Thursday, February 20, 2003

POLITICS: He'll Be Back

Like another Arnold, the local one surnamed Weiner just canÕt be terminated.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2003 at 4:00 AM

HE'LL BE BACK Arnold Weiner, a Republican political activist of sorts whose relentless self-absorption is such as to make Democratic state senator John Ford look self-effacing, has a grievance: It is that he did not receive “better press attention” recently when he was making election speeches to neighborhood Republican clubs in his effort to become the next chairman of the local GOP.

Weiner is anything but bashful -- often to his detriment, as when, shilling for his fledgling (and now defunct) probation agency a few years ago, he boasted in a solicitation letter which inevitably became public that he had the county’s Republican judges in his pocket. Or so his words were interpreted. He was booted from the Shelby County Republican Party’s steering committee as a consequence -- forced to leave by the then chairman, lawyer David Kustoff, who happens to be Weiner’s cousin.

p>Kustoff, who was in charge of the successful Bush presidential campaign in Tennessee in 2002 and ran a respectable race for Congress in the 7th District last year, is widely considered to be as deft as Weiner is, well, daffy, as able to take the long view as Weiner is typically fixated on himself, as unlike his cousin as is humanly possible -- so much so as to bemuse one concerning the vagaries of DNA.

Not surprisingly, Weiner and Kustoff are estranged. Weiner, who is not without a self-promoter’s high-octane get-go, campaigned hard against his cousin some years back for a place on the GOP’s state executive committee. He lost, but not before he had peppered the local landscape with campaign signs -- something wholly unprecedented in an intra-party race of that sort.

Weiner is not without other credentials -- some of them surprising. A longtime military reservist, he maintains a runner’s physique and has surprised many a local fitness buff by showing up in the passing lane and moving briskly past during one of the several Memphis-area 5-Ks held here annually. He and his wife Scarlett, a nurse, are dedicated parents who are successfully raising their adopted son to apparent health and happiness.

On the record, Weiner can be said to possess numerous virtues, in fact. He is friendly enough, a hard worker on various party and community projects, and clearly without overtly malicious intent -- though try telling that to Joe Cooper, who remembers a speech Weiner made to the steering committee in 1995 that persuaded enough members to endorse another candidate in the city court clerk’s race that year, keeping the hopes of that candidate (lawyer Mike Gatlin) alive and expanding the field just enough to keep Cooper a few votes shy of ultimate winner Thomas Long.

Which brings us to the reason why Weiner must imagine his chairmanship ambitions to have been unfairly thwarted. It is true that, at one or two of the several forums at which candidates for the chairmanship were invited to speak, Weiner exceeded expectations. His arguments for himself -- focusing mainly on his suggested standard of hard-line party purity for Republican candidates and cadres -- were made with surprising coherence and intensity.

But the phrase “exceeded expectations” is the rub. Weiner is near-legendary both among his fellow activists and, especially, in local newspaper circles for being something of a stalker -- insistently offering for publication an endless number of screeds on this or that subject, usually on some rarefied international matter on which, to put it gently, his take is not up to the level available from other, better informed and more skilled, writers. It is this reputation that may have kept his speeches at the recent forums from having the resonance he desired for them.

The real bottom line, of course, is this: Candidates for political office, either exalted or petty, should not be dependent on the independent media for getting their messages across. Arguably, the most basic role of the media in political campaigns is to report the degree to which this or that candidate represents a body of supporters, and why.. The American system of government is representative, and political reporting should reflect that fact.

From that point of view, both of Weiner’s GOP chairmanship rivals are more deserving of notice. Contractor Jerry Cobb, a perennial aspirant for party office, has long held a reputation as a gadfly and reformer, and has an identifiable and loyal corps of supporters. Relative newcomer Kemp Conrad, the current favorite, maintained enormous visibility during the past year working with other party members on minority-outreach projects and labored hard to turn out supporters at the party caucuses last month that elected delegates to Sunday’s forthcoming convention at White Station High School that will select the coming year’s party chairman.

To his credit, Weiner has succeeded in attracting some energetic and capable backers -- notably Bill Wood, increasingly prominent in party affairs, but not by the most generous reckoning does the body of his cadres approximate those of Conrad and Cobb. Now as ever, politics is about numbers, not about the quantity of ink or air time one can cadge from a news source.

For the record, partisans of Cobb and Weiner have challenged the party credentials of 150 or so delegates pledged to Conrad, whom they concede to have done far better with the numbers on caucus night. An appeal was made to a party credentials committee Monday night, but the committee -- equally divided between establishment and non-establishment types -- ruled unanimously against it.

Another effort will be made at the state party level later on, Cobb indicated this week.

Meanwhile, win, lose, or draw on Sunday, Arnold Weiner has got some of his devoutly desired press attention this week.


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