The field of candidates for the 5th District city council seat being vacated by John Vergos has grown by one more well-known political name.
State Rep. Carol Chumney, who represents Midtown in the Tennessee legislature and who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for Shelby County mayor last year, picked up a petition for the race on Tuesday morning, making the trip downtown in the company of activist Mary Wilder, a close Chumney friend who had previously indicated her own intention to run. After her stop at the Election Commission, Chumney then headed to Nashville, where the legislature is expected to adjourn this week.
"There are a lot of good candidates in the race," Chumney said Monday night, "but I'm the only one with experience in some of the most important issues the council will be dealing with." Others who have declared for the seat include lawyer Jim Strickland, businessman/physician George Flinn, and frequent candidate Joe Cooper.
Chumney said that she felt her 13 years in the state House have been successful and that she wanted to "come home and work every day in the community," applying her expertise. She said that she already represented "40 percent" of the council district as a legislator and knew the rest of the district well, having grown up in the East Memphis portion of it, where she now also maintains her law office.
She named child care, an issue on which she led reform efforts in Nashville, and "smart growth" as significant local issues.
If successful, Chumney said, she would finish out her legislative term but would not seek reelection to it next year. Meanwhile, any overlap in state pay would be donated to "neighborhood groups," she said.
Chumney's entry into the race -- coupled with the presence of Cooper, who has run several times for various offices as a Democrat -- became an instant red flag to the campaign of lawyer Jim Strickland, a former local Democratic chairman who has been actively running for several weeks and has a major fund-raiser scheduled for early next month.
"She's got more name recognition, but I'll raise more money and I have broader support," maintained Strickland, who said further, "I'm supported by Democrats, Republicans, independents, neighborhood leaders, and business leaders." (The list of sponsors for his forthcoming fund-raiser ranges from Democrats like Shelby County commissioner Joe Ford and Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, a major Strickland ally, to former local Republican chairman Alan Crone.) Strickland said his campaign would emphasize the issues of "good schools, safe streets, and strong neighborhoods."
It has been just under 63 years since the 19th Amendment, or women's suffrage, became law, thanks to a narrow 49-47 vote in the Tennessee state House, and it's been almost exactly five years since a priceless text commemorating that moment was published in the state that made the franchise gender-neutral.
Both moments were commemorated Tuesday in a moving presentation before members of the downtown Memphis Rotary Club at the group's weekly luncheon at the Convention Center. Janann Sherman, who with the late Carol Lynn Yellin was a co-author of the 1998 book The Perfect 36: Tennessee Delivers Women's Suffrage, and Paula Casey, a close friend of both authors who is widely credited with being the moving force behind the publication, made the presentation.
Once again, Sherman and Casey relived the story of how the mother of a 24-year-old obscure Tennessean named Harry Burn wrote her son, advising him to be a "good boy" and do the right thing, in a letter received by Rep. Burn the very day of the vote, on August 18, 1920, that made Tennessee the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the vote.
Burn's aye vote made it 49-47, but, as Casey pointed out, much credit for the final result was due to the preliminary work of Memphis' Joe Hanover, the floor leader who carefully shepherded the pro-suffrage votes. (Unmentioned from the dais Tuesday and amply credited in the book was the total support given the suffrage cause by Ed "Boss" Crump, whose control of the Shelby County delegation was virtually complete.
"It was the greatest bloodless revolution in Tennessee history," noted Casey, who added, tongue presumably in cheek, "The suffragists didn't kill anybody -- but they could have." Casey told the Rotarians about the determination of herself and Sherman to make sure the book was published when it was, on May 21, 1998, so that Yellin, who would die in 1999 from the effects of breast cancer, would have a chance to see her handiwork received by the world.
"When Paula Casey makes up her mind, get out of the way," said industrialist Jim Fri to his fellow Rotarians.
Amen to that, and to the efforts of Sherman and Yellin, and to the anniversary.
An achievement which, in its own way, was as impressive, was also noted to the Rotarians Tuesday, with the announcement on the group's annual Teacher Initiative Grant, given this year to Dawn LaFon, a Latin teacher at White Station High School.
LaFon, who is a first cousin of former Vice President Al Gore, used the grant -- of some $240, awarded to her project on "Ancient Coins in Education" -- to expand her students' knowledge of Roman history, as she put it, "through all 400 years of the Empire." That, as someone noted, was enormously cost-efficient, at less than a dollar a year.
Shelby County mayor A C Wharton's efforts -- noted here last week -- to downsize his budget proposals to the level of an anticipated 25-cent property tax increase, may not be thorough enough, in the opinion of several Shelby County Commission members who met last week, as they meet every week, to pare the county's fiscal commitments down to manageable size.
"I want to see if we can lower that 25 to zero," said Commissioner David Lillard, who was promptly seconded across the committee-room table by Commissioner Tom Moss, who made a "0" with the thumb and fingers of his right hand.
The mood was bipartisan. Democrat Deidre Malone joined her Republican colleagues in the wish that such economies could be effected.
Whether they can or not remains to be seen. But, as Lillard pointed out, if cuts of that magnitude are to be found, they are most likely to be found in personnel lists. Confirmation of a sort came from General Sessions Court clerk Chris Turner, who was one of several clerks and judges to testify last week on behalf of holding on to as much of their prerogatives as possible.
"I've got some folks," Turner said frankly, "that I wouldn't miss if they stopped showing up."
Ironically, Lillard defended the recent expansion of the commission's own support staff, now consisting of director Grace Hutchinson and aides Clay Perry and Steve Summerall. "It's going to take all those folks to really look behind the budget and see what we can cut out of it," Lillard said.
Correction and amplification: The Politics column (May 15) reporting on state Rep. Kathryn Bowers' election as new Shelby County Democratic chairman, should have referred to one of the Bowers supporters mentioned as Randle Catron, not Darrell Catron, a cousin and former staffer at Juvenile Court who has pleaded guilty to charges of embezzlement.
Randle Catron, who has no relationship to that legal action, is involved in a challenge of another sort. He recently picked up a petition at the Election Commission to run for mayor of Memphis against incumbent Willie Herenton.
He came, he saw, he schmoozed. And he even offered qualified praise for his successor in the presidency, George W. Bush, did former President Bill Clinton. Clinton appeared Friday night at a fund-raiser at the East Memphis home of Gwen and John Montague for fellow Arkansas Democrat Jimmie Lou Fisher, last year's unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in the state next door.
Addressing a full house -- overwhelmingly composed of Arkies, with a scattering of Memphis Democrats -- Clinton skated over the recent Iraqi war and in general commended Bush's conduct of the war on terrorism, cautioning that Americans should maintain vigilance against future terrorist attacks like that of 9/11. "They'll hit us again, but they'll never beat us," Clinton said.
The former president, who in his remarks to the crowd at large did not mention either his vice president, Al Gore, or any of the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates, said the economy and the growing national debt would be and should be major issues against Bush in next year's presidential election.
"The national debt doesn't mean anything to the average person because the recession has kept interest rates low," Clinton elaborated to an attendee, adding, "but if and when the economy picks up, rates will go sky-high. When that happens, people will focus on it and see that the national government is competing with the private sector in the money market."
Earlier, Clinton had boasted to the crowd that he had actually been "more conservative" on fiscal matters than Bush and recalled that he had balanced the budget and actually had a surplus.
Prominent Tennessee Democrats in attendance included former Governor Ned McWherter and state Senator Roy Herron, both of Dresden. Among the Memphians on hand were Strickland, Janice Lucas, and Sarah Hohenberg.
It was perhaps inevitable: This is an election year, is it not? And what is an election year without the name Joe Cooper on a local ballot? Cooper candidacies and rumors of Cooper candidacies are part of the very fabric of local politics -- its warp and woof, as it were (and you can make your own puns involving those terms, thank you; it's not brain surgery).
Cooper picked up a petition at the election commission Monday to run for the District 5 city council seat about to be vacated by two-termer John Vergos, who has announced that at some point he will endorse one of his would-be successors, specifying so far only that the endorsee would not be last year's Republican nominee for county mayor, George Flinn. Lawyer Jim Strickland and community activist Mary Wilder, Democrats like Vergos, are real possibilities.
Cooper has run as a Democrat in recent years, but he isn't holding his breath in anticipation of getting the nod from Vergos, an environmentalist who was probably scandalized, as so many were, by Cooper's proposal to commercialize a hunk of Shelby Farms during his race for the county commission last year.
"Nah, all I'm looking to John for is some more of those world-famous ribs that he and his family [at the Rendezvous restaurant] are so noted for," Cooper says modestly.
As for his ill-fated Shelby Farms proposal, Cooper says, "I've learned my lesson. The people in this district made their opinions known loud and clear. They want Shelby Farms to remain like it is." That's actually a plank in his newest platform (or is it a message tied to his finger by a string?): Leave Shelby Farms Alone.
Another plank may cancel out the effect of that one for some voters, however. Cooper wants to fire the top administrators at the Office of Planning and Development and "reform" the structure of that agency generally. That typifies the point of view of several disgruntled members of the development community with whom Cooper has been close in recent years.
As usual in one of Cooper's races, he proposes a 24-hour action line for seniors, and this year he adds to that a call for a new police precinct to focus on the area covered by District 5, whose center of balance is Midtown.
"I'm the most experienced candidate in this race. That's the bottom line," says Cooper, who is without doubt the most experienced at being a candidate, as well.
Cooper's slogan is the same as it has been since 1995 when he coined it for a race for city court clerk (which he almost won): "It's Time -- Now." That has been preceded by his name and, sometimes, by the office he seeks. "What I think I'll do is take last year's yard signs and paste "city council" over the words "county commission," he muses. Under the circumstances, not a bad idea.
n Shelby County Republicans last week did the expected by endorsing the 5th District city-council hopes of Flinn, the radiologist/broadcast mogul whose mayoral candidacy was tarnished by acrimony but who promises a positive approach in his council race this year.
About his well-funded but ultimately unsuccessful political experience last year, Flinn joked, "I'm older, wiser, and poorer. This will be a grassroots campaign." Flinn, who later confided that out-of-state consultants may have done him a disservice in last year's race -- his first -- by advocating "slash-and-burn" tactics, promised that he would work only with local consultants this year and would keep his expenditures more or less in line with what is customary for a city council race.
A press release put out last week by consultant Lane Provine indicates that Flinn will focus on the twin issues of improving education and holding the tax line.
Next, the GOP steering committee, which gave its unanimous nod to Flinn at a meeting at the home of activist Annabel Woodall, is likely also to endorse county school board member Wyatt Bunker for the District 1 council race against longtime incumbent EC Jones.
"We think Jones is vulnerable, and we think Bunker has good support against him," said party chairman Kemp Conrad. Cordova resident Bunker, arguably the county board's most conservative member, filed his petition for the seat last week.
The party will withhold any official action on the race pending formal interviews of the sort held with District 5 candidates, but Bunker's entry was actively sought by the party's candidate-recruitment committee -- a fact which makes him almost certain to be endorsed.
Bunker is a resident of Countrywood, a portion of Cordova annexed by the city of Memphis since he was last elected to the county school board. Ineligible to run for reelection to the board next year, he is in a unique position as a county officeholder running for citywide office this year.
Another race in which the party may endorse, said Conrad, is the race for the Super-District 9, Position 1 council seat now held by long-term incumbent Pat Vander Schaaf. Numerous candidates -- Republican, Democratic, and independent -- are expected to try their luck in that one -- with local businessmen Scott McCormick and Lester Lit running most actively at the moment.
Newly elected Democratic chair Kathryn Bowers has gone on record against official party endorsements in this year's city election -- a decision counter to that which the former chairperson, Gale Jones Carson, indicated she would have advised. Carson, press secretary to Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, was narrowly defeated for the chairmanship by state Rep. Bowers in an extended and hotly contested election process.
One of the sights to be had on Friday night, whose torrential rains and persistent tornado threats curtailed a session of the barbecue festival, was that of A C Wharton, dressed to the nines and paying a ceremonial visit to the tent of which he and 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. were the titular impresarios.
Even in that environment, shortly to become pandemonium, the Shelby County mayor looked immaculate and unflappable as he bestowed some gracious banter on a group of visiting German tourists, who became instant admirers. And on the evening before, at a big-ticket East Memphis fund-raiser for his governmental counterpart, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, Wharton had pulled off an equally impressive trick.
Asked what the current state of his budget was, Wharton looked upward reflectively and became an instant abacus. "Let's see, there was a debt trade-off here ." He calculated it as worth $4 million. "And reductions worth such-and-such here ." He gave the actual number. "And applying a 5-percent spending cut here ." He paused and toted. "All that puts the deficit at $29 million, down from $44 million, which means ..." He paused and toted again. "... as of right now we're looking at a 25-cent property-tax increase."
Only a day or two before, the morning newspaper had put the number at 41 cents, but that was before the county mayor and his team went back to what these days is the constant task of number crunching. The 25-cent figure, Wharton indicated, was hot off his own interior press, and the result of a good deal of jawboning and other effort.
One is tempted to say "arm-twisting," except that the dapper, almost dainty Shelby County mayor is clearly no bully boy and works almost exclusively through charm and good manners and gentle persuasion. Not to omit the aura of good faith he communicates.
It was clear he was disappointed that a predictably well-orchestrated pressure campaign by local homebuilders and developers had forced him -- and the Shelby County Commission -- to put off for a year any real consideration of his proposed "Adequate Facilities Tax," a de facto impact fee. "But we're not going to lose any potential revenue as a result of that," Wharton said philosophically. "And it's important to set up something recurrent that we can depend on that everybody can agree on."
His own use of the word "recurrent" made him wince a bit as he recalled the deluge of complaints that he, like the several previous Shelby County mayors, had received about the notorious "wheel tax," first passed during the Bill Morris administration to cover the costs of upgrading public education -- then as now the squeaky wheel of county government.
"I never stop hearing about that damn thing!" Wharton exclaimed, his game smile hardly masking the genuine pain of recollection.
The task now, especially since the Adequate Facilities Tax has been put on hold, is to find another "damn thing" that will pass muster with enough of the contentious pressure groups in Shelby County to get by a perpetually divided and squeamish commission.
One possibility is a payroll tax, and, after the homebuilders and developers pumped for it as an alternative to the AFT, he carefully began to drop it into his public discourse and to seed the idea with friendly members of the commission -- like Deidre Malone, a newly elected Democrat (like Wharton) who brings it up every chance she gets.
Participants in the public weal as diverse as megadeveloper Ron Belz and Commissioner John Willingham, an unorthodox Republican also elected just last year, are talking the idea up in tandem with the idea of a proportionately discounted property tax -- a sop which they hope will appeal to big employers like FedEx's Fred Smith, widely credited with killing the payroll tax the last time it reared itself.
Wharton is optimistic that a solution will be found. Like Governor Phil Bredesen, another moderate Democrat and yet another reigning public official birthed in the fiscal desert of 2002, he is skilled enough to sell the idea of across-the-board cuts. His 5-percent variety is close kin to the governor's 9-percent version, and, like it, may be subject to a modicum of negotiation before it or something like it gets into the law books.
"We gotta find something," says Wharton, looking both determined and patient, knowing that anybody less trusted or less mellow would have hell to pay. And so may he, if the current purgatory which, for better or worse, constitutes his moment extends too long and too far.
• State Representative Carol Chumney of Memphis, selected by the centrist Democratic Leadership Council as one of 110 up-and-coming national Democrats, attended a DLC conference last week in Washington, where her activities included conference time with a former leading light of the DLC, one William Jefferson Clinton.
As they say, it ain't over 'til it's over, and there's no guaranteeing that the intra-party squabble among local Democrats is. But there is, as of Monday night, a new chairman of the Shelby County Democrats. It is state Representative Kathryn Bowers, elected by a vote of 21-20 by the 41-member party executive committee in a special meeting at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall on Madison.
Monday night's special meeting had been agreed upon by the party's two warring factions -- one supporting the now-former chairman Gale Jones Carson, the other backing Bowers -- after the two rivals for the chairmanship deadlocked 20-20 at the regularly scheduled party convention on April 12th at Hamilton High School.
But the factions had disagreed seriously about an intervening event, a meeting May 1st at which Carson, still holding office, had presided over the election of other officers, most of whom were her own partisans. (She had offered some positions to supporters of Bowers, all of whom declined in a show of factional solidarity.) Carson's contention was that party bylaws called for such an election following the convention; the Bowers faction countered that it was up to the new committee elected on April 12th to set its own schedule.
In any case, the work of May 1st was undone Monday night with the election of Bowers -- whose support came principally from the party's residual Ford and Farris factions, from her fellow legislators and their allies on the committee, and from the new committee's white minority. Carson, who serves as Memphis mayor Willie Herenton's press secretary, had strong support from the mayor's wing of the party. (Herenton himself had put in an appearance on Carson's behalf at the party's pre-convention March caucus at Hamilton.)
A slate of new officers, composed overwhelmingly of Bowers supporters, was also elected as the election of the Carson-approved slate on May 1st was formally rescinded.
Among the highlights (or lowlights) of the evening:
As soon as the vote totals were announced, Carson offered perfunctory congratulations to Bowers then stepped down from her presiding seat on the platform of the IBEW hall. As Bowers began to officiate in her role as newly elected chairman, a Carson delegate moved to adjourn the meeting and was seconded. But then, before a vote could be taken on the motion, most members of the Carson faction -- notably including the now-former chairman herself -- began to exit the building, thereby abandoning any chance of a favorable vote for adjournment.
At one point, Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone, an observer and close friend of Carson's, busied herself trying to finger for the media a committee member -- and Bowers supporter -- named Renita Scott-Pickens. Pickens, it seemed, was a county jailer who had taken off from work so as to be on hand to cast her vote. Asked about that, Pickens answered mysteriously that she had a "legal action" pending against the sheriff's department and would "refer questions to my lawyer."
At another point, police officer Robert Gill, one of the diehard Carson remnant who stayed behind to contest various issues (or to "agitate," as Bowers would term it), raised one of his several objections to a procedure under way, and the new chairman directed her newly appointed parliamentarian, Del Gill, to adjudicate the issue. Unsurprisingly, the parliamentarian ruled decisively against the officer, who happened to be his brother.
Committee member Marianne Wolff issued two apologies -- one public and one private. To the assembly at large, Wolff said, "I really feel I caused a lot of this by being sick." Wolff's illness at the party convention of April 12th had caused her to leave early and prevented her tie-breaking vote on Bowers' behalf. And to a reporter she attempted to explain away her attempts to misrepresent to the media the spelling of her name and her address this way: "I said I lived in Germantown and I spelled my name with one 'f'," said Wolff of Cordova, adding with an exotic ex post facto logic, "I thought you would know better if I put it that way."
Committee member Janie Orr, nominated at one point for the position of assistant treasurer, declined, saying forthrightly, "I'd be a disaster doing anything with money!" The nominating process had included several such moments over the past several weeks. At the May 1st meeting, when it was the Bowers faction's time to obfuscate, committee member Darrell Catron, one of the state representative's supporters, had ducked out of the meeting long enough to pull himself a Diet Coke and returned to hear what he thought was an attempt to nominate him for an office. "I decline!" he shouted, to general amusement, as his name had not in fact been mentioned.
On Monday night, Carson supporter Malcolm Nelson, who had earlier lambasted Bowers backer David Cocke for moving to disapprove the minutes of May 1st (Cocke's point being to nullify that meeting's election of the Carson slate), was nominated for an office by a Bowers supporter and was asked if he had anything to say to the committee. He rose and said gravely, "Good evening," then withdrew. (Later, though, both he and another Carson diehard, Leenard Jennings, seemed uncertain as to whether they should accept such goodwill nominations. Jennings finally allowed himself to be voted on for an at-large post on the party steering committee but went down 13-12 to Jesse Jeff, his fellow Carson supporter.
Considering that one of the bones of contention between the two factions had been Carson's insistence that party bylaws called for meetings on the first Thursday of each month (hence her decision to schedule the disputed May 1st meeting), it was ironic that Bowers supporter Duane Thompson moved successfully, late in Monday night's meeting, to schedule the new committee's regular meetings on -- guess what? -- the first Thursday of each month.
As the Old Guard yielded to the New, there were some moments of minor pathos. Freelance journalist Bill Larsha, a committee veteran, had been appointed by Carson as parliamentarian to succeed Del Gill at the May 1st meeting. As he took his seat on the dais before Monday night's meeting, Larsha beamed and showed off the proud possession he had armed himself with. It was a vintage, dog-eared copy of Robert's Rules of Order, the parliamentarian's bible, and he pointed to a faded signature on the inner leaf of the volume.
"Look," Larsha had said excitedly, "this is signed by the last surviving member of the Robert family!" But when Bowers took over, her first act as new chairman was to depose Larsha, whose tenure in office therefore ended up being measured in minutes, and to rename Gill. Larsha looked forlorn as he gathered up his literary treasure and stepped off the officers' platform.
At the May 1st meeting, ex-Teamster leader Sidney Chism, a close ally of both Carson's and Herenton's, had held out the prospect that if Bowers' people were successful in both electing her and rescinding the Carson slate of other officers elected at that meeting, then the factions might, as the succeeding months wore on, take turns voting each other out of office.
Chism, who is not a committee member, was not on hand Monday night, but another spokesperson for Carson, Norma Lester, one of the former chairman's slate, joined Bowers in an appeal to set aside such differences in the common interest of defeating Republicans. But Lester's proposed remedy -- the appointment of a five-member special committee composed of two Bowers supporters, two Carson supporters, and a neutral (whoever that might be, under the highly polarized circumstances) to select a slate of new party officers -- was rejected, and the election of a Bowers-dominated slate went ahead as planned.
Upon formally taking office, Bowers had given an exhortatory speech in which she promised to establish a local Democratic headquarters, to raise $250,000 for the party's 2004 general election fund, and to preside over "not one group but a unified party." Likening the Shelby County Democratic Party that she foresaw to a locomotive, Bowers urged Democrats at large to climb aboard and declaimed, "It's going to be a moving train!"
That remains to be seen. On Monday night, in any case, the train left the station without its full component aboard.
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE GOP: Shelby County Republicans were preparing this week to hitch their train to the city council hopes of George Flinn, the radiologist/broadcast mogul who ran unsuccessfully for county mayor last year.
Flinn, a novice candidate, won the Republican nomination with a well-financed and -- said his critics -- abrasive media campaign against then-state Representative Larry Scroggs. Resultant party division was one factor in Flinn's lopsided loss in the general election to Democratic nominee A C Wharton.
"I think he intends to run a different type of campaign this year," said GOP party chair Kemp Conrad of the bid by Flinn for the District 5 seat being vacated by two-term councilman John Vergos. Conrad was taking no sides in advance of Tuesday night's vote on potential GOP endorsees by the local Republican steering committee, but he did not dispute reports that Flinn had the inside track.
Conrad pledged upon taking office this year that the party would endorse candidates for selected seats and aggressively promote their candidacies. In the morrow of Monday night's Democratic meeting, he could not resist this dig at the rival party's highly public difficulties: "It's unfortunate that the Democrats seem to be more consumed in power struggles and personal agendas than they are in the lives of Shelby Countians."
Among other hopefuls so far acknowledged as seeking the District 5 seat are Jim Strickland, Mary Wilder, Jay Gatlin, and John Pellicciotti. Pellicciotti, Gatlin, and Strickland, like Flinn, had preliminary interviews last week with the GOP candidate-recruitment committee, but each had handicaps to overcome in gaining the endorsement of the full Republican committee.
Gatlin's was that he is a relative unknown; Strickland's was that he served a term as chairman of the Shelby County Democrats; Pellicciotti's was, ironically enough, that he ran a tight race against Democratic state Representative Mike Kernell last year and is counted to do so again next year. Several leading Republicans have said they would prefer that Pellicciotti keep his powder dry until then.
Photo by Shiela Whaley from video courtesy of WMC-TV, Channel 5
Photo by Sheila Whaley from video courtesy of WMC-TV, Channel 5
In one sense, the continuing controversy in local Democratic leadership ranks is nothing unusual. The American political system, which somehow manages to reconcile a multitude of viewpoints within a two-party system, kindles controversy the way an automobile's engine runs on internal combustion.
Normally, such a system's outward manifestations are smooth, but sometimes the internal knocking gets out of hand and there's a bit of a racket.
That continues to be the situation of the Shelby County Democrats. The real problem is that the party is about as evenly divided into halves as can be imagined, and as the party prepares for a final showdown Monday night on its month-long effort to elect a new chairperson, the lineup is still 21 votes for state Rep. Kathryn Bowers and 20 votes for current chair Gale Jones Carson, who doubles as press secretary to Memphis mayor Willie Herenton.
That's how it was at the biennial party convention on Saturday, April 12th, when a Bowers supporter on the newly elected party executive committee took ill and had to leave, creating a temporary stalemate, and that's how it has remained ever since.
That's how it was again last Thursday night when the Carson faction, taking advantage of the temporary absence of three other Bowers supporters, elected its own slate of officers under the level of chairman.
The Bowers faction had protested that election and abstained from voting in it, preferring to elect the new officers along with the chairman at the May 12th meeting, but Carson insisted that party precedent mandated such an election Thursday night, on what she said was the accustomed post-convention meeting date. She also noted that her side made an effort to elect some members of the Bowers faction, all of whom, however, declined to let themselves be nominated.
Indications are that the full complement of members from both sides will be on hand at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union hall Monday night -- a fact that should result both in a Bowers victory and, since her faction has pledged to rescind the results of last week's balloting, in the selection of new officers.
But that's not the end. The chief strategist for the Carson faction (as for most of Mayor Herenton's campaigns) is ex-Teamster leader Sidney Chism, and Chism holds out what will doubtless seem to many Democrats an unnerving prospect.
"What they can rescind one month, we can rescind the next," Chism said last week -- meaning that the two factions could theoretically take turns voting each other's officers out of power, the outcome for any given month depending entirely on which side gets more of its supporters out to this or that monthly meeting of the party executive committee.
Whether the party bylaws permit such reversals by a majority of those present at a meeting or whether they require an absolute majority of the committee membership (21 votes out of 41) and whether the chairperson is also subject to such recall are issues that are already being debated and researched by members of both party factions.
Again, contention is a necessary part of the democratic (and Democratic) process, but so is compromise, and the prospects of that other shoe ever dropping are beginning to look doubtful indeed.
· Candidate interest in the 5th District city council seat being vacated by two-term incumbent John Vergos continues to accelerate. Or so one would conclude from the sizable number of hopefuls who lined up at Shelby County Republican headquarters Monday night for possible endorsement by the party.
Among the familiar political names were physician/radio mogul George Flinn, who was the GOP nominee for Shelby County mayor last year; Jim Strickland, who once chaired the Shelby County Democratic Party but has numerous connections with Republicans (notably, in his law partnership with former local Republican chairman David Kustoff); and John Pellicciotti, who ran a stoutly competitive race last year as the GOP nominee against Democratic state Representative Mike Kernell.
Still mindful of the less-than-unanimous support he received from his fellow Republicans in last year's unsuccessful outing against Democrat A C Wharton, Flinn is said to be reserving a decision on making the race, depending on whether he gets the party endorsement.
Of all the potential candidates, no one is so far organizing more busily than lawyer Strickland, who was the honoree at a Friday night meet-and-greet at the East Memphis home of Wes and Becky Kraker, co-hosted by banker Joe Evangelisti. The Kraker affair was well-attended, especially by members of Memphis' Catholic community -- a sometimes overlooked source of potential bloc support, as several of the attendees, mainly communicants of St. Louis Catholic Church, pointed out.
Former Memphis mayor Dick Hackett, who was successful in three elections before being upset by current incumbent Willie Herenton, also enjoyed considerable support from Memphis Catholics in his heyday.
· Old pros Winslow "Buddy" Chapman and Joe Cooper ended up out of the running as the Shelby County Commission voted Monday to complete its internal staff positions -- naming as deputy administrators Steve Summerall, deputy administrator of the Shelby County Election Commission, and Clay Perry, district director for U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.
Summerall and Perry will make $64,500 each to assist chief administrator Grace Hutchinson.
Though Perry's selection had been long foreshadowed, support for Summerall's candidacy was late-blooming. An issue all along had been the prospect of the commission's ending up, as Ford said in a commission committee meeting Monday, with "too many chiefs."
That criterion was evidently decisive in the commission's ultimate turn away from Chapman, who had served as Memphis police director, and Cooper, who has long been a fixture in local politics. ·