More or less off the radar screen, the District 89 state House race goes on to determine a successor to City Council member-elect Carol Chumney.
Since no Republican filed to compete in the February 10th special election, the winner in effect will be determined by the two entrants in the December 16th Democratic primary, either consultant Jeff Sullivan or activist Beverly Robinson Marrero.
State senator Steve Cohen, Marrero's key backer, has been vocal on the subject that only his candidate currently lives inside the district. Candidate Sullivan and wife Maura Black Sullivan, director of planning for Shelby County schools, have meanwhile rented a house on Graham Street, within the official confines of District 89. Maura Sullivan, who is expecting the couple's first child on or about Election Day, says the couple's current household on Reese Street was within District 89 until a redrawing of legislative lines in recent years. "But we're preparing to move," she says, adding somewhat wearily, "I've got a job, a new baby, a move, and an election all happening at once."
An interesting twist: Both candidates were asked at a recent forum how long they intended to remain in office if elected. Marrero, who will turn 65 in January, indicated she intended to serve indefinitely. The 39-year-old Sullivan, citing the fact that he'll be dealing with a growing family, opined that he would be inclined to serve only a term or two.
· Shelby County commissioner Michael Hooks, the former county assessor who drew a petition at the Election Commission last week to seek his old job back next year, was tuning up his rhetoric in an unusual way.
One of the items being considered by the commission's land-use committee on Wednesday was an application by developer Mark Lovell to construct a wedding chapel in the Collierville area. Upon the committee's approval of the application (pending approval by the full commission at its next meeting), Hooks then addressed Lovell about a wholly imaginary Web site (GetHitched.com) on which he could, as a legally entitled county commissioner, perform marriages.
Said the commissioner: "I would like to make applicant aware that one of the powers vested in the county commission is to marry. So if you want to visit my Web site 'GetHitched.com' we've got the attorney general's interpretation recently that I don't even have to be present. With the present digital and video technology we can marry off-site, and mine includes and is not limited to a hologram so you can look right at me, and I can actually look like I'm there, and I'm not there. [laughter] Next item, please."
Lovell, who had remained silent throughout the commission's deliberations on his zoning proposal, was moved to respond: "Is there an underscore between 'get' and 'hitched'?" he asked.
You had to be there.
· Shrugging off a fresh setback, county commissioner John Willingham vowed this week to persist in his efforts to strengthen commission oversight of FedExForum developments.
In its regular public meeting Monday, the commission approved a surprise motion from Linda Rendtorff deferring for two weeks the body's vote on engaging its own consultant to monitor the Forum contract and construction. This at least temporarily reversed the commission's decision -- voted unanimously last week by Willingham's Public Works and Tourism Committee -- to employ the local firm of Barnett Naylor/Hanscomb.
In the meantime, Public Building Authority executive director Dave Bennett had briefed commission members on the Forum issue in committee meetings Monday morning, and that was enough, said several commission members later on, to reassure them that things were on track.
Willingham demurred, along with commissioners Walter Bailey, Michael Hooks, Joyce Avery, and Marilyn Loeffel. Indulging his penchant for rendering things graphically, Willingham drew a chart for his fellow commissioners, outlining some of the complicated relationships and problem areas that concerned him.
Specifically, he wondered out loud if portions of the Forum might end up being built with inferior construction materials in order to bring the project to completion by next August, under what has now been established as a guaranteed construction-cost ceiling of $250 million.
Willingham also expressed alarm about possible hidden penalties the county might be liable for under the Forum contract. Last week he and other commission dissenters groused about a penalty clause awarding $3.75 million to HOOPS, the NBA Grizzlies' coordinating organization, because the arena wasn't ready for play this season.
"I'm just a small-time lawyer," complained big-time lawyer Bailey, contending that at no time during negotiations of the contract with HOOPS had the cited section been explained -- as it was later -- as a de facto prepayment of moving expenses. "It's been said that there were meanings and sub-meanings," Bailey said. "Well, I wasn't part of that sub-meaning. This was a subterfuge."
Since no Republican filed to compete in the February 10th special election, the winner in effect will be determined by the two entrants in the December 16th Democratic primary, either consultant Jeff Sullivan or activist Beverly Robinson Marrero.
State Senator Steve Cohen, Marreros key backer, has been vocal on the subject that only his candidate currently lives inside the district. Candidate Sullivan and wife Maura Black Sullivan, director of planning for Shelby County schools, have meanwhile rented a house on Graham St. within the official confines of District 89. Maura Sullivan, who is expecting the couples first child on or about Election Day, says the couples current household on Reese St. was within District 89 until a re-drawing of legislative lines in recent years. But were preparing to move, she says, adding somewhat wearily, Ive got a job, a new baby, a move, and an election all happening at once.
An interesting twist: Both candidates were asked at a recent forum how long they intended to remain in office if elected. Marrero, who will turn 65 in January, indicated she intended to serve indefinitely. The 39-year-old Sullivan, citing the fact that hell be dealing with a growing family, opined that he would be inclined to serve only a term or two.
State Representative Carol Chumney's victory last week in the District 5 City Council runoff over Republican George Flinn -- 6,524 votes (55.1 percent) to Flinn's 5,314 votes (44.9 percent) -- was made possible by her unexpected strength in East Memphis Republican areas.
Those precincts voted disproportionately in early voting, won by Chumney, 54 percent to 46 percent. Analysis indicated that the Democratic state representative got as much as a third of the East Memphis vote on Election Day as well.
And Chumney did well, as expected, in the Midtown areas that overlapped with the District 89 legislative district she represented for 13 years.
Caught in the undertow of Flinn's defeat were such public figures as council members Rickey Peete and Myron Lowery, two Democrats whose names were used in late advertisements for Flinn, and Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, who made strenuous efforts to suppress Chumney's vote and to boost GOP endorsee Flinn.
It was learned that the mayor, shortly after the initial round of voting on October 9th, had telephoned third-place finisher Jim Strickland and asked him not to endorse fellow Democrat Chumney (something that Strickland was unlikely to do in any case).
There were reports of similar mayoral calls to others -- like Rev. Herman Powell of Early Grove Baptist Church, who was telling everyone at Chumney's victory celebration Thursday night that Herenton, offering to "bury the hatchet" concerning past disagreements, had contacted him.
(Gales Jones Carson, the mayor's spokesperson, denied this week that Herenton had made such a call to Powell.)
Asked about Herenton's efforts on Flinn's behalf, local Republican chairman Kemp Conrad joked that it all dated back to "a meeting on the grassy knoll." That was his way of acknowledging (and belittling) a theory advanced by Shelby County commissioner John Willingham and others alleging a comprehensive political deal.
In Willingham's telling, Herenton's support of Flinn was part of an elaborate arrangement, brokered by Conrad, that began with the mayor's support of Republican Lamar Alexander in last year's U.S. Senate race. As part of the deal, argued Willingham, the incumbent mayor got tacit support from Conrad.
The District 1 school-board runoff between Willie Brooks and J. Bailey was won by Brooks, 1,257 (59 percent) to 873 (41 percent). Brooks parlayed an endorsement from The Commercial Appeal and various influential office-holders into a larger-than-expected victory over Bailey, who had a modest lead during first-round balloting and made efforts to buttress his position by an alliance with Cordova community leaders -- promising them he would attempt to freeze existing district lines for schools.
*Then There Were Two: Next month's special election to determine a successor to Chumney in House District 89 will be a showdown between two contestants -- veteran activists Beverly Robinson Marrero and Jeff Sullivan -- and indirectly between their political patrons, state senators Steve Cohen and Jim Kyle, respectively.
The Democratic primary pairing (no Republicans filed for the special election) resulted from last week's withdrawal of two other candidates, Jay Sparks, Chumney's campaign manager, and Kevin Gallagher, an aide to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton.
At Chumney's victory celebration last Thursday night, Cohen remarked with raised eyebrows on meetings held earlier in the week between Sullivan, Gallagher, and Sparks. "It looks like the three male candidates were trying to pool their forces against the one woman running," said Cohen, who is giving staunch backing to Marrero. Sullivan is a close aide of Kyle, Cohen's Senate colleague.
Though both Cohen and Kyle are veteran Democrats, their relations have always been uneasy, and they have clashed on a number of issues. As recently as Wednesday night, Kyle made a thinly veiled reference to the fact at a Frayser event in his honor.
Kyle noted that his wife, Tennessee Regulatory Authority member Sara Kyle, was able to accompany him for one of the very first times since special legislation was enacted to permit her involvement in his campaigns. Cohen had long opposed such a law, regarding it as conferring special favors on an individual.
Another political difference between the two senators was highlighted on Saturday, when both District 89 candidates addressed a luncheon of the Shelby County Democratic Women. Marrero and Sullivan took similar positions on most issues, but Cohen took issue with Sullivan's offhanded remark that budget-cutting Governor Phil Bredesen had "righted the ship" of Tennessee government. It was "the legislature" that had done so, Cohen corrected.
Not coincidentally, perhaps, Sen. Kyle is recognized as the governor's closest collaborator in the Senate, while Cohen had public differences with Bredesen during the last session -- especially over issues of organizing the state lottery.
But Phil Bredesen, the former Nashville mayor about to begin his second year at the helm of Tennessee state government, seems determined to change all that, acting to fulfill both the spirit and the letter of Wilsons dictum.
Last year the newly elected governor entered office to find that the state was a hundred million dollars in the hole, even after the enactment of an unprecedentedly large sales tax increase the year before. Instead of gnashing his teeth or wringing his hands, Bredesen analyzed the situation and determined to do that which no prior Democratic governor (or Republican governor, either) had done -- slash state spending across the board. Except in the area of public education or where judicial mandates prevented it, the governor insisted that each department slash its budget by 9 percent. Remarkably, even the Tennessee Department of Transportation, whose roadbuilding apparatus had always enjoyed sacred-cow status, came under the ax.
How was Bredesen able to enforce his will? First of all, he had the support of his fellow Democrats in the legislature, who in the preceding years had rallied only unevenly to support Republican Governor Don Sundquists abortive tax-reform efforts. And it didnt hurt that Bredesens actions were in conformity with the traditional cut-spending rhetoric of the General Assemblys Republicans.
But the key to Bredesens success in budget-cutting -- and that which guaranteed that the scalpel was wielded judiciously -- was his insistence on carrying on his budget negotiations, line by line, department by department, program by program, in public. No private pork-barreling, no back-room back-scratching. It was unprecedented. Open covenants, openly arrived at, indeed: Wilson would have been proud.
This week and next the governor is holding similar public hearings with officials of state departments to iron out the details of the budget he will present to the General Assembly with the New Year. (Citizens interested in checking them out via streaming video on the Internet can do so by going on line at www.legislature.state.tn.us , then clicking, consecutively, on House and on Governors Budget Hearings.)
All this is taking place while Congress is rushing to conclude some year-end business in Washington -- including preparation of an energy policy and provision of prescription-drug coverage for seniors -- by the same old closed-door methods. All indications are that the wheelers and dealers are getting their piece of the Thanksgiving mealbefore the rest of it is even set on the table.
It is too much to expect that what is now going on in Tennessee will become a model for national lawmaking, but its worth recommending all the same. And it seems to have paid off politically. So far the best the governors political opponents can do is grouse about extravagant salaries for state lottery officials. That may or may not pay off by 2006, but Bredesens decision to play his cards face up has him ahead in the game so far.
State Representative Carol Chumney proclaims victory in the 5th District city council race to a group of supporters at her Poplar Avenue headquarters Thursday night. Chumney defeated George Flinn in the runoff election. Meanwhile, Willie Brooks outpolled J. Bailey in the District 1 school board runoff.
Defying both some major politicians and some last-minute conventional wisdom that showed her race with Republican George Flinn to be too close to call, Democratic State Representative Carol Chumney won the District 5 city council runoff Tuesday with votes to spare. Her final margin was 6,524 (55.1%) to Flinns 5,314 (44.9%) , , but the outcome had become clear as soon as the early voting totals were released, just after the close of election-day polling at 7 pm. Despite early-voting patterns -- overwhelmingly white and drawn disproportionately from East Memphis Republican areas -- that seemed to favor Flinn, Chumney led that round by margin of 53% to 47% -- a fact which made the ultimate countdown almost anti-climactic. Chumneys margin and percentage lead both inevitably increased as Tuesdays voting -- weighted as expected to her Democratic constituency -- tallied up. Caught in the undertow of Flinns defeat were such public figures as council members Rickey Peete and Myron Lowery, two Democrats whose names were used in late advertisements for Flinn, and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who made strenuous efforts to suppress Chumneys vote and to boost GOP endorsee Flinn. It was learned that the mayor, shortly after the initial round of voting on October 9th, had telephoned third-place finisher Jim Strickland and asked him not to endorse fellow Democrat Chumney (something that Strickland was unlikely to do in any case). Herenton subsequently made similar calls to various other figures -- like Rev. Herman Powell of Early Grove Baptist Church, who confided at Chumneys victory celebration Thursday night that he had been contacted by Herenton. All those efforts -- and some hard work by Flinn himself and by the Shelby County Republican organization led by GOP chairman Kemp Conrad -- went by the boards, however, due to Chumneys own hard work and dedicated corps of helpers, aided greatly by the name recognition shed built up in 13 years of service as representative from overlapping state House District 89. Asked before votes were counted about Mayor Herenton's conspicuous efforts on Flinn's behalf, Conrad joked that the whole circumstance dated back to "a meeting on the grassy knoll." That was his way of acknowledging (and belittling) a theory advanced by Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham and others alleging a comprehensive political deal. In Willingham's telling, Herenton's support of Flinn was part of an elaborate arrangement, brokered by Conrad, that began with the mayor's support of Republican Lamar Alexander in last year's U.S. Senate race. As part of the deal, argued Willingham in his recent mayoral campaign against Herenton, the incumbent mayor got tacit support from Conrad. The District 1 school board runoff between Willie Brooks and J. Bailey was won by Brooks, 1,257 (59%) to 873 (41%). Brooks parlayed an endorsement from The Commercial Appeal and various influential office-holders into a larger-than-expected victory over Bailey, who had a modest lead during first-round balloting and made efforts to buttress his position in the runoff by an alliance with Cordova community leaders.
Since the two holdover races from the Memphis city election will be run off on Thursday of this publication week, the issue will be in suspense only for the first two days the current Flyer is available. Whatever is said here will have to hold up for the five fish-wrapper days to come.
Ergo: It is safe to say that the City Council race in District 5 will end in an upset.
Either George Flinn will have upset Carol Chumney in a race in which she was the prohibitive favorite, or Chumney will have overcome seemingly insurmountable early-voting statistics that seemed to favor Flinn strongly. Either outcome would be in defiance of a different set of odds.
Consider: First estimates of the runoff vote were that something like 5,000 votes would be cast in District 5. When early voting ended on Saturday, 3,336 people had voted, of whom 154 were black, 2,856 were white, and 326 were classified as other. It would seem 1) that most of the election had already been held; and 2) that the demographic pattern of voting greatly favored the Republican Flinn over the Democrat Chumney.
Why? Because, not only did physician/businessman Flinn presumably benefit from the crude white=Republican, black=Democratic arithmetic that so often is the electoral formula in Memphis and Shelby County, but early voters came disproportionately from the historically Republican East Memphis half of the district.
In the west, District 5 takes in a good hunk of Midtown, an area more prone to vote Democratic and one which usually turns out in good numbers, proportionately, on Election Day itself. But on the basis of votes cast as of Saturday, Flinn still looked to have benefited disproportionately. Considering that conventional wisdom favored Chumney, who polled 38 percent of the total vote on October 9th, to Flinn's 31 percent, that would argue for Flinn as the upset winner.
But hold everything! Two additional factors were weighted in Chumney's favor. For 13 years she has served as a high-profile state representative from District 89, which overlaps significantly with council District 5. And those early-voting statistics showed a disproportionate edge for women voters over men, by a ratio of roughly 60 percent to 40 percent. Recent elections have shown that, all other factors being equal, that of gender identification is significant.
Moreover, Chumney made a point of pitching her appeal across the usual bipartisan lines, and one of her co-chairs was the venerable Bob James, a former councilman and nonagenarian who was among the first well-known Republicans to run for office locally in the 1960s. And, even though Flinn's low-key, nonabrasive campaigning style this year has largely canceled out the after-effects of a bitterly contested 2002 GOP primary for Shelby County mayor -- one in which he bested former state Representative Larry Scroggs -- some residuum of that campaign might linger.
Chumney partisans could plausibly maintain therefore that she was well positioned to overcome the apparent early-voting demographics favoring Flinn and, in an upset of her own, carry the day.
One key to which of these competing scenarios is most accurate was the issue of different campaigning styles. On Saturday, Chumney, who made more speaking appearances, showed her flag at the conservative-oriented Dutch Treat Luncheon at the Piccadilly Restaurant in southeast Memphis. Flinn eschewed the opportunity to debate Chumney at that presumably favorable venue and worked the early-voting locations instead -- especially the one at Berclair Church of Christ on Summer Avenue, where, argued Chumney poll-watchers, who distributed photos to buttress their point, Flinn worked a parking-lot area closer to the polling place than state election law permits.
Answered local GOP chairman Kemp Conrad: "The race for District 5 is not about where someone stands in a parking lot but where they stand on important issues like taxes." Conrad also argued for the irrelevancy of Chumney's apparent good showing before the conservative audience of the Dutch Treat Luncheon, where she fielded questions in a variety of areas.
In truth, it was arguable as to which candidate spent time most effectively on Saturday.
One other variable was hanging fire at press time: Which way would partisans of lawyer Jim Strickland, the third-place finisher on October 7th, go? Strickland, a former local Democratic chairman, had support from both Democrats and Republicans, and prominent Strickland backers were to be found supporting both Chumney and Flinn. Strickland himself seemed inclined to sit things out, and any late change of mind was unlikely to have much effect.
Governor Phil Bredesen, in Memphis for several functions, including fundraisers for both himself and State Senator Jim Kyle, receives token of appreciation from attendees at ceremony honoring Kyle (to Bredesen's left) at Frayser's Ed Rice Community Center Wednesday night.
Probably nothing could better illustrate the degree of political polarity -- in the country, in general, and in these parts, in particular -- than the receptions accorded former President Bill Clinton and his successor, President George W. Bush, during visits to the area last week.
Both men were greeted with enthusiasm -- adulation, even -- from their supporters, who happen to come from wholly different segments of the population.
Clinton -- who, along with local civil rights legend Maxine Smith, was a recipient of a Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum -- was the first to arrive, on Tuesday of last week. He and Smith made two appearances -- at an afternoon forum at Temple of Deliverance COGIC Church on the street, G.E. Patterson Blvd., named after one of the church's eminences; and at The Peabody Tuesday night for the Freedom Awards banquet.
It will probably enrage the former president's critics to read this, but the fact is that when the fit-looking, blue-suited, white-haired Clinton emerged in the Temple of Deliverance auditorium, he was greeted with nothing less than a collective and highly audible swoon from the overwhelmingly African-American audience.
It has been observed by some of the more metaphorically minded that Clinton may have been "the first black president" -- a description that derives from the former president's obvious affinity for such audiences and from social and economic policies meant to benefit blacks and perhaps, too, for some elements of personal style.
Buoyed by his reception, Clinton felt entitled to use the description himself -- and did so, to applause. He was relaxed enough to indulge in a characteristically Clintonian compliment to Smith, the longtime former local NAACP head and ex-Memphis school board member. Marveling at one of the shots of a younger Smith shown in an introductory video, Clinton acknowledged thinking how "good looking" she was. "I hope you'll forgive me. I did it. I confess."
And, speaking of first black presidents, both at the afternoon forum and before his remarks at the evening banquet, at each of which venues Memphis' 9th District congressman introduced him, Clinton made a point of stating, "I hope I live long enough to vote for Harold Ford Jr."
Fade to the weekend and the arrival of President Bush, whose motorcade route in Southaven, Mississippi, where the president spoke on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour, was lined with enthusiastic white suburbanites.
There were blacks in the crowd, as there were also in the DeSoto Civic Center, which was filled to the rafters, but they were a distinct minority. Besides stoking the audience on the virtues of Barbour and the other GOP candidates present, the president's speech addressed the verities of patriotism and family values and education that might be expected to predominate among middle-class homeowners.
This was an audience that would have sat on its hands -- or applauded politely -- for Clinton, just as the former president's admirers would have provided a lukewarm reception -- at best -- for the current president.
Last week's reminders of the enduring polarity in national politics provided a contrast to the relatively bipartisan nature of next week's two city runoff races -- between Carol Chumney and George Flinn for the District 5 City Council seat; and between J. Bailey and Willie Brooks for the District 1 school board position.
Both races appear to be too close to call, with the outcomes likely to be skewed by lower-than-usual turnout.
State Rep. Chumney and businessman/physician Flinn are each working hard to corral fresh sources of support in their bid for the District 5 council seat. Chumney has picked up some of former opponent (and fellow Democrat) Jim Strickland's backers, but, as of press time, no formal endorsement from Strickland himself, a former local Democratic chairman who had support in his council race from members of both parties.
Flinn, who faced a divided party in last year's unsuccessful race for county mayor, has support this time from such moderate Republicans as Annabel Woodall, David Kustoff, and Nathan Green, and hopes to claim his share of former Strickland voters.
Newest names in the hat to fill Chumney's District 89 House seat are Kevin Gallagher, an aide to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton; political consultant Jeff Sullivan, whose wife, Maura Black Sullivan, had previously considered the race; Beverly Robison Marrero, a former bookseller and real estate broker; Rendall Linn; and Kerry White. Gallagher and Sullivan have formally filed, both as Democrats. Marrero, another Democrat, has the avid support of State Sen. Steve Cohen, a sometime political broker who was a strong booster of Chumney's when she was first elected in 1990.