Wednesday, February 27, 2002

ON THEIR MARK: MAYOR'S RACE

ON THEIR MARK: MAYOR'S RACE

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2002 at 4:00 AM

On the Democratic mayoral front, it’s still a three-way struggle between Public Defender A C Wharton, Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, and State Representative Carol Chumney. Wharton’s camp -- candidate, entourage, and all -- exudes a confidence that could, in the end, be self-limiting. At the opening of his Poplar Avenue headquarters on Saturday, Wharton exhorted his crowd (several hundred strong, but containing no notable new faces) with thoughts about victory and of “progress” for Shelby County but avoided mention of any issues or other particulars. As before, the chief plank in Wharton’s platform would seem to be himself -- a smooth, likeable, reassuring presence, but one with a rhetoric that so far is skating lightly on the surface of eggs.. During the previous week a member of Wharton’s campaign team fretted abut an “image problem” and confided his fears that the candidate might be taking his African-American base for granted,. He noted the continued courtship of black ministers by opponent Byrd, who indeed scheduled a “Ministers’ Luncheon” as such for this week. Despite occasional reports from his own camp that he intends some hard-hitting issues-talk, Byrd himself has tended so far to be somewhat unspecific, although at a recent, well-attended women’s luncheon he promised an array of “position papers” and uttered some cautious grace notes about Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton‘s proposals for city/county consolidation. Chumney, meanwhile, has her endorsements -- from the AFL-CIO and from the Women’s Caucus, among others -- and is pursuing a strategy of direct advocacy for positions, including those of consolidation and programmed debt-reduction. On the Republican side, most party cadres are still lined up solidly with State Representative Larry Scroggs, who -- along with Chumney -- has been freshly empowered by new legislation, signed week before last by Governor Don Sundquist, that eases restrictions on in-session fundraising for members of the General Assembly, who are now allowed to raise money for local races. Especially considering that the legislature -- hung up as always in a budget-plan stalemate -- is now in the second week of a three-week hiatus, that should generate some immediate fundraising activity on the part of Scroggs and Chumney, both of whom are facing opponents with fatter war chests. In Scroggs’ case, that’s George Flinn, the radiologist and broadcasting magnate, who is prepared to open his considerable private cashbox wide -- to the tune of half a million dollars in the primary alone, “or more if the situation requires it,” according to campaign chairman Phil Langsdon. Much of that would presumably be used for newspaper and broadcast advertising -- the “air war,” as it is referred to in political-campaign lingo. The Flinn campaign has also hired as campaign manager Ruth Ogles, who ran a respectable race of her own for the Memphis school board in 2000.

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Speaking of School Consolidation

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