrote. “… And the rule is you have to talk them off of the track to save them you can’t tackle them off the track. My last post as your Deputy DA. I hope you turnaround and see the train and vote before the end of the day tomorrow. Love ya either way.”
Weirich was endorsed by the Memphis Police Association; Worth Morgan; the Shelby County Deputy Sheriff’s Association; Cameron Sexton, speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives; Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo and Germantown Alderman Brian Ueleke.
Akbari said having Mulroy as the new District Attorney General and Tarik Sugarmon as the new Juvenile Court Judge will help.
“We have, it looks like, defeated the most corrupt DA in the entire country,” Akbari said. “Shelby County deserves a DA that’s going to be ethical, impartial and is going to provide some equity. And Steve Mulroy is that person, and I think along with the combination of Judge Tarik Sugarmon in juvenile court, it’s gonna be a new day for justice and equity in Tennessee and in Shelby County.”