On Thursday of this week, the 2002 election for countywide offices will have reached that point best characterized in a Churchillian phrase: The End of the Beginning. The buildup is over and from this point on it's a downhill scramble (perhaps in more senses than one).
Mayor's Race: Not much change on the Democratic side; it's still a three-way struggle between Public Defender AC 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, likable, 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 about an "image problem" and confided 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 fund-raising 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 fund-raising 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 cash box 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.
· Democratic sheriff's candidate Randy Wade had some of the heat taken off him by the decision last week of city councilman E.C. Jones to leave the sheriff's race and file instead for county trustee (against fellow Democrats Charles Jackson and Coleman Thompson for the right to challenge GOP incumbent Bob Patterson).
Wade promptly put some heat on the rest of the sheriff's candidates -- now including Democrats Henry Hooper and Paula Castillo, an unknown, as well as several Republicans and independents -- by notifying Sheriff A.C. Gilless in a letter-cum-press release that he would be taking a leave of absence, as of March 15th, from his administrative position in the department.
· Among the notable filings last week for county commission races: Karla Templeton issued one challenge to a Republican incumbent, Linda Rendtorff, in District 1, Position 2, while Templeton's father, restaurateur John Willingham, was making another, to current chairman Morris Fair, in District 1, Position 3.
Six candidates filed for the now-open seat of outgoing Commissioner Bridget Chisholm in District 2, Position 3. Among Democrats, Deidre Malone has the early jump on Dedrick Fentress, and Green Party activist Scott Banbury is one of several independents.
Former Lakeland mayor Jim Bomprezzi is one of several Republicans (others: newcomers Deandre Forney and Mark E. Hartz) challenging GOP incumbent Tom Moss in District 4, Position 2.
As expected, Democrat Guthrie Castle joined the Democrats seeking the District 5 seat, also sought by veteran pol Joe Cooper and by three other Democrats, Zelda Hill, Mickey Keep, and K. Mortez Washington. Republicans have a three-way race between John Ryder, Bruce Thompson, and Jerry Cobb.
Two Ford-family siblings, interim appointee Joe Ford and sister Ophelia Ford, are vying for the seat formerly held by their late brother, Dr. James Ford, in District 3, Position 3.
Another sibling-vs.-sibling race has generated some controversy. Republican Joyce Avery, who's hoping to unseat Clair VanderSchaaf in District 4, Position 1, charges that the incumbent and his half-brother, Greg Brannick, who also filed as a Republican in the race, are in cahoots to split the anti-VanderSchaaf vote. "Skullduggery" she called it in a press release on Sunday.
The half-brothers shrugged it off. "We're not even all that close," said VanderSchaaf. "I didn't know he was going to file or why. He didn't tell me. Maybe he thought I wasn't going to." ·