Thursday, February 7, 2002

Sources Of Support

Wharton's is from ex-Rep. Ford, among others; Chumney takes comfort in a poll.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Though a high degree of personal ambition and perhaps even an over-proportioned ego are known concomitants of many -- nay, most -- politicians, candidates for public office still like to maintain that their electioneering is a response to the request of others or to an urgent public need. Or to both.

For those who do well in politics, there is probable substance to such claims.

In the Shelby County mayor's race, state Representative Larry Scroggs, so far the only Republican candidate, was clearly drafted by the local party leadership, desperate to find a conventionally acceptable standard-bearer.

Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, a Democratic candidate whose mayoral race was discussed at some length in this space last week, is known, liked, and respected in enough local political, business, and civic circles that it would be strange if he weren't asked to consider public office.

Ditto with Shelby Count Public Defender A C Wharton. And state Representative Carol Chumney no doubt has her share of such boosters as well, though her reasons for running -- and for staying in when others, mystified at her persistence, are suggesting she drop out -- owe a good deal to the science of public-opinion research. To her pollster, in short.

Wharton: "Early On" Got Harold Ford's Support

First, a clarification from the Shelby County public defender as to some of the sources of his own encouragement.

There has been a good deal of word-of-mouth and informed speculation concerning the likelihood that Wharton will have stout support in the Democratic primary from Harold Ford Sr., the former longtime congressman and political kingmaker who is now a consultant and sometime resident of Florida but still regarded as a major force in Memphis and Shelby County elections.

Those reports are now duly confirmed by Wharton, who, when asked in an interview this week if he had received explicit assurances of firm support from the former congressmen, said, "Early on. Yes."

Less well known -- at least partly because Wharton is reluctant to discuss the circumstances -- is that Wharton's resolve owes much to encouragement from the former congressman's brother, the late Shelby County Commissioner James Ford.

"Everybody will be bringing in Dr. Ford as an excuse for everything they intend to do," Wharton offers semiseriously as one reason why, without some prodding, he has preferred so far not to mention a conversation that occurred shortly before the commissioner's death. Reasons of delicacy have been another consideration.

Wharton also offered some clarification of his pre-announcement conversations with Bobby Lanier, a major Wharton strategist now and a former chief assistant to outgoing Mayor Jim Rout, a Republican. When rumors started last year concerning Rout's possible withdrawal from a reelection effort, he called Lanier several times to find out more.

"You should consider it [a mayor's race] yourself," Wharton says he was told by Lanier when the shape of Rout's ultimate decision became obvious, and that suggestion rapidly escalated into an offer of support. Shortly thereafter Lanier became Wharton's chief mover and shaker, which he remains today.

(The public defender insists that no assurances have been given Lanier about his future status and that no conversations about it have even been held.)

Expressing concern that a misconception might exist about his conversations last year with current opponent Byrd, Wharton said the banker asked him to discuss a possible Byrd candidacy when it was still pending and that -- though "uncomfortable" because of his formal status as a Rout appointee -- he acceded reluctantly.

Wharton said categorically, "I was never asked about my own possible future intentions, and I never said I would support Harold," though he acknowledged that Byrd might have drawn an inference from the mere fact of the conversation.

So Why Does Carol Chumney Stay In?

Though he likes to specialize in business and marketing research, Memphis pollster Berge Yacoubian has had his share of name political clients -- Bob Clement, Robin Beard, Mike Cody, Otis Higgs come to mind -- and if it seems to have worked out that he's had more underdogs than not, that's how he likes it.

Republican Beard defied the odds and unseated a congressional incumbent in 1972, then was able to survive the Democratic landslide during the Watergate year of 1974. No longer advised by Yacoubian, he lost a Senate bid in 1982 against then incumbent Jim Sasser. Part of the problem, thinks Yacoubian, was that Beard overlooked issues in favor of negative attack ads that backfired.

In fact, he sees part of his job as helping candidates prepare not only for election but for what comes next if all goes well. "Unlike other consultants, whom I will not name, I do not want to elect someone who can't govern," he says. Nor does he want his advisees to make nice, especially. "Some candidates want to be so loved they can't act," he says disdainfully.

Yacoubian says he prefers to leave the spotlight to his candidates, the most prominent of whom at the moment is state Representative Carol Chumney.

Of all the candidates for mayor, Chumney is probably the most direct in pressing specific issues. And, despite being told frequently by friend and foe alike that she has little chance of being elected and should consider switching to another race while she can, Chumney resolutely declines to do so.

A look at a survey done by Yacoubian in October provides some insight into both these circumstances.

The most overwhelmingly approved three issues noted by Yacoubian in a table entitled "What Voters Want" are: 1) the passage of "laws to toughen standards for daycare center operators" (92 percent of all potential voters sampled approving it; 89 percent of Democrats); 2) "new funding system for public schools" (89 percent of all voters and 88 percent of Democrats); and 3) "support full consolidation" (78 percent of all voters, 81 percent of Democrats).

Chumney, of course, is the principal sponsor of legislation to tighten day-care standards, and she has made frequent mention during her current campaign of the school-funding issue while pushing consolidation relentlessly.

If Yacoubian is correct, Chumney may not be risking as much by being explicit as her opponents are in responding more indirectly. In any case, Yacoubian says candidly, it's the best antidote to what he sees as a bandwagon strategy underway on Wharton's behalf.

The poll, taken at that point last fall when Wharton was announcing his mayoral candidacy, reflects a sense that the Shelby County Public Defender ought indeed to be regarded as the frontrunner in Democratic ranks.

In Yacoubian's reckoning, Wharton was first choice of Democrats polled -- by 37 percent to Chumney's 27 percent, 7 percent for state Senator Jim Kyle, who has since withdrawn from the face and endorsed Wharton; and 6 percent for Bartlett banker Harold Byrd.

Interestingly, Byrd rises to a close second place among independents polled by Yacoubian, with 23 percent to Wharton's 25 percent. Chumney's figure was 18 percent, and Kyle's was 12 percent.

Meanwhile, another aspect of Yacoubian's poll shows voter approval of previous job performance to be higher for Chumney than for any of her Democratic opponents.

In short, Yacoubian's poll figures suggest that Chumney may not be so out of it -- among Democrats, anyway -- as conventional wisdom has it, and they provide a basis for her seeing Byrd as a rival claimant to runner-up status and, therefore, as a nemesis to be taken on directly.

In any case, Chumney did just that -- as recently as the weekend, when she called a press conference to protest the fact that Byrd was allowed to lease campaign headquarters on Poplar Avenue that she had been denied a lease for previously.

The property's owner, Stanley "Trip" Trezevant, who supports Byrd, responded by saying he saw no issue involved, but Chumney indicated she would begin a process, both locally and in Nashville, of instituting anti-discrimination complaints.

Yacoubian's October poll seems to forecast a greater degree of participation by women than of men in this year's elections, and Chumney said Saturday she thought the figure for women would be as high as 65 percent -- yet another reason why she thinks her chances shouldn't be discounted (and a possible reason, too, for her pushing the discrimination hot-button).

Granted, Chumney has raised relatively little money compared to opponents Wharton and Byrd, but she regards this as the consequence of her chances being discounted so consistently in public opinion -- the anecdotal kind, that is. She thinks the scientific species -- as in pulse-takings by Berge Yacoubian -- tell a different story.


NASHVILLE -- He came, he saw, and he got down.

That's one way of describing Al Gore 's appearance before a crowd of home-state Democrats at the Renaissance Hotel Saturday night.

Got down, as in did his best aw-shucks-I'm-just-a-Tennessean number, wearing casual dress, a simple open-collared blue shirt conveying an authenticity that his starched-blue-jeans-and-cowboy-boots combo of yore never did, and that adjunct-prof beard of his (yes, he still has it) gets him closer to redneck than you would think possible.

Got down, too, as in got down to business, attacking the Bush administration for fiscal shortcomings and environmental excesses, for stroking the rich and for stiffing campaign-finance reform.

"For everything, there is a season," Gore said (those words being also the appended title of the prepared text his helpers handed out). "And tonight, as a new election season begins, I intend to rejoin the national debate."

He did so before an audience of several thousand that included a good many reporters for national news outlets, interested in whether the former vice president intended to hazard a new presidential bid. In the event, he was coy. Having promised to re-enter the national debate, Gore said, "Whether I will do so as a candidate in 2004 or not, I don't know yet ... ."

For the time being, Gore's political medium is a freshly formed PAC whose name, "Leadership '02," is as limp and unassuming in its own way as the beard is and which will "train young people in the skills of democracy and help Democratic candidates in the elections this November."

Gore will be hitting the road, presumably on the national map, too, but especially in Tennessee, where he intends to continue the work of reconciling himself to the home state which rejected him last year by a crucial 80,000 votes. "I want to make it clear," he said, "that I understand there's a lot more work for me to do here -- more fences that need mending. But it's work I am looking forward to because I want you to know that I love this state with all my heart and soul."

And Gore has put some money where his mouth is. As Memphis' Pace Cooper, the West Tennessee chair of Saturday night's "Election Kickoff 2002" effort (and one of three statewide), noted, "The state party is almost bankrupt,"and Gore's visit churned up some $30,000 in ticket sales (at a mere $25 a head) and another $100,000 in "sponsorships."

The Democrats will be counting on Gore to help deliver the governorship and, most especially, the 4th District congressional seat which Republican Van Hilleary is vacating to make his own gubernatorial run and which will likely tip the state congressional balance between the parties (currently 5-4 in the GOP's favor).

Monday, February 4, 2002

GORE GOES DOWN-HOME TO 'JOIN NATIONAL DEBATE'

GORE GOES DOWN-HOME TO 'JOIN NATIONAL DEBATE'

Posted By on Mon, Feb 4, 2002 at 4:00 AM

NASHVILLE -- He came, he saw, and he got down.

That’s one way of describing Al Gore‘s appearance before a crowd of home-state Democrats at the Renaissance Hotel Saturday night.

Got down, as in: did his best aw-shucks-I’m-just-a- Tennessean number, wearing casual dress, a simple open-collared blue shirt conveying an authenticity that his starched-blue-jeans-and-cowboy-boots combo of yore never did, and that adjunct-prof beard of his (yes, he still has it) gets him closer to redneck than you would think possible..

Got down, too, as in: got down to business, attacking the Bush administration for fiscal shortcomings and environmental excesses, for stroking the rich and for stiffing campaign finance reform.

“For everything, there is a season,” Gore said (those words being also the appended title of the prepared text his helpers handed out). “And tonight, as a new election season begins, I intend to rejoin the national debate.”

He did so before an audience of several thousand that included also a good many reporters for national news outlets, interested in whether the former vice president intended to hazard a new presidential bid. In the event, he was coy. Having promised to re-enter the national debate, Gore said, "Whether I will do so as a candidate in 2004 or not, I don't know yet. But as I said on Dec. 13th a year ago, no matter where my future lies, I will fight for the principles I believe are crucial to our country's future."

For the time being, his medium for doing so is a freshly formed PAC whose name,” Leadership ‘02,is as limp and unassuming in its own way as the beard is and which will “train young people in the skills of democracy and help Democratic candidates in the elections this November.”

Which is to say, Al Gore will be hitting the road, presumably on the national map, too, but especially in Tennessee, where he intends to continue the work of reconciling himself to the home state which rejected him last year by a crucial 80,000 votes. "I want to make it clear,” he said, “that I understand there's a lot more work for me to do here - more fences that need mending. But it's work I am looking forward to because I want you to know that I love this state with all my heart and soul."

And Gore has put some money where his mouth is. As Memphis’ Pace Cooper, the West Tennessee chair of Saturday night’s “Election Kickoff 2002” effort, noted, “The state party is almost bankrupt,” and Gore’s visit churned up some $30,000 in ticket sales (at a mere $25 a head) and another $100,000 in “sponsorships.”

The Democrats will be counting on Gore to help deliver the governorship and, most especially, the 4th District congressional seat which Republican Van Hilleary is vacating to make his own gubernatorial run and which will tip the state congressional balance between the parties (currently 5-4 in the GOP’s favor), depending on which way the seat goes in this year’s election.

Sunday, February 3, 2002

GORE GOES DOWN-HOME TO 'REJOIN NATIONAL DEBATE'

GORE GOES DOWN-HOME TO 'REJOIN NATIONAL DEBATE'

Posted By on Sun, Feb 3, 2002 at 4:00 AM

NASHVILLE -- He came, he saw, and he got down.

That’s one way of describing Al Gore‘s appearance before a crowd of home-state Democrats at the Renaissance Hotel Saturday night.

Got down, as in: did his best aw-shucks-I’m-just-a- Tennessean number, wearing casual dress, a simple open-collared blue shirt conveying an authenticity that his starched-blue-jeans-and-cowboy-boots combo of yore never did, and that adjunct-prof beard of his (yes, he still has it) gets him closer to redneck than you would think possible..

Got down, too, as in: got down to business, attacking the Bush administration for fiscal shortcomings and environmental excesses, for stroking the rich and for stiffing campaign finance reform.

“For everything, there is a season,” Gore said (those words being also the appended title of the prepared text his helpers handed out). “And tonight, as a new election season begins, I intend to rejoin the national debate.”

He did so before an audience of several thousand that included also a good many reporters for national news outlets, interested in whether the former vice president intended to hazard a new presidential bid. In the event, he was coy. Having promised to re-enter the national debate, Gore said, "Whether I will do so as a candidate in 2004 or not, I don't know yet. But as I said on Dec. 13th a year ago, no matter where my future lies, I will fight for the principles I believe are crucial to our country's future."

For the time being, his medium for doing so is a freshly formed PAC whose name,” Leadership ‘02,is as limp and unassuming in its own way as the beard is and which will “train young people in the skills of democracy and help Democratic candidates in the elections this November.”

Which is to say, Al Gore will be hitting the road, presumably on the national map, too, but especially in Tennessee, where he intends to continue the work of reconciling himself to the home state which rejected him last year by a crucial 80,000 votes. "I want to make it clear,” he said, “that I understand there's a lot more work for me to do here - more fences that need mending. But it's work I am looking forward to because I want you to know that I love this state with all my heart and soul."

And Gore has put some money where his mouth is. As Memphis’ Pace Cooper, the West Tennessee chair of Saturday night’s “Election Kickoff 2002” effort, noted, “The state party is almost bankrupt,” and Gore’s visit churned up some $30,000 in ticket sales (at a mere $25 a head) and another $100,000 in “sponsorships.”

The Democrats will be counting on Gore to help deliver the governorship and, most especially, the 4th District congressional seat which Republican Van Hilleary is vacating to make his own gubernatorial run and which will tip the state congressional balance between the parties (currently 5-4 in the GOP’s favor), depending on which way the seat goes in this year’s election.

Friday, February 1, 2002

Hanging In There

Once a front-runner, Byrd's chances now depend on his coming on as an underdog Rocky.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Harold Byrd and friend before the faithful.
God never asked us to be successful. He asked us to be faithful." Those words, part of a stirring oration by TaJuan Stout-Mitchell Saturday to the attendees at mayoral candidate Harold Byrd's headquarters opening at 3183 Poplar Avenue, were a fair statement of the campaign's root premises these days.

Whatever smoke might be blown from now on by Byrd's supporters or by his opponents, or even by the candidate himself, the Bartlett banker -- who began his quest more than a year ago and was firstest with the mostest in fund-raising -- has long ceased to be the front-runner in the current Democratic primary competition for the office of Shelby County mayor to succeed the outgoing Jim Rout. (A single Republican, state Representative Larry Scroggs, has also declared for mayor thus far.)

From the point that he signaled an interest in the mayoralty late last summer, and especially after his formal announcement of candidacy in October, the clear front-runner -- both in a poll or two and in more anecdotal surveys -- has been Shelby County Public Defender A C Wharton, on the basis of perceived experience (he has toiled on public bodies dealing with law enforcement, mental health and education, for starters), personal likeability, and -- though Wharton is an African American and a Democrat -- his genuine ability to cross racial and political borders.

"Harold had it made until AC got in" is the phrase one hears from numerous pols sympathetic to both men, sometimes with a wistful shaking of the head on Byrd's behalf.

And, as if to rub it in, Wharton was able to flaunt a key endorsement Friday -- on the very eve of Byrd's headquarters opening. It came from state Senator Jim Kyle, who thereby got on the same bandwagon as his three Democratic colleagues in the Senate -- Steve Cohen, Roscoe Dixon, and John Ford -- at a press conference choreographed to suggest a united front and irresistible momentum for the Shelby County public defender, last Democrat to enter the mayor's race.

(Ford and Dixon, who had previously made their preferences known, were absent from the press conference; Cohen was present.)

Kyle, who had been the first to announce his interest in running for mayor early last year and the first (and so far the only) candidate to withdraw, had been talking privately for some time about what he saw as Wharton's good chances for election. Thursday he described Wharton as "better" than other "good" candidates.

The two recipients of this left-handed compliment were Byrd, of course, and state Representative Carol Chumney, who had not yet convinced most onlookers that she's a serious player -- even though she has quietly picked up endorsements from the Shelby County Women's Caucus and the AFL-CIO and could even be more of a sleeper than a spoiler.

Chumney also has ventured further and more explicitly into certain issues -- notably, city-county consolidation, which she favors -- though a key adviser or two are candid about her need to do so in order to overcome her better-heeled Democratic opponents' advantages.

For roughly a month, rumors have circulated to the effect that Byrd was on the verge of dropping out of the mayor's race before the final withdrawal date next month. "Not a chance," said Byrd, who insists he is in for the long haul and suggests that such reports had been planted by the Wharton campaign to try to stampede Democratic voters -- and financial supporters -- in the public defender's direction.

The timing of the Kyle announcement -- as much as the manner of it, overseen by a public relations firm -- was a confirmation both of Byrd's suspicions and of the confident, almost languid manner just now of the public defender, who also happened to be coming off a fresh (and lucrative) fund-raiser or two.

Byrd had his own new endorsement Saturday -- from entertainer/entrepreneur Isaac Hayes, who gave a testimonial to Byrd's "morals, his character, his integrity." The campaign's hope clearly was that the impact of a cultural icon would prove more potent to a voting public than an endorsement by Kyle would be to political insiders.

The fact is, though, that Wharton is the clear front-runner and that it is no longer in Byrd's interest to pretend otherwise. What the Bartlett banker does have, to judge by the turnout Saturday, is a large and loyal commitment from a grass-roots population (heavily black, to judge by the crowd) that will stick it out with him.

His chances now are not those of a comfortable front-runner but of a Rocky, the underdog with determination and spunk. In private, Byrd's campaign people employ the rhetoric of "the people versus the powerful" to describe their view of the race, in testament to what they see as Wharton's considerable number of supporters who are visibly well-off, politically established, and comfortable, but they have not yet ventured to make such rhetoric a strong and vivid part of their public appeal.

Nor do they (or can they) make much of another assumption shared by most of them -- notably the African Americans in Byrd's campaign. Namely, that a victory by Wharton in May might give the Democratic ticket in August an all-black look which, when complemented by the expected all-white roster of Republican nominees, could make the general election a de facto racial-line campaign, with resultant damage to a discussion of the issues.

Byrd himself seems to be having difficulty articulating what -- at this stage, certainly -- ought to be a populist campaign and tends to answer almost every question put to him with variations on his stock speech, which begins with his difficult growing-up in McNairy County and trickles out somewhere around the point that he begins talking about the mounting county debt that he says propelled him into the race.

The trouble with that is that he's said that before and it sounded then, as it does now, too much like an accountant talking.

Still, the man is who he is -- well-liked, determined, and feisty, if need be, as well as a sincere believer in opportunity for those who, more or less like himself back in those McNairy County days, will have to come up from nothing.

It is a considerable irony that his major opponent happens to be a primary exhibit in his own person of such progress, and Byrd can only hope that Wharton's campaign style at some point begins to appear even more languid, lumbering, and complacent than it already does at times -- to the point that voters might heed the strains of a candidate trying as hard as he can to come from behind.

* How're you gonna keep 'em down on the farm? In the case of Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, who was allegedly retiring from politics after the current term to devote time to family and private pursuits (including, yes, a farm), you may not be able to.

Rout, who considered running for governor this year before opting out of both a gubernatorial race and a race for reelection as mayor, went barnstorming Thursday in a statewide fly-around on behalf of former state Representative Jim Henry of Kingston, who seeks the Republican nomination for governor. That puts Rout on the other side of the GOP primary race from 7th District U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, who held a press conference, along with other Shelby County GOP officials, to indicate his support for his congressional colleague, 4th District congressman Van Hilleary.

The Shelby County mayor and son Rick Rout, who is Henry's Shelby County field rep, accompanied the candidate all the way from the Tri-Cities in northeast Tennessee to the one-day tour's final stop in Memphis late Thursday afternoon.

"I knew I'd be working for a gubernatorial candidate named Jim. I just thought it would be a different Jim," cracked Rick Rout as he presided over the occasion in Memphis at the Signature Air terminal in the airport. (Besides his father, two other Tennessee dignitaries -- former Mayor Gene Roberts of Chattanooga and Mayor Dave Bradshaw of Oak Ridge accompanied Henry on the plane tour.)

After being introduced by Jim Rout Sr., Henry responded angrily to his third-place position in a poll released by presumed GOP front-runner Hilleary, calling the poll "bogus" and pronouncing Hilleary unelectable.

The poll, carried out under Hilleary auspices, showed the 4th District congressman running first among Republicans, little-known minister Bob Tripp second, and Henry third.

Henry challenged the poll's authenticity and said, "We [Republicans] don't need to be involved in something like that." And he responded with a firm "No!" when asked if Hilleary, who is vacating his 4th District congressional seat to run for governor, could be elected.

"With the kind of trouble the state is in, people are looking for someone with experience in local and state government. They don't want to take any chances," said Henry, who cited "the good old days" when he worked with former Governor Lamar Alexander in several capacities, including that of House Republican leader.

Declining to reveal how much money he had raised in his campaign so far, the former state representative and Kingston mayor chided Hilleary for several press releases publicizing the congressman's purported receipts, most recently to the tune of $2.1 million, saying, "If you make this a money game, we might as well concede the election to Phil Bredesen." (Former Nashville mayor Bredesen, a Democratic candidate for governor, is independently wealthy and has also issued a press release claiming fund-raising totals of $3.1 million.)

Henry said to the supporters in attendance at the terminal that the election should be about "trust" and that he trusted the people to vote via referendum on whether or not the state should have an income tax.

Henry agreed with Hilleary about one matter, however -- that of declining to sign an anti-income-tax pledge. "It would be irresponsible for a potential governor to take a position like that, especially if we're asking the people to vote on it," said Henry, who said he personally opposed a state income tax.

If Henry had Rout, however, Hilleary could boast a whole roster of Republicans at his press conference Monday. Not just erstwhile rival Bryant but the likes of county Register Tom Leatherwood, Probate Court Clerk Chris Thomas, County Clerk Jayne Creson, County Trustee Bob Patterson, state Representatives Paul Stanley and Bubba Pleasant, state Senator Mark Norris, and former local GOP chairman David Kustoff.

And, while he continued to protest his opposition to a state income tax and showed an affinity for the proper Republican buzzwords on most other issues, Hilleary also made an effort to suggest that his continued electability from Tennessee's 4th District, which stretches from East Tennessee into Middle Tennessee and is, he says, predominantly Democratic, shows him to be capable of outreach to the political opposition.

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