Wednesday, March 28, 2001

HERENTON TO ANNOUNCE FOURTH-TERM BID

HERENTON TO ANNOUNCE FOURTH-TERM BID

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Willie Herenton will formally announce his candidacy for a fourth term as mayor of Memphis at a rally next Tuesday night, April 3rd, at the Adam's Mark Hotel. The mayor made the revelation at a fundraiser Tuesday night at the East Memphis home of supporter Gene Gibson. "I intend this as a pre-emptive move," Herenton told a crowd of some 50 people about his decision to announce now, two years before the election. "I'm going to build my war-chest and re-tool my organization, starting now," the mayor vowed. As reasons for his decision to run again in 2003, Herenton cited the still undeveloped riverfront and a need to see through to conclusion various other projects, including final arrangements for accommodating a National Basketball League team.

On that score, the mayor, a backer of the drive to bring an NBA franchise to Memphis, expressed disagreement with a suggestion made earlier Tuesday by State Senator Jim Kyle that proponents of any forthcoming general obligation bond issue for completion of arena construction should call a referendum on the matter. "That's how Nashville did it when they were building the arena for the Titans," Kyle, a likely candidate next year for Shelby County Mayor, said by telephone from Nashville, "and it unified the community as only a public vote of confidence can. My first rule of politics is 'Run to the fire,' and I'm encouraging the backers of a new arena to do just that." While not disavowing a bond issue, Herenton indicated he was disinclined to pursue a referendum strategy and said he was considering a variety of other local financing alternatives, including a local restaurant tax.

Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Ready To Rumble

County Democrats will either disorganize or organize, starting this Saturday.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 14, 2001 at 4:00 AM

The Shelby County Democrats are looking to have a typical brouhaha starting Saturday, when the party holds preliminary caucuses at East High School prior to its biennial reorganization, and continuing with the April 7th party convention.

Mal Hooker, a contender for the party chairmanship (which will be decided by whatever executive committee the party ends up electing), will offer a proposed change in the rules of the local party charter that would limit voting in the caucuses and convention to persons registered to vote as of the time they are held. Hooker also challenges the party's legal standing to impose different rules.

Chairman David Cocke has issued an interpretation of party rules that would allow participation by persons who will be of age to vote as of November 2002 and have the intent to do so. At issue, of course, is whether one side or the other can "stack" the election.

Besides Hooker, city court clerk Thomas Long is known to be interested in the chairmanship, as is lawyer/lobbyist Percy Harvey, a former vice chair. Chairman Cocke has wondered out loud if Harvey, otherwise eminently qualified, as Cocke acknowledges, might be able to effectively serve as party head, since one of his clients, Shelby County government, is dominated by the county's leading Republican, Shelby County mayor Jim Rout.

Another possibility is state party secretary Gale Jones Carson, currently serving as press spokesperson for another mayor, Memphis' Willie Herenton.

n Ah, those occasional infelicities of tongue: Last week, while talking on a local radio station, I was asked by one of my hosts whether the aforesaid Mayor Rout, who is clearly a formidable competitor for re-election in 2002, might forgo that race for one in the Republican gubernatorial primary next year.

I replied that Rout, the proverbial "800-pound gorilla" in a Shelby County context, might be regarded as something of a "chimpanzee" on the state scene. The comparison delighted the hosts, always eager for some vivid audio; it dismayed me, because I knew I'd misspoken myself. Rout is no minor monkey -- literally or symbolically.

But his relative dimensions will be reduced at least initially (as those of his predecessor, Bill Morris, were when he ran for governor in 1994) by the daunting task of beginning a statewide race as an unknown. Rout also has the further encumbrances of persistent county debt and an intractable jail problem. For all that, he should not be minimized as a potential statewide competitor.

The acknowledged Republican front-runner right now, U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary of Tennessee's 4th Congressional District, by no means has a lock on his party's nomination.

n If Rout should run for governor, one of those thinking about succeeding him is County trustee Bob Patterson, who told a Dutch Treat Luncheon audience last Saturday he was running for re-election next year but confided afterward he would probably switch races in a jiff if Rout looked toward Nashville. n

Special Note: On the adjoining page a name familiar to readers and journalists alike appears for the first -- but not, we trust, the last -- time as a contributor to the Flyer.Terry Keeter, long the dean of local political writers, retired a season or two back from The Commercial Appeal after experiencing some serious health problems -- the kind (emphysema and pneumonia) that would have taken a lesser man out of action altogether.

Keeter -- for years, along with his friend Larry Williams, the bastion of the local Gridiron Show -- is still very much with us, however, and has lost none of his keen insight or literary skill.

It is high time that the rest of Keeter's sizeable local fan base got some extra helpings of his wit and wisdom. The selection included on the next page was a spontaneous reaction to the death of a friend, and it brings the subject back to life for the duration of the passage.

Keeter has agreed to grace our pages on a semi-regular basis and will submit his takes on a variety of subjects. We'll probably end up giving his space a name. For the time being, in any case, it's Keeter Time again, and I, a onetime competitor and forever a friend, couldn't be happier. -- J.B.


KEETER TIME - TERRY KEETER

By a Dam Sight

JAMES PATTON "Pete" HOUSTON, 75, died at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 10, 2001, at Memphis Methodist Central Hospital after a long battle with cancer. He is thought to be currently planning a flood control project along the banks of the River Jordan in addition to teaching St. Peter how to handle a backhoe.

A sweat-stained Stetson in the back window of the mud-splashed Ford gave word that a working man lived there. It was truly Pete's home away from home and his mobile office as he built dams and levees up and down the Mississippi and on nearby rivers and streams. His rear seat was his daily planner -- a week's schedule, bid dates, a steel tape measure, and memories of some huge dams and some damns that had been almost as large. In days past, the rear seat had seen its share of pretty rears, but its main function was business.

Pete's trunk held a stuffed briefcase of cash, credit cards, contracts, business cards, and a calendar of folks scheduled to spend a free weekend at what he called "The Farm." Pete wasn't born in a log cabin, but by the time he made his first million he rebuilt one on a hill on 400 rolling acres at the Lafayette-Panola County line. Pete added a 24-acre lake, thousands of fish, a herd of cattle, boats, and a boathouse along with two piers. There was a barn, horses, a herd of cattle, wild turkeys, deer, and an alligator, long suspected to be a silent offering from Pete's employees at Meharry-Houston Construction. He was the Houston.

His partner died many years ago, but Pete didn't like change, so he kept the company name. He was a wonderful friend who gladly shared his "farm," which looked much like the house on Bonanza, and his condo in New Orleans. Pete always drove a Ford or Chevy and made no secret that he remembered Pearl Harbor. He also remembered foxholes throughout France, Luxembourg, and Germany. He recently revisited those sites and talked of battles won and friends lost. (He never mentioned the Bronze Star he'd won.)

Pete was a true American with a Southern accent and a love for his native soil -- a red-clay strip of farmland near Houlka, Mississippi. He was the Model-T of pretension and the Cadillac of friends. He helped old friends like John Grisham's father (who is in the same business and is a former Mississippi county supervisor), Gov. Kirk Fordyce, the late West Memphis leader Bill Ingram, and the late Tennessee state highway commissioner Jimmy Evans. He was a modern quick-draw artist.

The only way to beat Pete in picking up a bar tab was to pay it before it appeared. He was a strong supporter of Memphis Gridiron and an ardent Ole Miss fan. But his hat in the rear window best told his story -- Pete was a straight-A graduate of the School of Hard Knocks.

Thursday, March 8, 2001

Warm-up Laps

Chumney puts her running shoes on, joining Kyle as an early candidate for county mayor.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Shelby County Democrats, who couldn't scare up a candidate for county mayor in 1998, apparently are going to have a fright wig of a contest for 2002. At least two prominent state legislators are now involved in serious commitments to a Democratic primary race for mayor, and a third may not be far behind.

State Representative Carol Chumney, who has hankered for a higher office for some time, held a meeting of supporters Saturday evening at Garibaldi's restaurant in the University of Memphis area and has already filed the required papers with the state Election Registry to form an exploratory committee. And state Senator Jim Kyle -- who, as the Flyer has reported, is actively seeking the nomination and several weeks ago hired a staff -- insisted Sunday that he would not be deterred by Chumney's entry.

"I think it bodes well for us as a party to have a spirited contest for county mayor," Kyle said, in words similar to those used by Chumney, who also said a contested primary would benefit Democrats.

Meanwhile, a third legislator, state Senator Steve Cohen, noted that his name has received some mention as a possible candidate and would not rule out seeking the office of county mayor himself.

As all three Democratic legislators pointed out, the political strength of incumbent Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, a Republican, has waned considerably since his uncontested re-election to a second term three years ago. Well-publicized problems with the county jail and with a burgeoning financial deficit are at least partly responsible for that.

Chumney, who said she intended to have another meeting with supporters "in about three weeks," pointed to three bills she has introduced -- dealing with mental health, jail conditions, and debt policy -- as evidence of her commitment to county issues. "I don't fool around," Chumney said about her commitment to the race.

Potential opponent Kyle professed some bemusement at the idea of Chumney's having formed an exploratory committee. "It's not legal for us [legislators] to raise money while we're still in session," he pointed out, referring to laws passed in the 1990s restricting state lawmakers' ability to hold fund-raisers during a session of the General Assembly.

Although she characterized the fact as a coincidence unrelated to her race, Chumney noted that a longtime ally, state Representative Mike Kernell, has introduced legislation in the current session that would permit modest in-session fund-raising efforts by legislators in their home districts. Kernell was in the group that met with Chumney at Garibaldi's.

Chumney also acknowledged that she had also given some thought to running in 2002 for sheriff -- a position that at least one of her Shelby County legislative colleagues had been talking her up for in Nashville last week. But she said she had settled on a county mayor's race instead.

Kyle, who has something of a head start organizationally, in that he has hired two aides -- Jeff Sullivan and Bob Kellett -- to assist him in researching both county and state issues, has kept open the campaign headquarters he used in his Senate reelection race last year. Kyle said he would be preoccupied during the session with his legislative duties, which include his supervision of patients' rights legislation.

Though he has not formalized his 2002 plans to the extent that Chumney and Kyle have and shied away from any commitment to a race, Cohen indicated that he was still considering running for county mayor. And he, too, said that the reawakening of interest among several potential candidates was a good sign for the Democratic Party.

Several observers, meanwhile, have pointed out the obvious -- that it is a given that a strong black candidate will probably emerge to contest for the nomination, too. And the name of Bartlett banker Harold Byrd still gets frequent mention among Democrats, especially suburban ones.

• State Senator Steve Cohen (D-Memphis), a sometime maverick who has nonetheless evinced an ability to create ties with members of the political opposition, has done it again -- this time with President George W. Bush.

And in the present case the tie that binds is quite literal. While attending a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators in Washington last week, Cohen exchanged conversation with the president about the need for a state sales-tax deduction on federal income-tax forms, at the end of which Bush said, "I like your tie." Cohen then offered to give the tie he was wearing -- a light-green one with a floral pattern -- to the president.

Subsequently, he arranged to have the tie -- or a duplicate -- sent to Bush at the White House. Cohen, a member of the conference's executive committee, attended NCSL's annual "Leader to Leader" meeting along with state Rep. Matt Kisber (D-Jackson), co-chair of an NCSL task force on a "uniform voluntary sales tax agreement."

In addition to their scheduled tasks at the conference, both Cohen and Kisber had been asked by Lt. Governor John Wilder (D-Somerville) to do missionary work on behalf of the sales-tax deduction, which was permitted prior to 1986 for states, like Tennessee, which have no income tax. Kisber was a featured speaker on the subject at the conference.

Wilder, who likes to say "Uncle Sam taxes taxes," is a fervent evangelist on the subject of restoring the deduction and has talked up legislation that would remove the state sales tax altogether and replace it with a 6 percent flat income tax. The "6-0" plan, in fact, may get a vote during the current session of the General Assembly.

Both U.S. Rep. Bob Clement (D-Nashville) and U.S. Senator Fred Thompson (R-Tennessee) have introduced legislation supporting the idea of allowing a sales tax deduction on the income tax.

Is Percy the Man?

Next month Shelby County's Democrats will have their biennial caucuses, followed by a formal convention, to select a new executive committee and a new chairman. Usually the identity of the latter can be surmised, or at least narrowed down to two or three names, by this point of the cycle. Not so this year.

Not up until now. But, in fact, the mystery of the Democratic chairmanship, circa 2002, may have moved far toward resolution last week, when a conversation at the bar of the Sheraton Hotel in Nashville (formerly the Hyatt Regency and the Crowne Plaza and site of many a consummation over the years, political and otherwise) ended with lawyer Percy Harvey, a member of the blue-chip firm of Stokes, Bartholomew, Evans, and Petrie, telling a group of visiting Memphians that he was interested in the chairmanship.

Since Harvey, an elegant man whose lifetime began in the rough-and-tumble world focusing on the South Memphis intersection of Trigg and Lauderdale, gets along easily with all the various factions of a highly diverse and factionalized party, and since he has already served as vice chair of the Shelby County Democrats at least twice, and since he says he's willing to serve, he may, ipso facto, be drafted ahead of all other comers.

Other names -- those of activist Mal Hooker and longtime party stalwart Gale Jones Carson, for example -- have been mentioned, but Harvey is far better known than relative newcomer Hooker, and he has been toiling in the party vineyards even longer than Carson, and he is at home with the Democrats' Ford and Herenton factions as well as with the party's residual Midtown and suburban whites.

Moreover, Harvey is connected to several ends of the social and governmental establishment by virtue of his main calling these days -- legislative lobbyist for a wide range of clients that include the Memphis school board, Shelby County government, and assorted components of the county's and the state's health care establishment.

It ain't over yet, but until someone better comes along (if, indeed, there is one such), Percy Harvey may be just what the Shelby County Democrats, always on the edge of disintegration as an organized unit, need to get themselves focused on the electoral challenges of a new millennium. (Overshadowed by the Republicans of late, they haven't been the county's dominant party since a decade or so back in the old millennium.) Had not a certain recent presidential contender already appropriated the slogan "I'm a uniter, not a divider," Harvey could arguably lay claim to it. And he may have the opportunity to do just that at East High School, where the local Democrats gather next month for their reorganization. -- JB

Tuesday, March 6, 2001

CHUMNEY JOINS KYLE IN '02 COUNTY MAYOR'S RACE

CHUMNEY JOINS KYLE IN '02 COUNTY MAYOR'S RACE

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Shelby County Democrats, who couldn’t scare up a candidate for county mayor in 1998, apparently are going to have a frightwig of a contest for 2002. At least two prominent state legislators are now involved in serious commitments to a Democratic primary race for mayor, and a third may not be far behind.

State Representative Carol Chumney, who has hankered for a higher office for some time, held a meeting of supporters Saturday evening at Garibaldi’s restaurant in the University of Memphis area and has already filed the required papers with the state Election Registry to form an exploratory committee. And State Senator Jim Kyle -- who, as the Flyer has reported, is actively seeking the nomination and hired a staff for the purpose several weeks ago -- insisted Sunday that he would not be deterred by Chumney’s entry.

“I think it bodes well for us as a party to have a spirited contest for county mayor,” Kyle said, in words similar to those used by Chumney, who also said a contested primary would benefit county Democrats.

Meanwhile, a third legislator, State Senator Steve Cohen, noted that his name has received some mention as a possible candidate and would not rule out seeking the office of county mayor himself.

As all three Democratic legislators pointed out, the political strength of incumbent Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, a Republican, has waned considerably since his uncontested reelection to a second term three years ago. Well-publicized problems with the county jail and with a burgeoning financial deficit are at least partly responsible for that.

Chumney,who said she intended to have another meeting with supporters “in about three weeks,” pointed to three bills she has introduced -- dealing with mental health, jail conditions, and debt policy -- as evidence of her commitment to county issues. “I don’t fool around,” Chumney said about her commitment to the race.

Potential opponent Kyle professed some bemusement at the idea of Chumney’s having formed an exploratory committee. “It’s not legal for us [legislators] to raise money while we’re still in session,” he pointed out, referring to laws passed in the ‘90s restricting state lawmakers’ ability to hold fundraisers during a session of the General Assembly.

Although she characterized the fact as a concidence unrelated to her race, Chumney noted that a longtime ally, State Representative Mike Kernell, has introduced legislation in the current session that would permit modest in-session fundraising efforts by legislators in their home districts. Kernell was in the group that met with Chumney at Garibaldi’s.

Chumney also acknowledged that she had also given some thought to running in 2002 for sheriff -- a position that at least one of her Shelby County legislative colleagues had been talking her up for in in Nashville last week. But she said she had settled on a county mayor’s race instead.

Kyle, who has something of a head start organizationally, in that he has hired two aides -- Jeff Sullivan and Bob Kellett --to assist him in researching both county and state issues -- and he has kept open the campaign headquarters he used in his Senate reelection race last year, said he would be preoccupied during the session with his legislative duties, which include his supervision of patients’ rights legislation.

Though he has not formalized his 2002 plans to the extent that Chumney and Kyle have and shied away from any commitment to a race, Cohen indicated that he was still considering running for county mayor. And he, too, said that the reawakening of interest among several potential candidates was a good sign for the Democratic Party.

Several observers, meanwhile, have pointed out the obvious -- that, while no specific names have yet surfaced, it is a given that a strong black candidate will probably emerge to contest for the nomination, too.

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