by CHRIS HERRINGTON
Heading into this season, second-year forward Pau Gasol was clearly recognized as the Memphis Grizzlies central building block, a reigning rookie of the year coming off a stellar performance at the World Championships. In the preseason and through the first several regular season games, Gasol gave every indication that he would become one of the NBAs most dominant offensive big men sooner rather than later. But a 13-game losing streak, a tumultuous coaching change, and an on-court slump took some of the shine off Gasols game. He has struggled to find a rhythm and role in new coach Hubie Browns share-the-ball motion offense, his offensive struggles exposing his porous defensive play. A wrist injury suffered at the Worlds was revealed as more of a problem than Gasol cared to admit -- the injury and protective soft cast limiting his offensive versatility and his ability to rebound. Suddenly, a fan base frustrated with losing began to doubt Gasols stature, with trade scenarios and talk of rookie Drew Gooden as the teams real future star popping up on talk radio, on message boards, and around water coolers. In truth, many of the issues curtailing Gasols offensive production were around during the Lowe tenure as well. During eight games under Lowe, Gasol took fewer shots in more minutes than Gooden and shot the ball less frequently relative to his time on the floor than the teams other significant rookie, Gordon Giricek (not to mention frontcourt reserve Lorenzen Wright). But this was masked by Gasols efficiency, a gaudy 55 percent shooting clip that enabled him to score 21 points a game despite taking far fewer shots per game than any other 20-point scorer in the league. Under Brown, these problems have been exacerbated, with Gasols shot attempts and his effectiveness plummeting. Through Browns six-game "evaluation period," Gasol averaged 10.5 points per game on mere 40 percent shooting. And the only players taking fewer shots relative to their playing time have been point guards Brevin Knight and Earl Watson. Partly, this is a result of a breakdown in the continuity of Browns offensive sets, possibly from the quick-trigger approaches of Gooden and Giricek, but also from Gasols lack of aggressiveness and execution on the offensive end. In some ways, the teams game Saturday night against the Washington Wizards was a continuation of these problems. Gasol had a season-low five shot attempts and had only his second single-digit scoring game of the season. But there was a clear difference on the court. For one thing, the team seemed more active in trying to get Gasol the ball. Three times in the first half, Gooden spotted Gasol open around the basket but was a beat late on his pass, resulting in a turnover each time. Washington guards were regularly dropping down on Gasol in the post to deny the entry pass. The other difference is that, after some early pouting, Gasol got his head in the game and refused to let his lack of offensive touches affect his play on the other end, resulting in his most effective game yet on the boards. He was more aggressive blocking out an athletic Wizards frontline and controlled the defensive boards. Gasols defensive rebounding helped the Grizzlies stay in the game, but it was his play down the stretch that was most heartening. Through the losing streak, the Grizzlies had been in several games down the stretch but were unable to execute effectively to win. Saturday night looked to be more of the same. A nine-point Grizzlies lead was cut to nothing when Wizards point guard Tyron Lue knocked down a fadeaway jumper at the 2:57 mark to tie the game, 74-74. A series of turnovers, missed shots, and clutch play from Michael Jordan seemed to have created a familiar fourth-quarter meltdown. But, over the next two minutes, it was Gasol, not Jordan, who imposed his will on the game, sparking the Grizzlies to a 7-0 run to put the game away. Stars are supposed to take over down the stretch, and fans have wondered if the Grizzlies had anyone who could do this. On Saturday, Gasol was a finisher, but he took over in a manner most probably werent expecting -- without scoring a point. Gasol dominated the two-minute stretch with defensive rebounding, shot blocking, and passing. On the possession after Lues jumper, Gasol received the ball on the left block and, when Lue dropped down to help cover him, recognized the double team and found an open Watson at the top of the key for a three-pointer. Then, a few seconds later, came one of the most inspired sequences of Gasols young career -- the 15 seconds that won the game. Jordan drove by Shane Battier to launch a shot (1:42), but Gasol and Wright closed the lane to force a miss. Wizards forward Kwame Brown snatched the offensive rebound and went up with it, only to be blocked by Gasol with his bad hand (1:40), then Wizards guard Jerry Stackhouse launched a long jumper (1:34) over tight Wesley Person defense. He missed and Gasol grabbed the defensive rebound. At that point, Gasol paused, as if he were looking for a point guard to hand the ball to, as he typically would after a defensive rebound. Then, for some reason, he sprinted downcourt with the ball, leading the break. Just inside the free-throw line, with Wizards defender Lue backpedaling, Gasol gave Lue a skip step, head fake, and then shot a no-look pass to Person on his right for the lay-up (1:27). The best part? That he also had the presence of mind to hop slightly left after delivering the pass to avoid Lue and avoid picking up an offensive foul. A possession later, a driving Gasol found Battier open under the basket and delivered a pinpoint pass. Battier was fouled, knocked down both shots, and the game was over. Gasol had plenty of help Saturday night: Point guard Earl Watson had what might have been his best game as a pro. Battier played tough defense on a hot Jordan. And Person and Giricek delivered quietly stellar play, combining for 25 points on 10 of 19 shooting and, more importantly, holding Stackhouse to four of 19 and only two free-throw attempts. But Gasol delivered the victory. Great players make great plays at crunch time. This team hadnt had that until Saturday. Hopefully, Gasol can build on that momentum now. And hopefully, his coach and teammates can start getting him the ball.
Earlier this month, the Republicans won what in some circles was an unexpected victory, but their preeminence at the national level -- by the most modest of majorities in Congress -- will be tested again in two years, when there will be a presidential election and new congressional and gubernatorial races.
At state and local levels, meanwhile, neither Republicans nor Democrats have a clear edge.
Statewide: The Democrats won the governor's race, but their candidate, Gov.-elect Phil Bredesen, ran as a centrist and won that way. Consequently, he'll have no particular mandate, and certainly not one with strong partisan overtones. Both branches of the legislature will almost certainly be under Democratic control again -- with a newly renominated Jimmy Naifeh in the House and John Wilder in the Senate holding the reins.
But octogenarian Wilder of Somerville -- dependent on a bipartisan coalition and notoriously reluctant to commit on controversial issues like that of a state income tax (which is probably a nonissue now) -- straddles the party line. And Naifeh of Covington, whose pro-income-tax forces fell short in the last session and who will have a slimmer majority in the new one, will presumably have to tread more cautiously.
Naifeh won his party's nod for another Speakership term over the weekend in Nashville, but dissident Democrats who preferred Rep. Frank Buck of Dowelltown may team up with GOP members to trim Naifeh's sails on procedural questions. Memphis state Rep. Kathryn Bowers, newly elected as the majority Democrats' party whip, is feisty and determined on policy issues, but she, too (as a onetime supporter of GOP Sen. Fred Thompson) is used to making common cause with Republicans.
State Sen. Lincoln Davis of Pall Mall, a Democrat, has been elected to the 4th District congressional seat currently held by Van Hilleary, the Republicans' defeated gubernatorial candidate. That gives the Democrats a technical 5-4 majority of the state delegation, but Davis is about as conservative as a Democrat can be and will undoubtedly line up with moderate and conservative Democrats in a "Blue Dog" coalition that already includes the 8th District's John Tanner and the 9th District's Harold Ford Jr.
All things considered, neither party can be said to have an edge on the other in state political affairs.
At the Local Level: In Shelby County, same kind of tenuous balance prevails. Democrat A C Wharton won the mayor's race but with support from every point on the political spectrum. Never much of a political partisan and without discernible commitment to local Democratic Party affairs, Wharton is virtually a nonparty mayor, a functional independent.
Republicans swept the other constitutional county offices, but the strongest partisans among them -- Probate Court clerk Chris Thomas and county register Tom Leatherwood -- hold positions that are virtually nonpolitical. Many of the other county officers are Republicans only nominally -- the party label having simply provided their best chance at getting nominated and elected.
The current Shelby County Commission is dominated by Republicans in the same 7-6 ratio as before, but political partisanship per se will be relatively unimportant on a body that has seen bipartisan coalitions flourish on the key issues of zoning and growth policy.
In any case, the county's demographics will continue to shade in the direction of black, predominantly Democratic voters over the next few years, and the partisan edge will shift accordingly.
In city politics, black Democratic voters have a clear edge, but city government is formally nonpartisan, and, in fact, partisan politics plays no role in the affairs and votes of the city council. Mayor-for-life Willie Herenton is nominally a Democrat, but the importance of that party label for him was best indicated by his support of victorious Republican Lamar Alexander for the U.S. Senate.
Party Organization: Both local parties will elect new officers next year. The Republicans, who will hold reorganization caucuses in January and a party convention in February, go first.
So far, five candidates -- Kemp Conrad, Nancye Hines, Bob Pitman, Arnold Weiner, and Ray Butler -- have announced for GOP chairman, and a sixth, Rick Rout, son of former county mayor Jim Rout, has not announced his decision about staying in the race after falling into disfavor with the party steering committee. Some weeks ago, a majority voted to seek Rout's resignation from the committee on grounds of his publicly expressed disavowal of last summer's nominee for county mayor, Dr. George Flinn.
Conrad would seem clearly to be the candidate to beat. First out of the box with his organizational efforts, the 29-year-old businessman played host to a crowded meeting of supporters Monday night. His declared backers include a virtual who's who of party luminaries -- including seven former party chairmen and a number of currently serving public officials.
Moreover, there is some spread to Conrad's base -- with supporters ranging from social conservatives like Wayne West to moderates like Annabel Woodall and Bill Gibbons. Conrad made a point of supporting Flinn when others were reticent, but his primary recent activity was on behalf of Alexander and legislative candidate John Pellicciotti, who came close to unseating longtime Democratic state Rep. Mike Kernell.
Conrad has also been prominent in an official party outreach effort to recruit African Americans and Hispanics to the Republican Party. "It's the future of the party we're talking about here. It's about where we're going," Conrad said this week. "Our theme for the campaign will be reconnecting and reaching out. The party is very fractured right now. It's an urban county we live in. And, as everybody knows, our demographics are changing."
As they mount their own campaigns, Conrad's opponents -- most of them identified with conservative constituencies -- will have a chance to express their own points of view.
Local Democrats don't elect new officers and a new executive committee until April, and no definite chairmanship candidates have emerged yet, though current chairman Gale Jones Carson, is presumed interested in running again.
She may or may not draw some determined opposition, depending on the degree to which opposing Democrats identify her with Mayor Herenton, whom she serves as administrative aide, or former chairman Sidney Chism, a Herenton intimate who vigorously supported her chairmanship efforts during two previous campaigns, including the one last year, when she was elected without much difficulty.
Though Carson proved adroit in walking through the minefield caused by Herenton's overt support of the GOP's Alexander, some Democrats blame her for the party's record in the summer's county election, when no Democrat won but Wharton -- whose campaign was more or less separate from the party's overall effort.
And Chism angered several Democratic legislators, who felt he supported their primary opponents (something which the former chairman has denied). "Let's put it this way," said Democratic executive member Steve Steffens, who publicly denounced Herenton as a "traitor" after the November 5th election, "if Sidney got to be the candidate himself, that would be something which I'd have to try to prevent. So would the legislators."
Steffens was noncommittal about Carson but predicted, "I doubt she'll have a free ride."
Almost like the meteor shower that interested parties had to be up and ready for one cold morning this week, the star of Harold Ford Jr. flared briefly across the nation's political consciousness last week.
In the space of a few days, the 9th District congressman from Memphis announced his candidacy to lead the slightly truncated body of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, launched a frenzied lobbying campaign (complete with hopeful spin on the numbers), and suffered an unexpectedly lopsided loss of 177-29 to the favorite and ultimate winner, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.
One factor which may have led to the enormity of Pelosi's margin was that, while Ford himself was a fresh presence, his posture as a "black centrist," supportive of tax cuts and the Iraqi war resolution, might have come across as old wine in new bottles. His House colleagues plainly wanted a show of more contrast with the Bush administration.
It would be tempting to invoke the overused Warholian cliché and speak of Ford's 15 minutes, except for the fact that the congressman, a telegenic, articulate, and versatile commentator on politics at large, had logged mucho clock time already as a guest on virtually all the prime-time network talk shows. Indeed, Ford is so ubiquitous in such venues that his press secretary, Anthony Coley, would be well advised to alter the format of the "Ford TV Alert" notices he regularly sends out to the media.
Instead of sending head-ups on this or that program which will be featuring a drop-in by Ford (discoursing on everything from atom bombs to xenophobia), Coley might more efficiently advise reporters that his man will not be appearing at 3:30 a.m. next Sunday on the Weather Channel.
The ambitious 32-year-old congressman was described recently by Chattanooga state senator Ward Crutchfield this way: "He's a star. This guy's got a personality out of this world." There's nothing particularly exceptional about that observation, except for the source -- a crusty, seasoned East Tennessee pol who is as shrewd an exponent of realpolitik as can be found anywhere in the state.
If Ward Crutchfield thinks a bill can pass, believe it: It can, and probably will, pass. If he thinks a fellow Democrat -- even an African American from Memphis named Ford -- can pass muster as a statewide candidate, then you can make book on it. Most likely for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Bill Frist and presumably up for grabs in 2006.
Frist -- who, as director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, oversaw his party's recapture of the Senate early this month -- is another shooting star from Tennessee; like Ford, he is held back only by the clogged aisles, fickle calendar, and blocked passages that govern political ascendancy. His Senate seat is expected to be open in 2006 either as a fulfillment of his two-term pledge or, more likely, because he has passed on to greater glory.
An intimate of President Bush's, Frist is widely viewed as a potential successor to Vice President Dick Cheney and as a likely presidential candidate in 2008. In the meantime, he is regarded as a possible secretary of homeland security when that cabinet post is created. Complicating (or expediting) Frist's career itinerary was the recent victory of Democrat Phil Bredesen as governor of Tennessee. Should Frist depart his Senate post for any reason after Bredesen's swearing-in next January, Bredesen would get to pick a successor -- almost surely a partymate.
That fact would surely give pause to Bush, since,even after the smashing GOP election triumphs of two weeks ago, the next Senate will be only narrowly in Republican hands. The president could ill afford to lose a Republican senator; so any major appointment for Frist -- or commitment for one -- would have to occur on GOP governor Don Sundquist's fast-dwindling watch.
Tennessee's two political zephyrs were linked for some months back in 1999 and 2000 when Ford, under pressure from both state and national party figures, contemplated a race for Frist's seat.The congressman's intentions became largely pro forma after Memphis mayor Willie Herenton's smashing victory over city councilman Joe Ford -- and the extended Ford family -- in the city election of October 1999.
The fact that Ford kept up appearances for as long as he did back then, continuing to fire criticism at Frist over the issue of dormant patients'-rights legislation, has led some skeptics to conclude that he is interested more in making headlines than in making headway. But there was no doubting he was in earnest earlier this year when Republican Fred Thompson decided not to seek reelection; Ford badly wanted to run and was prevented from doing so only when party elders backed his equally resolute House colleague from Nashville, Bob Clement.
There is little doubt that Ford would run for an open Senate seat in 2006 and little chance that any other name Democrat would get in his way. A likely opponent might be outgoing 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, who lost a bitter primary to Alexander this year, or 6th District congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga.
Only time will tell whether the embarrassment of his lopsided loss to Pelosi has damaged Ford's prospects. Meanwhile, watch your cable channels to see whether, and to what extent, Harold Ford Jr.'s 15-minutes-plus has been extended by the gods of the communications industry.
Ford will be 38 in 2008, presumably an "open" presidential year. Frist is positioning himself to run that year. It's a long shot, but not an impossibility, that both upwardly mobile Tennesseans will find themselves on a national ticket. And their showdown, deferred two years ago, could take place after all.
Superficially, Tennessee, which elected a Democratic governor, seemed to be mildly out of sync with the national trend. But only superficially. President George W. Bush had orchestrated a brilliant GOP campaign -- part shell game, part Halloween masque, focusing on the now-you-see-him/now-you-don't bogeyman Saddam Hussein -- that seemed to crush the spirits of Democrats and discredit their national leadership.
But there were telltale signs of Democratic weakness in Tennessee too. There were significant party losses in the state House and Senate. And there was Willie Herenton, the mayor of Memphis.
Herenton has been a social symbol many times in his lifetime. A Golden Gloves boxing champion in his impoverished youth, he became superintendent of his city's once rigidly segregated school system and then, wonder of wonders, the first black mayor in Memphis history. He has now become a symbol of the current political moment: As much as anybody or anything else, he represents the diminished power of the Democratic Party to command the loyalty of its longtime base.
Herenton has worn the mantle of Democratic Leader when it suits him. During the 2000 presidential campaign, for example, he was featured before, during, and after the Democratic convention in Los Angeles as a prime mover for Gore-Lieberman.
And he was an early champion of Phil Bredesen for the Democratic nomination for governor. Eight years earlier, however, it had been otherwise. Herenton had kept a careful silence during the 1994 gubernatorial race between Democrat Bredesen and the Republican nominee, 7th District congressman Don Sundquist. When Sundquist won, Herenton began letting it be known that he had "supported" his fellow Memphian. This mushroomed into an "endorsement" in subsequent years.
The mayor's routine this time around was less dog and more pony. Though he never used the word "endorse," he made no effort to be circumspect about his involvement in the Lamar Alexander campaign, showing up as the guest of honor at a major campaign function and talking about "coalition" with the former governor.
His son Rodney Herenton, meanwhile, was directly involved in the campaign, as was longtime Herenton aide Reginald French. Both were at Alexander's victory celebration in Nashville Tuesday night when the Memphis mayor and increasingly nominal Democrat unveiled a "surprise" that shouldn't have been any surprise at all, introducing the senator-elect to the crowd and telling all and sundry later on that he hadn't thought much of Bob Clement as a senatorial candidate but that, even if he had, he regarded himself as a "nonpartisan" official who didn't have to represent the interests of any particular party.
Considering that his communications aide and close adviser, Gale Jones Carson, doubles as chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, this was an interesting admission.
As it happens, the Memphis mayor's chief local rivals for power -- the Ford family, which boasts a present and former congressman, a state senator, and representatives on every legislative body in Memphis and Shelby County -- didn't invest much belief in Bob Clement either. U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., the media darling and dynamo who had badly wanted to run for Fred Thompson's vacated Senate seat himself, made a couple of pro forma appearances on the Nashville congressman's behalf, but the family saved its major effort for gubernatorial candidate Bredesen.
That's another story, itself an object lesson: The ex-Nashville mayor had saved for the last week of his campaign a ploy that was implicit in his strategy all along -- the announcement of a "Republicans for Bredesen" committee, composed of the kind of solid corporate and entrepreneurial citizens who had been rumored to be for Bredesen (on account of his much-vaunted "managerial" ability). (One of the celebrants at Bredesen's Hilton postelection bash was Dave Goetz, longtime chief lobbyist for the state's business community.)
In fact, Bredesen had such obvious built-in appeal to the business wing of the Republican Party that his Republican opponent, 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, had taken to calling the former health-care entrepreneur "an HMO millionaire" and posing as a populist defender of the common man against him. Another tack taken by Hilleary -- that Bredesen's professed disbelief in a state income tax was insincere -- may, in fact, have been in error.
Many Democrats assumed Bredesen had been shamming as well -- some were irate, some were understanding -- but they, too, may have missed the point. In 1999, when he was still serving as mayor, Bredesen had publicly taken issue with the direction of ex-rival Sundquist's tax-reform effort, and there was nothing in the record, save a throwaway remark in a fledgling race made by Bredesen long ago in New York state, to suggest otherwise.
In any event, Bredesen's impressive early figures from the GOP bailiwick of East Tennessee on election night should have signaled a rout of Hilleary. That they didn't, even when coupled with a good Democratic turnout from Memphis, where both Herenton and the Fords were pulling their oar, was revealing of another fact: Bredesen had done relatively poorly in the Democratic heartland of Middle Tennessee, and that was the factor which made the gubernatorial race such a squeaker.
Erstwhile primary opponent Andy Womack of Murfreesboro, who, along with Bredesen's other Democratic rival, Charles Smith, had done some evangelizing on Bredesen's behalf, complained on election night, "They didn't do anything in Middle Tennessee. It's like they skipped over us and spent all their attention on West and East Tennessee. And that's what made it so close!"
Bredesen's own immediate postmortem on his narrow victory inadvertently confirmed that diagnosis: "Oh, there were times it got a little sticky. But generally, even when it looked uncomfortably close, it corresponded to what we had expected from this or that area."
Either, as indicated, Bredesen took the Democrats of Middle Tennessee for granted, or there weren't as many of them in those parts as has generally been supposed.
Even in Shelby County, Bredesen's margin could have been larger than it was but for some residual resentment among Democratic legislators there stemming from his anti-income-tax statements during tense moments in last spring's legislation session as well as a feeling of alienation from figures like Stuart Brunson, Bredesen's campaign director and a holdover from the state's presidential campaign in 2000, and chairman of the state Democratic Coordinating Committee.
"That Stuart Brunson!" fulminated state Rep. Kathryn Bowers, as she made ready to head back home to Memphis on Wednesday. "He was about as no-good and hurtful to the Bredesen campaign as he was to Gore-Lieberman in 2000. He and the rest of that bunch didn't listen to anybody, and they walled themselves off from real voters and real party people. They wouldn't pay attention, and they almost blew it the same way they blew the presidential race!"
TO BE SURE, the newly elected congressman from Hilleary's vacated 4th District is a Democrat, Lincoln Davis, and Davis' hard-fought and well-financed win over Republican Janice Bowling -- which gave the Democrats a 5 to 4 edge in the state's House delegation -- would seem to run counter to the national trend favoring George W. Bush and the GOP.
Except that it was a toss-up as to who ran more as a conservative, Davis or Bowling; so much was this the case -- especially on social themes like abortion and gun control -- that the pundit Robert Novak, archdeacon of the Republican right, proclaimed late in the campaign that Davis would be the most conservative Democratic congressman elected since the New Deal!
That this is something of an overstatement (after all, Davis was backed in the Democratic primary by no less than Al Gore!) does not belie its central truth: that, even in victory, Tennessee Democrats are shading, out of need or inclination, to their party's right. Even Harold Ford Jr., regarded by many as the state Democrats' (and maybe the national Democrats') best hope for the future, has chosen to locate his political identity among the Blue Dog conservatives of the Democratic Leadership Council.
In the present presumed climate of opinion, that may be the Good News for Democrats, not the Bad News. Although in Tennessee, as elsewhere, Democrats have in recent years suffered constant attrition as isolated cadres and candidates have drifted over to the Republican side, most of those who remain, even the most rightward-leaning, maintain stout party loyalties.
Take another Blue Dog luminary: 8th District congressman John Tanner of Union City, who nursed a libation in his hotel room at the Hilton Tuesday night and professed outrage at Bush and the GOP as the bad news from national contests streamed across the bottom of his TV screen.
"Those people ought to be arrested and tried for fraudulence!" Tanner said. "They took our minds off what was important, the economy, and sold us a bill of goods about Iraq. The idea, trying to convince us that a two-bit tinhorn dictator with 20 million starving people was a threat like Adolf Hitler! They don't have any weapons to bother us with! The whole thing was an election fraud. Nothing but!"
There were two bottom lines to this exclamation by Tanner (than whom there are few more conservative Democrats in the whole of the House of Representatives): 1) that -- at some level of reality -- party loyalty is still alive and well; 2) that, in the long run, economic factors of the sort that Tanner regarded as having been obfuscated by an artificial war fever are still bedrocks of the Democrats' constituency.
The fact remains that -- regardless of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden or any other external menaces yet to be found -- the nation's economy is in the toilet, with rising unemployment, lowered productivity, and deficits once again mounting. The excesses of corporate greed may have been shoved under the rug during the late stages of the recent election campaign, but they will be remembered again as the economic crunch continues on the middle and working classes.
The Vietnam era served to radicalize the conscience of the middle class in some key respects, mainly social; another transformation is possible -- even likely -- under the prolonged stress of financial worry and resultant social dislocation. Given such circumstances -- and the prospect that Republicans will pursue their ongoing tax-break agenda while cold-shouldering minimum-wage concerns -- a lot of Democratic households now voting Republican could find themselves hearkening back to a bygone political era and reviving yellow-dog Democratic sympathies that are ancestral, if at the moment moribund.
No more forthright apostle of laissez-faire Republicanism now exists than the newly elected 7th District congressman, Marsha Blackburn. But even Blackburn in the course of working her mainly suburban and rural West Tennessee district was careful to moderate her language -- and her perspective -- this fall on such issues as privatizing Social Security.
There's a potential backlash out there to such notions as the one expressed by Senator-elect Lamar Alexander in the very concluding sentiments of his address to campaign supporters and celebrants Tuesday night. He would do what he could, he said, to minimize the growth of federal power in Washington.
That sort of rhetoric works fine and dandy in a boom period like the one which is now receding in our collective rearview mirror. It may not work as well in straitened times, even for so distinguished and personable a figure as Alexander.
House Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry was inclined Tuesday night to look for silver linings -- like the victory of an African-American Democrat, Nathan Vaughn, in state House District 2, formerly represented by the late Keith Westmoreland, a Republican. "One brand-new member of the caucus!" DeBerry, a stalwart of the legislative African-American caucus, enthused.
And she even had an optimistic outlook for Governor Don Sundquist, the Don Quixote of an utterly squashed tax-reform initiative who was made a fall guy in both Hilleary's and Bredesen's TV commercials. (When Bowers suggested at one point in her reelection race that Sundquist campaign for her in Memphis, the governor sheepishly replied, "Kathryn, I'm not sure you really want me to!")
Said Democrat DeBerry of the GOP's apostate prince: "When you try so hard to do the right thing, your recognition will come. It may not come tomorrow, but it will come! In history, for our posterity, Don Sundquist will be a hero. I want him to know that."
And maybe then pigs will fly and the South will rise again and Tennessee Democrats -- who were, after all, able to elect a governor this year, even if only barely -- will be able to hold up their heads once more.
Both Mayor Herenton and Rep. Ford, consistent rivals, have a penchant for surprise.
It is still a time when, despite the occasional pro forma denials that come from either side of the equation, the names Ford and Herenton still add up to tension, rivalry, and one-upmanship. In some ways, the rivalry symbolized by these two prominent Memphis political names is exponentially larger these days, though the opportunities for head-on confrontation are now relatively few.
In the last week alone, the public prominence of the one, statewide, and of the other, on the national scene, have served as a reminder of how much A) ambition and B) ability are involved as the chief exemplars of the rivalry, Memphis mayor Willie Herenton and 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., continue to make moves that are both astonishing and unprecedented.
Note that "Jr." suffix while you can, by the way, because, although the Ford clan patriarch, Harold Ford Sr., is still very much with us -- keeping his hand in local, state, and national politics, even from his main base in Florida -- his son and namesake has cut himself loose from the qualifier. By conscious choice of both Fords, the current congressman now presents himself to the world as just plain Harold Ford.
Except that there is nothing plain about the way the 32-year-old African-American prodigy has gone about establishing himself as a national byword. Though Ford has for years been regarded as a comer by the Washington media, regarded as a likely Senate candidate in the near future and as an aspirant for national office in the longer run, and though he shows up regularly on the network political talk shows as a spokesman for every issue under the sun, his latest move caught everybody flat-footed and prompted a New York Daily News columnist to refer to Ford, without any undue shading, as an "upstart."
Certainly, some such notion must have been in the mind, these last few days, of U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat who had fairly easily forced her Texas colleague Martin Frost out of the running for the office of House minority leader vacated by Missouri's Dick Gephardt after the Democrats' debacle at the polls last week. When Ford declared himself a candidate for the job, contending that the liberal Pelosi represented an old, tired faction that had led the party for too long, Pelosi, elected deputy leader only this year, cracked, "Eight months must seem like a long time when you're young."
That Ford is not only running for the key post of minority leader (one electoral realignment away from being Speaker of the House) but doing so as a centrist adds to the uniqueness of his bid for national power. It also adds to the skepticism of those who, like Herenton, are not true believers.
Last week, only minutes after unveiling his own "surprise" by introducing victorious U.S. Senate candidate Lamar Alexander to a heady crowd of Republicans in Nashville, nominal Democrat Herenton faintly disparaged Rep. Ford's claim to being "a moderate conservative" (hear the sound bite on the Flyer Web site, MemphisFlyer.com) and contrasted his own "realism" with Ford's ambition for more dramatic political perches.
"Let me give you this analogy. There are people who say, 'Herenton, you've done a good job. You ought to be governor of Tennessee.' It would not be realistic to think I could be governor of Tennessee. You follow me? No one could pat me on the back enough to make me think I could be governor. I don't understand why people get off into this kind of egomania and think they can do these kinds of things. Nobody's going to pump me up and make me think I can do these kinds of things."
The kind of thing Herenton himself is likely to do is cross party lines so as to influence a statewide election, as he did in favoring Alexander over 5th District U.S. Rep. Bob Clement of Nashville, his Democratic partymate. Deploying his son Rodney Herenton and longtime aide Reginald French as openly avowed shock troops in the effort, Herenton made conspicuous appearances with Alexander during the campaign but withheld an explicit acknowledgment of his support until last Tuesday night when he made his well-leaked introduction of the winner and was candid afterward about why.
A Clement win "just wasn't going to happen," Herenton said, and, aside from that, he and Alexander had maintained a relationship of "mutual admiration" for more than a generation, since newly appointed Memphis schools superintendent Herenton first encountered the newly elected governor in 1978. "With all due respect to Bob Clement, for all my friendship for Lamar, I just felt that Lamar was a far superior candidate." Anyhow, said Herenton, "I don't run a partisan race ... I'm not deeply involved in a party."
Acknowledging that his own ability to build bridges to the nominal political opposition had some resemblances to Ford's centrist behavior as a political figure, Herenton said, "I'm just probably a little more forthright in terms of ... if I'm really for a person, what you see is what I really am."
What he and Harold Ford Jr. both are is politicians of growing stature and scope. -- J.B.
It is still a time when, despite the occasional pro forma denials that come from either side of the equation, the names Ford and Herenton can add up to tension, rivalry, and one-upmanship. In some ways, the rivalry symbolized by these two prominent Memphis political names is exponentially larger these days, though the opportunities for head-on confrontation are now relatively few.
In the last week alone, the public prominence of the one, statewide, and of the other, on the national scene, have served as a reminder of how much (a) ambition and (b) ability are involved as the chief exemplars of the rivalry, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., continue to make moves that are both astonishing and unprecedented.
Note that âJr.â suffix while you can, by the way, because, although the Ford clan patriarch, Harold Ford Sr., is still very much with it -- keeping his hand in local, state, and national politics, even from his main base in Florida Ã his son and namesake has cut himself loose from the qualifier. By conscious choice of both Fords, the current congressman now presents himself to the world as just plain Harold Ford.
Except that there is nothing plain about the way the 32-year-old African-American prodigy has gone about establishing himself as a national byword. Though Ford has for years been regarded as a comer by the Washington media, regarded as a likely Senate candidate in the near future and as an aspirant for national office in the longer run, and though he shows up regularly on the network political talk shows as a spokesman for every issue under the sun, his latest move caught everybody flatfooted and prompted a New York Daily News columnist to refer to Ford, without any undue shading, as an âupstart.â
Certainly some such notion must have been in the mind, these last few days, of U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the San Franscisco Democrat who had fairly easily forced her Texas colleague Martin Frost out of the running for the office of House minority leader vacated by Missouriâs Dick Gephardt after the Democratsâ debacle at the polls last week. When Ford declared himself a candidate for the job, contending that the liberal Pelosi represented an old, tired faction that had led the party for too long, Pelosi, elected deputy leader only this year, cracked, âEight months must seems like a long time when youâre young.â
That Ford is not only running for the key post of minority leader (one electoral realignment away from being Speaker of the House) but doing so as a centrist adds to the uniqueness of his bid for national power. It also adds to the skepticism of those who, like Herenton, are not true believers.
Last week, only minutes after unveiling his own âsurpriseâ by introducing victorious U.S. Senate candidate Lamar Alexander to a heady crowd of Republicans in Nashville, nominal Democrat Herenton faintly disparaged Rep. Fordâs claim to being âa moderate conservativeâ and contrasted his own ârealismâ with Fordâs ambition for more dramatic political perches.
âLet me give you this analogy. There are people who say, Ã"Herenton, youâve done a good job. You ought to be governor of Tennessee. It would not be realistic to think I could be governor of TennesseeÃ.You follow me? No one could pat me on the back enough to make me think I could be governor. I donât understand why people get off into this kind of egomania and think they can do these kinds of things. Nobodyâs going to pump me up and make me think I can do these kinds of things.â
The kind of thing Herenton himself is likely to do is to cross party lines so as to influence a statewide election, as he did in favoring Alexander over 5th District U.S. Rep. Bob Clement of Nashville, his Democratic partymate. Deploying his son Rodney Herenton and longtime aide Reginald French as openly avowed shock troops in the effort, Herenton made conspicuous appearances with Alexander during the campaign but withheld an explicit acknowledgement of his support until last Tuesday night when he made his well-leaked introduction of the winner and was candid afterward about why.
A Clement win âjust wasnât going to happen,â Herenton said, and, aside from that, he and Alexander had maintained a relationship of âmutual admirationâ for more than a generation, since newly appointed Memphis schools superintendent Herenton first encountered the newly elected governor in 1978. âWith all due respect to Bob Clement, for all my friendship for Lamar, I just felt that Lamar was a far superior candidate.â Anyhow, said Herenton, âI donât run a partisan raceÃIâm not deeply involved in a party.â
Acknowledging that his own ability to build bridges to the nominal political opposition had some resemblances to Fordâs centrist behavior as a political figure, Herenton said, âIâm just probably a little more forthright, in terms of -- if Iâm really for a person, what you see is what I really am.â [HEAR THE WHOLE QUOTE BY CLICKING HERE.]
What he and Harold Ford Jr. both are is politicians of growing stature and scope.
From time to time they can and will make common cause (they were both on the line for victorious Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen, on whose victory platform Herenton stood only minutes after leaving Alexanderâs).
But it is clear that neither is especially pleased when the other makes political waves. Head-on Ford-Herenton clashes have been unlikely since the 1999 city mayorâs race, when the incumbent Herenton easily put away a field including the congtressmanâs Uncle Joe Ford, then a city councilman and now a county commissioner.
But there is, and will likely always be, a competitive edge to their dealings with each other.
Needing a magic number of 105 to be elected minority leader of House Democrats, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. now has 61 votes sewn up, "with a lot of momentum" to get the rest, says Memphis Democrat David Cocke, one of several Ford allies in Washington to lend the 9th District congressman a hand.
Ford's underdog struggle may have gained a boost when another Democratic member, Ohio's Marcy Kaptur, entered the competition Wednesday -- potentially splitting the vote of favorite Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Cocke said Ford, who announced his bid for the key leadership post last Friday, has "momentum" and "all the dynamics in his favor." A key convert, according to Cocke, has been Michigan Democrat John Conyers, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who was originally committed to Pelosi.
"He [Ford} has the conservatives of the 'Blue Dog' caucus solidly with him, and he wowed his fellow members of the Black Caucus in a speech to them last night. He's moving them rapidly toward his cause," Cocke said.
One of those spearheading the Memphis congressman's effort in Washington has been his father, former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., who, as Cocke noted, "knows all the players."
Ford Bid "Puzzled Many"
----- New York Daily News' Bazinet
reports, The "upstart" Harold Ford Jr. (D-9th , TN)
"refused to abandon his uphill bid" for Min. Leader, accusing the
"seasoned" Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of the "tired, failed
politics" that "drove the party down." Ford: "If you
believe that the same old, tired, failed politics of the Democratic caucus is a
direction we ought to travel, then clearly Nancy's your choice." Ford said
"he believes he can woo some" Pelosi backers "with his centrist
policies." Ford is "also is hoping to pick up support" from
Frost backers (11/11). Ford has "offered himself up as a new generation of
leadership with a more moderate outlook than Pelosi." However,
"observers said he had no chance of winning" (Copley, 11/9).
----- The entry of Ford "puzzled many observers
who quickly dismissed his chances." Outgoing Min. Leader Dick Gephardt
spokesperson Kori Benards: "The fact that [Martin Frost
(D-TX)] dropped out of the race should indicate to Harold Ford that he doesn't
have much of a chance to beat Ms. Pelosi." One Dem aide: "Harold Ford
is going to get creamed" (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/9).
----- Meanwhile, Ford on 11/10 "insisted":
"The race is not over." Ford "has not released a list" of
supporters-- "and may not, but he is claiming the support of all
four" TN Dems, "plus pockets of support elsewhere," including
Reps. Brad Carson (D-OK 02), Lacy Clay (D-MO 01), Dennis Moore
(D-KS 03), and Adam Smith (D-WA 09). Rep. John Tanner (D-TN 08):
"Harold brings not only a new generation of leadership, but a message that
resonates and will resonate with people in their everyday lives."
Meanwhile, Clay disputed comments by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI 14) that
the Dem caucus "will not support Ford because he voted for the resolution
to authorize force with Iraq" (Brosnan, Memphis Commercial
------ Time's M. Carlson: "His
attempt will go nowhere. But, you know, it's good to have young talent coming
forward" ("Capital Gang," CNN, 11/9).
----- CNN's Snow: "I had a lot of
Democrats say some not so kind things to me this week about Harold Ford, Jr.,
that he just wants to -- you know, he's a media monger, he just wants to get
his face out there. He made his announcement on Don Imus's show, for Pete's
sake" ("Saturday Edition," 11/9).
----- Ex-Clinton adviser Lanny Davis: "I'm
an unapologetic progressive Democrat, but I think we need a new voice. And
Harold Ford is one of the most exciting new voices our party has, if not as
minority leader, he certainly should be out there speaking on our behalf and
perhaps as head of our party some day. But now I think Harold Ford is a new
face, a new voice that ought to be given serious consideration by the House
----- More Davis: "Let me
just say that Congressman Ford believes that many of the people who are
publicly committed to my old friend Nancy Pelosi now are reevaluating that they
have an alternative. It doesn't mean that they've changed their minds, but they
shouldn't necessarily be counted as inevitable" ("Late Edition,"