My father was undaunted. He campaigned and campaigned. He accepted every invitation he received to attend candidate forums and debates, even when Kuykendall refused to show. When Kuykendall was a no-show to debates, my father would bring a briefcase and place it in front of the chair or podium where Kuykendall was supposed to sit or stand. After my father finished answering a question, he would look at the stand-in briefcase and proceed to give Kuykendall's answer, which he derived from Kuykendall's voting record. So, when the questions in a debate turned to health care, he pulled out several documents proving Kuykendall's slavish support of the pharmaceutical industry over the needs of senior citizens and working people.
My dad outworked and outcampaigned Kuykendall. He had no choice because history and demographics were not on his side. On Election Day, my dad and his team gathered in their war room. To count votes, he largely relied on two people, Osbie Howard and Frank Banks. They remain great friends today. I don't remember much about that campaign, but I'll never forget Osbie and Frank constantly putting up numbers on a Memphis precinct map in the war room. My dad had a volunteer or a staffer at every polling place in the district, and as soon as the polls closed and the votes were counted, the staffer or volunteer would collect the numbers off the voting machines and call. (The actual ballots were then physically transported to the Elections Commission office for certification.)
The counting was slow, but my dad, Frank, and Osbie had built a prediction model based on turnout and win-loss margin in specific precincts. Early on, it became clear that my dad was overperforming in his base areas. The trend continued, and finally, late that night, Frank and Osbie said, "Harold, we think you've won it. We think you won this race by fewer than 500 votes."
Not long after Frank and Osbie's declaration, the local media began reporting that my dad was losing decisively, by nearly 5,000 votes. News of an impending Kuykendall victory was spreading. Kuykendall started doing interviews suggesting that he had won.
Frank and Osbie saw the media reports. My dad insisted that they recheck their numbers. "There's no way. That's not plausible. Unless we're missing something and our numbers are completely off." So they did the math again. They reached the same conclusion: My dad had won by roughly 500 votes. The local news declared Kuykendall the winner based on the final results from the Elections Commission. My father decided that the only way to reconcile Frank and Osbie's numbers—and his own belief that he had won—with the Elections Commission's final numbers was to go down to the Elections Commission headquarters and demand a recount.
What happened then transformed politics in Memphis and introduced the city and the region to a new era of public service. "I have reason to believe these numbers are not accurate," my dad said at the commission, "and I want to contest them." He was told flatly that the race was over, he had lost, and he would get no recount. When he argued, he was met with racial epithets. "You niggers go home," someone said. "You lost."