Wednesday, December 20, 2000

DOUBLE-DEALING

DOUBLE-DEALING

Posted By on Wed, Dec 20, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Several deals went down Monday at one of the most significant meetings in the history of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners. Let us count the ways:

* Developers, always a major force in commission proceedings, amplified their clout considerably by electing one of their own, homebuilder Tom Moss, to fill a commission vacancy;

* Democrats, consigned up until now to the minority position in a 7-6 partisan mix, appeared by virtue of Moss’ election to have permanently broken up the commission’s dominant Republican bloc;

* Commissioner Shep Wilbun, who has been angling for a clerkship for years now, finally landed his appointment -- to the juvenile court clerkship vacated by the now-retired Bob Martin;

* Commissioner Clair VanderSchaaf, who provided the key votes to elect both Moss and Wilbun to their respective new positions, has earned what apparently is a pledge from Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout to see to VanderSchaaf’s defeat for reelection in 2002;

* Commissioner Buck Wellford, a strong candidate to become the next U.S. attorney in Tennessee’s Western District, left little doubt that he intends to sound the alarm about potential special-interest involvement in commission affairs.

Whew! And, as they say, that ain’t all: There are spin-offs from each of these developments as well.

The Moss Affair

Moss, a political unknown who defeated GOP favorite David Lillard for the commission seat (made vacant by the resignation of State Senator-elect Mark Norris) is sure to be opposed by a strong Republican candidate in the next regular commission election of 2002.

Although he described himself at Monday’s meeting as a “moderate Republican,” most Shelby County Republicans regard Moss as politically suspect. Literally, his first act, after taking his seat Monday, was to vote with five black Democrats on the Commission to elect Democrat Wilbun (who abstained in the voting for the clerkship).

Businessman/pol Joe Cooper, who during Monday’s proceedings sat in the back of the commission auditorium with mega-developer William R. “Rusty” Hyneman, a close associate, boasted, “Rusty and I put the deal together,” but denied that anything untoward was involved and said one major consequence of the new commission lineup would be that Democrats would have greater power, with Moss functioning as a swing voter.

Hyneman’s involvement in the outcome was sure to provoke controversy, especially in that Moss’ ability to represent the commission’s District 4 is predicated on his brand-new residence in a house he has just leased from Douglas Beatty, who is serving as a trustee for the property, which is actually owned by Hyneman.

The arrangement is a reminder of a similar transaction whereby city Councilman Rickey Peete last year acquired a house from Hyneman by means of a complicated process involving the developer’s making over a quit-claim deed to the councilman. Disclosure of that arrangement, which freed Peete from the need to qualify for a conventional loan, came at a time when Peete voted with a council majority to suspend existing restrictions on development in Cordova.

Wellford and other Republicans acknowledge that a shift in the commission’s partisan lineup is one likely outcome of Moss’ election, but Wellford for one makes no bones about what he sees as the more significant result -- a quantum leap in the power of developers.

Questioning Moss Monday before the commission voted, Wellford -- a sponsor of several environmentalist ordinances, including a recent one restricting developers’ ability to clear forest land -- made an effort to trace the connection from Hyneman to Beatty to Moss and voiced his suspicions that a deal had been cut between developers and the commission’s black Democrats to accomplish their respective purposes. “I have no doubt about it,” he said.

Like other Republicans, Wellford said there was reason to doubt the bona fides of Moss’ new residence. Asked by the commissioner whether he had actually lived in the house, on Macon Road, Moss answered in part, “I stayed there last night.”

VanderSchaaf’s Role

Just as Moss has become a marked man to the Republican hierarchy and to the administration of Mayor Rout -- which had solidly backed Lillard for the commission vacancy and Deputy Juvenile Court Clerk Steve Stamson for the clerk’s position won by Wilbun -- so has Commissioner VanderSchaaf.

VanderSchaaf, himself a major developer, said he voted for Moss over fellow Republican Lillard “because I’ve known Tom longer and better.” He said he had been candid with Lillard about his intentions, and he fueled the partisan controversy by saying that the new, less partisan lineup on the commission could make it possible “for us to take our heads out of the sand” on matters like potential tax increases, “where we tried to hold the line for six years.”

VanderSchaaf said, however, that he thought Moss would eventually become a reliable part of the Republican majority on the commission. In the vote for juvenile court clerk, VanderSchaaf also played a pivotal role. On the commission’s first three ballots, which deadlocked at six votes for Wilbun and six for Stamson, VanderSchaaf had stood with fellow Republican Stamson, Martin’s longtime aide.

“But I had told Steve in advance I might have to break the deadlock,” said VanderSchaaf, and ultimately, on the fourth ballot, he did just that, voting with the Democrats to give Wilbun the position. The general feeling among the commission’s Repubicans was that VanderSchaaf’s vote for Wilbun was preordained and that his first votes for Stamson on the first three ballots were, in the words of one Republican, “so much window-dressing.”

“I have a good idea of what to expect,” VanderSchaaf said of the prospect that he will have organized Republican opposition for his reelection effort in 2002. And he indicated that he was resigned to the fact, widely discussed in political circles, that Rout would personally target him for defeat. “There are certain things I’ll just have to accept,” he said.

Wilbun’s Reward

Commissioner Wilbun has made no secret during the last several years of his wish to acquire one of the county’s well-paying clerkships. He has expressed interest in several vacanies -- most recently that of the position of register, made vacant when incumbent Guy Bates died last summer.

Wilbun attempted to get the Democratic nomination for register for November’s special election and became incensed, charging “collusion” when he lost out to John Freeman in a three-way race conducted by the Shelby County Democratic executive committee. He later made peace with the party hierarchy.

As a prelude to his register bid, Wilbun had hoped to get a leg up on the job by being named to the position by his fellow commissioners but was foiled when the body’s seven Republicans presented him with a united front in favor of waiting for the special election.

After the turbulent commission meeting on Monday, which culminated with Wilbun’s being named juvenile court clerk, Wellford charged that Wilbun had approached him back then with an offer to support Wellford, then chairman, for a second term in return for his vote, along with those of the commission’s black Democrats, to name Wilbun acting county register. (As of press time, Wilbun was not available for comment on the charge.)

In any case, the commissioner -- backed by Moss and his five fellow Democrats and, ultimately, by VanderSchaaf -- now has his county job. He indicated through an intermediary afterward that he was open to the idea of keeping Stamson on as chief deputy, and Stamson -- whose father died only last week and who was making an obvious effort to remain stoic about the turn of events -- said that he, too, was open to the prospect.

Like Stamson, attorney Lillard -- a Republican member of the Shelby County Election Commission and a onetime candidate for county Republican chairman -- was philosophical in being denied the office he sought.

But, he said, he thought “there was a lot of dishonesty involved in the process,” and he compared the course of events in Memphis to those of a city like New Orleans, where private interests and governmental processes are often known to intersect. “If we are to be a truly first-class city, we have to have a politics that has the appearance and fact of honesty and aboveboardness,” Lillard said.

Unless someone intervenes with a suit that seeks an earlier special election, Moss’ commission seat and Wilbun’s juvenile court clerk’s position (which will be filled by the commission next year after a prior public notice at the body’s January 8th meeting) will be subject to a vote in the regular general election of 2002.

Future Prospects

Several of Monday’s disappointed principals may fare better later -- and fairly soon. Lillard’s name has been floated on a short list of Republican lawyers (GOP national committeman John Ryder and Hardy Mays, former chief of staff to Governor Don Sundquist, are two others) for appointment to the federal district judgeship made vacant earlier this year by the death of Jerome Turner.

And Wellford is perhaps the leading prospect to succeed U.S. Attorney Veronica Coleman, who was appointed under Democratic auspices in 1993 and will be leaving office early next year. Wellford was Shelby County campaign manager for the several races of U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, the state’s ranking Republican federal official.

* At some point in the proofreading and printing process of last week’s Flyer, an extra “n” slipped into the name of Anie Kent, one of three Memphis electors for George W. Bush and a well-known local activist. “Annie” she ain’t.

* Division 9 Criminal Court Judge J.C. McLin on Monday dismissed a felony charge against Faith McClinton, one of several Shelby County voters charged with concealing past felony convictions on their voter applications.

McLin said he thought McClinton had not been properly apprised by the district attorney’s office of the implications of a guilty plea and the acceptance on her record of a second felony. McLin also advised McClinton that she could apply for the restoration of her voting rights.

Saturday, December 16, 2000

JESSE'S ON THE MOVE

Veteran activist promises pressure, seeks Florida-vote probe.

Posted By on Sat, Dec 16, 2000 at 4:00 AM

"All cameras are on the one with the ball, and I'm about to score a touchdown on them!"

That was Jesse Jackson's gleeful explanation Thursday for the attacks directed his way by various commentators and by partisans of the now victorious Bush-Cheney campaign.

"They keep worrying, 'Jesse Jackson's gonna riot! Jesse Jackson's gonna riot'" the veteran activist said, mimicking his critics' imagined mantra to the delight of a turnaway crowd in the auditorium of the Civil Rights Museum.

Jackson's noon-hour appearance was under the auspices of an ad hoc movement called The Fairness and Democracy Viligance, and he left little doubt that, on what could be a zig-zag path way to his ultimate end zone, he intended picking up some first downs.

For one thing, he wants to be one of the agents forcing exposure of the actual presidential-vote situation in Florida. "We need to know the history. We need to set it straight," Jackson said, and to that end he called for an investigation of the matter by a presidential commission, to be named and activated during the last weeks of the current Clinton-Gore administration.

Jackson also promised that he will lead a series of "massive, non-violent voter registration drives" in the seven days beginning January 15th, a period which incorporatess both a commemorative birthday week for the late Dr. Martin Luther King and the scheduled presidential inauguration of George W. Bush.

Repeating previous charges that as many as 50,000 votes had been suppressed in Florida, either by leaving them uncounted or by turning away minority voters, Jackson asked his listeners to imagine "the humiliation of having your vote thrown out by the thousands."

Jackson praised Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, who withdrew from the race after the U.S. Supreme Court ended manual recounts in Florida, as one who stood for "pay equity. . ., public education. . ., workers' rights. . ., and women's right to self-determination." To extended applause, he said, "Tennessee should be proud of its native son."

Referring only indirectly to a telephone conversation he had late the previous evening with Gore's now victorious rival Bush, Jackson said the Republican candidate did "not yet have a grasp, but I think he wants to reach out." Jackson said Bush's Wednesday night acceptance address was "very democratic" but that Bush "can not run American the way his campaign was run in Florida."

Beyond "the keyhole," said Jackson, one could detect the influence on Bush of such un-Democratic (and, by implication, undemocratic) types as Tom Delay, the GOP House of Representatives whip, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and Senators Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond.

"To be successful," Jackson said, the new president would have to reach out beyond such men "across the lines of party, religion, region, and race."

While noting that "black America's interests are in America's interests," Jackson said, "The biggest divide in America is not between blacks and whites but between haves and have-nots."

Once again, Jackson compared the controversy over alleged voter intimidation and vote suppression to the battle for voters' rights that he, Dr. King, and others had participated in at Selma, Alabama in 1965. "This is an issue that isn't going to go away," he promised.

Wednesday, December 6, 2000

A MINORITY VIEW

A MINORITY VIEW

Posted By on Wed, Dec 6, 2000 at 4:00 AM

One of the regrettable aspects of the protracted post-election showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the identity of our next president has been the utter predictability of the partisan antagonists’ rhetoric, which reflects almost word for word what is available nonstop on the TV cable shows.

An antidote of sorts to all this was an open letter e-mailed by Shelby County Republican Joseph Keene to assorted partymates. At the present fractured (and fragmented) moment, it is worth quoting at some length:

“...Here in Shelby County, Germantown is a nice city, but its voters won’t carry our party to victory in county elections. Outreach into the city is not an option for us any longer.

“We saw what happened on election day and the day after -- Al Gore beat [George W.] Bush in the popular vote. Bush is the legitimate winner of the presidency because of the electoral college, but we can’t depend on this glitch in the electoral college forever, can we?

“I get tired of seeing some of my fellow Bush supporters bring up this USA Today map showing a sea of red and claiming that Bush won most of the country. Perhaps Bush won in area, but not in votes. Last I checked, it’s ‘one man, one vote,’ not ‘one square mile, one vote.’ My fellow Bush supporters bring up the fact that Bush won 78 percent of all counties in the United States.

“So what? It’s not ‘one county, one vote,’ either. I think it’s great that some rancher in Wyoming who owns hundreds of acres of land would vote Republican. But in a piece of land equivalent to the size of a western ranch, several thousands of Democrat-leaning voters live in the wealthy Lincoln Park area of Chicago.

“We won the Presidential election fairly and Constitutionally, even though we achieved less than the popular vote nationally. We have a lot of things to be proud of, especially here in Al Gore’s alleged home state of Tennessee. We sent the nation a message that Al Gore is NOT one of us.

“I’m proud of Tom Leatherwood’s victory in the Shelby County Register’s race, but would he have won had there not been a Commercial Appeal-endorsed Otis Jackson on the ballot splitting Democrat votes from John Freeman? I doubt it, since most of Jackson’s support came fron heavily Democrat precincts. I’m proud that [U.S. Senator] Bill Frist handily carried the county, but he would have had more trouble here if he had a credible opponent. Bush lost Shelby County by 49,000 votes.

“What can we do to broaden our party? Plenty. First of all, DeSoto County (MS) isn’t becoming the most Republican county in Mississippi for no reason. Republicans are moving from Shelby County, Tennessee, to take advantage of lower tax burdens. And the emigration to DeSoto is substantial, according to an article I read in the local fishwrap.

“This means that our Republican leaders in this county must act and govern like Republicans to keep Republicans here. Instead, we’ve seen nothing but more taxes, especially the property tax. When that property tax goes up, folks, DeSoto looks like a better place to live.

“Secondly, the local GOP (especially in Shelby County) must be more proactive in bringing new voters into the party. We need to be visible at city events, especially. We have no midtown or downtown presence at all, and I didn’t recall a Bush office in either location, whereas the Gore forces held one in midtown and one in east Memphis.

“At the Cooper-Young Festival, I remember seeing a Democrat booth, a Green Party booth, but not a Republican one. At the Taste of Midtown event, I remember seeing the exact same thing. A recent NAACP event was held shortly before the election, and while the GOP representatives were invited, none showed up (and predictably, talk show host Mike Fleming and other conservatives got on the air to complain that it was a partisan event, when it was the GOP that caused it to be a partisan event by their absence).

“We can’t sit back and smugly expect that ‘the voters will wake up and support us’ because ‘the truth is on OUR side’ or count on this mythical ‘silent majority.’ That’s lazy and complacent thinking. We have to make our case to the undecided and Democrat constituencies. And given the political climate, we have to make our case in 30-second sound bites.

“When Al Gore got up in front of an African-American audience, he criticized Bush’s plan to appoint ‘strict Constitutional constructionists’ to the federal bench by implying that such a jurist would also interpret the section about black Americans only counting as 3/5 of a person. In an ad campaign worthy of Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels, an anti-Bush ad implied that he was somehow responsible for the dragging murder of James Byrd. It all boggles the mind because Bush isn’t a racist by any stretch of the imagination, and I know the GOP here in Shelby County Tennessee isn’t either.

“But did we make that case to the African-American voters who are already used to GOP neglect? We have a great philosophy about government -- less government, more freedom, more opportunity, better education. Why can’t we market it? Why can’t we come up with the sound bites? Why can’t we make it seem as though we care more about the community than our tax returns? “Part of it is that we allow the Democrats to define us, when we should really be more aggressive with the sound bites, define the Democrats first, and define the debate terms. Bush did a great job of that after his convention, but got knocked off course about the time of the ‘RATS’ ad.

“Yes, we won the Presidency fair and square. We have a lot to be proud of here in Tennessee. But the fact is that nationally we lost the popular vote, even though we won in terms of square miles and number of counties and other measures that simply don’t mean squat. If we are going to ever become a majority party, we have to reach out to minority voters and other demographic groups we lost, properly market our vision, and perpetually keep the Democrats on the defensive.

“I say we should start that here at home. That’s my gripe. I am discouraged that Republican party leaders at all levels don’t seem to do enough to broaden the party. Does anyone else share this concern? Or are we happy with the GOP being the suburban party?”

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