There was this man who was walking along and met a snake," began Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, by way of launching a cautionary tale to an auditor at an after-hours gathering last week -- a day or two after he and members of the Shelby County Commission had met to consider the issue of the FedExForum.
As the county mayor told it, the snake proceeded to say, "Hey, mister, do me a favor and put me in your pocket!" The pedestrian sensibly declined, on the grounds, as he put it, that "Hey, you're a snake!"
"Oh, come on, mister," replied the snake. "I get so lonely crawling all alone down here. Trust me, I'll do you no harm." And the serpent continued to plead in such terms until the man finally relented and put the snake in his pocket. He then resumed his walk. So far, so good.
After an interval, however, the snake poked his head out of the man's pocket. "Mister, do me one more favor," he said.
"What is it this time?" asked the man, warily.
"Would you kiss me?" asked the snake.
"WHAT?" exclaimed the pedestrian.
"Yes, please sir, kiss me. You don't know what it's like to go as long as I have without affection. Nobody has ever kissed me. Come on, mister, please!"
Against his better judgment, the man relented and lifted the snake out of his pocket. He brought it up to his mouth and prepared to kiss the creature, when ZAP! The snake lashed out and stung the man's face with a wicked, and potentially lethal, bite.
The man screamed and his knees buckled. He began to sag but mustered enough energy and outrage to say, "How could you do that? I trusted you!"
The creature responded to this reproach with a simple, matter-of-fact answer: "What's the problem? You knew I was a snake when you picked me up!"
The mayor left no doubt as to the moral of the story: "We in government make these arrangements and get into these partnerships with the private sector, and we tend to overlook the fact that these entrepreneurs and businessmen are out to make money. When it turns out that they're doing just that, trying to make money out of the arrangement, we get all fussed and bothered, and we holler 'Snake!' But we knew that's what they were when we picked them up!"
That was Wharton's way of dealing with some of the newly realized consequences of the FedExForum agreement reached by the city and county with HOOPS, the entity representing the NBA Grizzlies.
Among the troubling details of the agreement that have surfaced during hearings of the Shelby County Commission in recent weeks was a clause that disguised a multimillion-dollar payment to the Grizzlies for moving the team from Vancouver as a "penalty" for failure to meet a wholly artificial 2003 deadline for completion of the arena.
An even more troublesome clause apparently binds in perpetuity the fate of the soon-to-be-abandoned Pyramid to that of the FedExForum. To HOOPS -- or, to be more precise, to Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley -- is reserved not only the right of first refusal for future events at The Pyramid but the apparent right to insist that the building be maintained as a permanent fallback facility for use by the Grizzlies or the NBA.
At last week's committee meeting, belated action was taken to moderate the snake problem. County attorney Brian Kuhn noted that the agreement with HOOPS provided for a dispute-resolution committee, Wharton insisted that the committee could negotiate changes in the agreement "even pre-emptively," and Commissioner Deidre Malone successfully moved to have the Pyramid issue re-renegotiated at the earliest opportunity.
Commissioners Walter Bailey and John Willingham, whose Public Service and Tourism committee was the venue for the problem disclosures, didn't say, "We told you so." They didn't need to.
Meanwhile, as all principals to the matter -- Bailey and Willingham included -- agree, the Grizzlies are here (and winning!), the Forum will be built, and a happy ending to the story is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
But after last week, there was a realization on everybody's part that to get to that ending will require some hard work, some cautious monitoring -- and some rewriting.
By William Powers, National Journal © National Journal Group Inc. Friday, Dec. 19, 2003 Remember that awkward moment at Paul Bremer's We-Got-Him news conference, when images of the captive Saddam Hussein came up on the screen and a few men suddenly jumped up and started shouting wildly in Arabic?
|Presidential politics is a perpetual-motion machine that runs on news, and any news will do.||Ê|
They were Iraqi journalists, we later learned, and no pals of the disheveled despot. What they were saying was, "Death to Saddam" and "Kill him!" among other unambiguous suggestions. Given what they and their country have been through, it was a perfectly understandable outburst. This was a powerful historic moment, and they were just being human beings.
Most American reporters watching Bremer's announcement, whether in person or on TV, didn't whoop it up in Arabic or any other language. This makes sense, too. Because they had not personally been tortured or silenced by Saddam, their reaction to the news was less visceral, more muted. Besides, the Americans had work to do, important new thoughts to process. Thoughts such as: Hmmm, I wonder what this Saddam thing means for Howard Dean? Does this give Joe Lieberman a new edge?
The Saddam story was huge, of course, and it dominated the news for much of this week. But, as with most big national and international stories these days, no sooner had the breathtaking events in Adwar, Iraq, hit the street in Washington and New York City than journalists were studying them, like gypsies with a tarot deck, for new answers to the question that matters most in America' newsrooms: Who's on top in the White House race?
Saddam's capture arrived with breakfast, and by lunch the political inflection was well under way, helped along by a presidential candidate who looked at the story and saw a brand-new vision of his own future. "This news makes clear the choice the Democrats face next year," Lieberman said. "If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today, not in prison, and the world would be a much more dangerous place."
That's a juicy journo-burger, Joe. Thanks! In no time, it was all over the wires and on television. Dean had his own statement, and John Kerry was on Fox, and on and on. By the next morning, when the newspapers hit the street, the transformation was complete. Sure, Saddam's hairy face was spread across the front of USA Today, under the huge red headline "Captured." Bah, that was ancient history! Savvy readers knew it was one of the smaller black headlines stacked just next to the face that really mattered: "Bush Savors Day: Howard Dean in Crosshairs." All the other major outlets had their own Saddam-and-politics stories.
Why does this happen? I suppose it's the inevitable result of presidential politics becoming a full-time, year-round calling. There are always people running for president now, and there are always journalists following them. When one of the former says something hot about the news of the hour, the latter have little choice but to put it out there for public consumption. Presidential politics is a perpetual-motion machine that runs on news, and any news will do.
There's another reason that the political story line can't be suppressed. Facts -- the who, what, and where of a story -- used to be the prime commodity of journalism, the measure of achievement. But thanks to technology and the instant delivery of news, facts have lost a lot of their competitive value. Once the capture was all over television, much of this story's factual riches had been depleted. So the game moved naturally to the place where ambitious news outlets know they can still win points: the unknowable future. Big news that has already happened might have implications for big news that hasn't yet happened. And there's no bigger news that hasn't yet happened than the presidential race.
The other eternal unknown is the economy. Within hours after it broke, the Saddam story had been converted into a likely stimulator of the stock market, not to mention the broader economy. "Saddam Capture Could Boost Holiday Sales," said the headline over an Associated Press story that I saw on the ABC News Web site. "With 11 days until Christmas," it began, "shoppers crowded the nation's malls and stores over the weekend, their spirits buoyed by news of Saddam Hussein's capture. But it was unclear whether stores met their sales goals." (Funny, isn't it, how the spiritual trend can be so clear, while the numbers are murky?)
Meanwhile, a Reuters story headlined "Stocks and Dollar to Get Saddam Lift" popped up on several news Web sites on Sunday. Alas, the Saddam lift was brief, indeed: After a little rally early Monday, the markets were down for the day.
In a way, I suppose it's good and useful that the American media have become so adept at seeing every story through the prism of politics and money. Basically, journalists have learned to think like the powerful people they cover. We hear that a brutal tyrant is finally captured and, click click click, our minds are instantly reworking the odds in the various contests we cover. If the pols' brains work that way -- and they certainly do -- why can't ours?
Sometimes, though, I wish there was a little space, maybe just 48 hours, in which a big story like this one could exist on its own terms. When journalists could process the news not as if they were politicians or stock market analysts, but as if they were people.
William Powers is a staff correspondent for National Journal magazine, where "On The Media" appears.
Last weekends meeting in Nashville of the state Republican executive committee may have provided an answer: In advance of the meeting, Hilleary lobbied the committees 66 members hard to forestall a change in party bylaws that would have allowed current GOP national committeeman John Ryder of Memphis to serve a third term. The bottom line: Van wants the post himself, starting in 2004, said a leading state Republican acquainted with the situation.
Ryder, who was first named a national committeeman in 1996, is limited to two four-year terms by current bylaws concerning term limits. The Memphis lawyer, a former Shelby County Republican chairman and longtime presence in GOP affairs, had reportedly wanted the bylaws changed so that he could be in place when the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, scheduled for Memphis in 2006, takes place.
Until Hilleary began his lobbying effort, there had been enough votes to make the bylaws change, and Ryder had been so assured.
Hilleary has been rumored as a possible candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in 2006, and the position of national committeeman-- though some Republicans might regard it as a step back politically -- would give the former congressman some degree of visibility in the interim.
Ryder professed himself not at all nonplussed about the outcome. I think the committee took the action it did on principled grounds, he said.
Shelby County GOP chairman Kemp Conrad, a Ryder ally, wasnt so easily mollified, and spoke with Hilleary after the committees vote. I expressed some concern about it, he acknowledged.
Among the changes, as first presented, were the elimination of an award named after Thelma Williams, the late wife of John T. Williams, and of another named for Bob James. John T. Williams, a former 7th District congressional candidate, and James, a former Memphis city councilman, are both in their 90s and have traditionally been regarded as elder statesmen in the party.
Conrads proposal was greeted with some measure of dissent, and the Thelma Williams Award was quickly reinstated. It was just an oversight that we hadnt proposed continuing it, said Conrad. Not so in the matter of the James Award, given annually for public service.
Hillary to Skip S.C. Counting In Order to Make Nashville, Memphis StopsConrad note that James , who represented the 5th council district for many years, had endorsed the candidacy of eventual winner Carol Chumney, then a Democratic state representative, in this years city election. The local Republican Party endorsee had been Dr. George Flinn, whom Chumney defeated in a runoff.
When people work against the interests of official party candidates, it doesnt make sense to have awards named after them, said Conrad, who contended that the ultimate committee vote in favor of his proposed changes was unanimous.
One chronic critic of Conrads blasted the chairman. Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham, who remains bitter that Conrad and the committee did not endorse him in his recent bid for city mayor, said, If fidelity to party candidates is the issue, then Conrad himself should resign. The fact is, that someone like Bob James, in the twilight of his long career, should be treated with more respect.
Though in recent years the 94-year-old James has coped with various illnesses and a situation two years ago in which he was held at knife-point by a burglar, he has remained interested in public issues, serving as a program coordinator for Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), and has attended most recent Lincoln Day dinners. Privately James, one of the founders of the modern Republican Party in Shelby County, has expressed concern about what he regards as the increasing prominence of social conservatives in GOP affairs.
Ryder, a former local Republican chairman, noted about the matter of Lincoln Day awards, The fact is, there get to be too many of them. When I was chairman [in the '80s], I tried to keep the number down to three, but mission creep tends to take over, and they predominate.
This years GOP Lincoln Day is scheduled for February 21st at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn on Central Avenue. Program details have yet to be completed.
With scarcely more than a week to go until the December 16th Democratic primary to determine Carol Chumney's successor in state House District 89, the main issue continues to be that of residence. Of the two Democrats on the ballot -- Beverly Robison Marrero and Jeff Sullivan -- only Marrero is a current bona fide resident, insists one of her key backers.
This is state Senator Steve Cohen, who got some choral support Friday from outgoing city councilman John Vergos, who accompanied Cohen and Marrero to early voting at Trinity United Methodist Church on Galloway. Sullivan, an early voter himself, is, needless to say, of another mind about the matter.
Calling Marrero "committed to this district," Vergos said, "We have allowed politicians in this system to not live in the district or have some sort of sham seat, and we do it all the time, and that doesn't make it right. We shouldn't let them cherry-pick an area like that." He and Cohen agreed that current laws with relatively loose requirements regarding residence of public officials need to be strengthened.
Cohen, noting that he, Marrero, and Vergos were doing something that "Ms. Marrero's opponent can't do -- vote," said that Sullivan "doesn't live in District 89, can't vote in District 89, and it's really rather ridiculous to think that somebody who can't even take part in the election is asking you to cast a vote on their behalf when they can't even cast a vote for themselves."
Sullivan's response? He voted for himself at the Berclair Church of Christ early-voting site on Saturday, availing himself of the opportunity to make an official change-of-residence at the voting site.
Cohen had disputed Sullivan's contention that his current residence on Reese, a house purchased in 2002, was "until recently" within the District 89 lines. "In reality, that redistricting was the 1990 redistricting, not the 2000 redistricting," said the senator, who characterized the recent rental of a property on Graham Street within the district by Sullivan and his expectant wife Maura Black Sullivan as "making it appear that he's a resident of the district when he's not."
The Sullivans haven't established utility service at the rental property, "and they have a campaign sign, not a For Sale sign, in the yard of the house they own," Cohen said.
The Sullivans have said that their personal lives and professional careers had both revolved around the Midtown area that comprises District 89, that the house they own is only blocks away from the district line, and that they do in fact intend to reestablish residence on Graham.
Amplifying on that Saturday, after his vote at Berclair, Sullivan said, "We do, in fact, have a For Sale sign in the yard." He then directed some return fire at Cohen.
"I'm really beginning to wonder who I'm running against here. My opponent never says anything," Sullivan said. "Steve Cohen does all her talking. I feel like I'm running against Steve Cohen. If Steve Cohen wants to be in the state House of Representatives, he needs to resign his seat in the Senate and run for state representative, because there are plenty of qualified candidates who would love to represent the people of this district."
Sullivan said that he grew up in District 89 and lived here "for over 30 years ... fighting with other Democrats to win elections here in Shelby County" while opponent Marrero was "living the high life in Florida." He said, "This crap about my not being able to vote for myself is just a lie," and added, "My opponent doesn't know the issues. My opponent knows nothing about state government."
To which Marrero said: "When he [Sullivan] and I have appeared at forums, I've talked as much as he has. I'm a good listener, I know I'm not lazy, and I know I can read. I'm not a member of any group or clique. Anybody who knows me knows I'm an independent person. I'll be the one pushing the button in Nashville, nobody else, and the people in the district are the ones who will tell me what issues are important to them, nobody else."
Not all observers regard the residency issue as one of high import. Veteran Democrat Steve Steffens, proprietor of a widely read e-mail network in local Democratic Party circles, circulated two missives in which, after declaring himself satisfied with both candidates and noting that Sullivan had lived in the district "for 30 of his 39 years," he expressed exasperation on the point.
Professing himself "tired of the sniping," Steffens said, "We have two good candidates. Can we stick to the real issues, please? In the end, the only people who will decide this election are the good Democrats of District 89. I suspect that they are more concerned with a vote on how TennCare may be changed than whether somebody lives half a mile outside the district." In his second e-mail, Steffens noted, "State law on this issue only requires that a candidate move into the district within 30 days after he/she has been elected. That made it," he said, "an ex-issue."
Not to Cohen. Not yet, anyhow. At press time on Tuesday he had scheduled an afternoon press conference at the Criminal Justice Center, where he said he intended to present District Attorney General Bill Gibbons with evidence that Sullivan had committed a possible felony by making false claims about his residence under oath.
• Meanwhile, there's a third candidate to succeed Chumney. Making his move under the radar screen is Jay Sparks, campaign manager for Chumney's recent council race.
Sparks isn't on the primary ballot and -- presumably -- won't be a write-in candidate on February 10th either. What he's after is more limited -- an interim appointment by the Shelby County Commission that would let him serve only until Chumney's long-term successor, either Marrero or Sullivan, is certified after February 10th.
Chumney, who has reaffirmed her neutrality in the Marrero/Sullivan race, acknowledged last Friday that she had talked up Sparks' prospects with members of the commission. And she followed that up with a visit at a commission committee meeting on Monday, making the case that the district needed representation for that portion of next year's legislative session -- three weeks or so --that would precede the February 10th general election.
"I wouldn't call it lobbying," she said last week. "I would say that I've made the case for Jay. I think he'd do a good job. He's used to fielding requests from people in the district and helping them out on things, and he'd certainly be able to do that capably until the election process was concluded and the full-time representative was sworn in and could serve."
On Monday she called attention to the possibility that a write-in candidate could still theoretically upset the Democratic primary winner on February 10th -- an evident argument against appointing the winner of that contest.
Although Commissioner Linda Rendtorff, who once served in Lamar Alexander's administration as human resources director, had expressed interest in an interim appointment for herself, she dropped that idea on advice of county attorney Brian Kuhn that she would have to resign from the commission in order to serve.
Thereafter Rendtorff and all others who expressed an opinion indicated they would be more inclined to appoint next week's primary winner than to appoint Sparks or some other fill-in choice. The commission formally advertised the vacancy on Monday and reserved the right to appoint a temporary seat-holder at its next meeting on December 22nd.
• Chumney confirmed the sense that many have that she's champing at the bit and ready to go as a council member from District 5 (Midtown, East Memphis). Though she won't be sworn in until the New Year, she isn't bashful about her attitudes or intentions.
"Mayor Herenton's raise was too high," she pronounced on the late-night council vote this past week that upped the mayor's salary from $140,000 to $160,000 -- reversing a previous vote turning down the raise.
On the mayor's proposed reorganization of the MLGW board, Chumney had this to say: "We definitely need to shake it up. It obviously needs more people on it with a business background. Beyond that we need to look at pay issues. The rate of salary increases for rank-and-file employees has been well below that for upper management. And I think mid-level people need to have their benefits strengthened."
The councilor-elect would prefer to see council committee meetings held on alternating weeks with the public meetings held in the council chamber, rather than on the same day, as at present.
She also is dissatisfied with the current method of allocating a maximum two minutes per speaker to citizens who wish to address the council on issues. "I think we need to do something about that, and I intend to open up the forum a bit by having open meetings around the district."
• If Tennessee Republicans are able to achieve a majority in the state Senate after next year's elections, they may choose a Democrat to lead them.
That's if they follow the example of state Senator Curtis Person (R-Memphis), who extolled the virtues of Lt. Governor John Wilder (D-Somerville) at a well-attended $1,000-a-head fund-raiser for Wilder Thursday night at the Memphis home of city councilman Jack Sammons.
Person, who has held legislative office since 1966 and has been opposed only twice during that period, left no doubt as to his own loyalties. After toasting Wilder for empowering the Senate "as an independent body" some three decades ago, Person said flatly, "If the Republicans gain control of the Senate next year, I want it known that I'll vote for John Wilder to be speaker once again."
Person's statement was reminiscent of remarks he and other leading Senate Republicans made on Wilder's behalf three years ago when the lieutenant governor was challenged for his Senate seat by Savannah mayor Bob Shutt, who had gained the GOP nomination but got limited support from partymates statewide. Wilder won that one easily.
Since surviving two purge attempts by Democratic factions in the 1980s, Wilder, a sturdy octogenarian who does two vigorous bicycle rides a day, has presided over the Senate as the choice of a bipartisan coalition. During brief remarks at the fund-raiser Thursday night, Wilder quipped, "I think more people like me in Memphis than they do in Nashville."
Other senators present at the fund-raiser, where Wilder was introduced by FedEx founder Fred Smith (who co-hosted with AutoZone founder Pitt Hyde), included Democrats Steve Cohen and Jim Kyle, both of Memphis, Jo Ann Graves of Gallatin, Don McCleary of Jackson, and Doug Henry of Nashville, and Republican Mark Norris of Collierville.
Also attending were state mental health commissioner Virginia Betts, Tennessee secretary of state Riley Darnell, state comptroller John Morgan, state treasurer Dale Sims, and numerous other politically influential members of both major political parties.
• Monday's vote by the county commission to defer yet again a vote on whether to hire an independent consultant makes it more and more likely that construction of the FedExForum will proceed without serious incident or interruption.
After last week's public grilling of project consultant John Hilkene and Public Building Authority director Dave Bennett (his second in two weeks) by the commission's Public Service and Tourism committee, headed by John Willingham, even Willingham, one of the arena project's severest critics, seemed somewhat mollified.
Asked why he sought a two-week deferment, the latest of several, on the proposed hiring of Barnett Naylor/Hanscomb, a local firm, to vet the arena project, Willingham said, "It's because we're finally getting some answers." That might relieve Bennett, who said after last week's committee session, "This is likely to go on as long as Commissioner Willingham can get some publicity. We've already answered every question that's been asked, several times over."
Commissioner Walter Bailey, another skeptic on arena matters, conceded that there didn't seem to be enough votes on the commission to engage the local firm.
If it turns out that there are when the full commission meets again in two weeks, Hilkene, who seemed to suffer the ordeal of last week's interrogation fatalistically, tapping a pencil on the table and biting his lip as he heard questions by Willingham, Bailey, and others, intends to be stoic about the matter.
"I've met with them [representatives of the local firm]. They know their stuff. I can deal with them," Hilkene said. n
Cohen, Marrero, Vergos at early voting (left); Sullivan early voting right)
With scarcely more than a week to go until the December 16th Democratic primary to determine Carol Chumneys successor in state House District 89, the main issue continues to be that of residence. Of the two Democrats on the ballot -- Beverly Robison Marrero and Jeff Sullivan -- only Marrero is a current bona fide resident, insists one of her key backers. This is State Senator Steve Cohen, who got some choral support Friday from outgoing city councilman John Vergos, who accompanied Cohen and Marrero to early voting at Trinity United Methodist Church on Galloway. Sullivan, an early voter himself, is, needless to say, of another mind about the matter. Calling Marrero committed to this district, Vergos said, We have allowed politicians in this system to not live in the district or have some sort of sham seat, and we do it all the time, and that doesnt make it right. We shouldnt let them cherry-pick an area like that. He and Cohen agreed that current laws with relatively loose requirements regarding residence of public officials need to be strengthened. Cohen, noting that he, Marrerro, and Vergos were doing something that Ms. Marreros opponent cant do -- vote, said that Sullivan doesnt live in District 89, cant vote in District 89, and its really rather ridiculous to think that somebody who cant even take part in the election is asking you to cast a vote of their behalf when they can;t even cast a vote for themselves. Sullivan's response? He voted for himself at the Berclair Church of Christ early-voting site on Saturday, availing himself of the opportunity to make an official change-of-residence at the voting site. Cohen had disputed Sullivans contention that his current residence on Reese, a house purchased in 2002, was until recently, within the District 89 lines. In reality, that redistricting was the 1990 redistricting, not the 2000 redistricting, said the senator, who characterized the recent rental of a property on Graham St. within the district by Sullivan and his expectant wife Maura Black Sullivan as making it appear that hes a resident of the district when hes not. The Sullivans havent established utility service at the rental property, and they have a campaign sign, not a For Sale sign, in the yard of the house they own, Cohen said. The Sullivans have said that their personal lives and professional careers had both revolved around the Midtown area that comprises District 89, that the house they own is only blocks away from the district line, and that they do in fact intend to reestablish residence on Graham. Amplifying on that Saturday, after his vote at Berlclair, Sullivan said, "We do, in fact, have a For Sale sign in the yard." He then directed some return fire at Cohen. Im really beginning to wonder who Im running against here. My opponent never says anything," Sullivan said. "Steve Cohen does all her talking. I feel like I'm running against Steve Cohen. If Steve Cohen wants to be in the state House of Representatives, he needs to resign his seat in the Senate and run for State Representative, because there are plenty of qualified candidates who would love to represent the people of this district." Sullivan said that he had grown up in District 89 and lived here "for over 30 years ...fighting with other Democrats to win elections here in Shelby County" while opponent Marrero was "living the high life in Florida." He said, "This crap about my not being able to vote for myself is just a lie," and added, "My opponent doesnt know the issues. My opponent knows nothing about state government." To which Marrero says this: "When he [Sullivan] and I have appeared at forums, Ive talked as much as he has. Im a good listener, I know Im not lazy, and I know I can read. Im not a member of any group or clique. Anybody who knows me knows Im an independent person. Ill be the one pushing the butrton in Nashville, nobody else, and the people in the district are the ones who will tell me what issues are important to them, nobody else." Meanwhile, theres a third candidate to succeed Chumney as representrative from District 89. Making his move under the radar screen is Jay Sparks, campaign manager for Chumneys recent council race. Sparks isnt on the primary ballot and -- presumably -- wont be a write-in candidate on February 10th, either. What hes after is more limited -- an interim appointment by the Shelby County Commission that would let him serve only until Chumneys long-term successor, either Marrero or Sullivan, is certified after February 10th. Chumney, who reaffirmed her neutrality in the Marrero/Sullivan race, acknowledged Friday that she has talked up Sparks prospects with members of the commission. I wouldnt call it lobbying, she said. I would say that Ive made the case for Jay. I think hed do a good job. Hes used to fielding requests from people in the district and helping them out on things, and hed certainly be able to do that capably until the election process was concluded and the full-time representative was sworn in and could serve. Chumney confirmed the sense that many have -- for better and for worse -- that shes champing at the bit and ready to go as a council member from District 5 (Midtown, East Memphis). Though she wont be sworn in until the New Year, she isnt bashful about her attitudes or intentions. Mayor Herentons raise was too high, she pronounced on the late-night council vote this past week that upped the mayors salary from $140,000 to $160,000 -- reversing a previous vote turning down the raise. On the mayors proposed reorganization of the MLGW board, Chumney had this to say: We definitely need to shake it up. It obviously needs more people on it with a business background. Beyond that we need to look at pay issues. The rate of salary increases for rank-and-file employees has been well below that for upper management. And I think mid-level people need to have their benefits strengthened. The councilor-elect would prefer to see council committee meetings held on alternating weeks with the public meetings held in the counncil chamber, rather than on the same day, as at present. She also is dissatisfied with the current method of allocating a maximum two minutes per speaker to citizens who wish to address the council on issues. I think we need to do something about that, and I intend to open up the forum a bit by having open meetings around the district.
Time is running out for dissidents who question details of the FedExForum, now entering the final several months of construction in downtown Memphis. So concedes Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham, chief among those who have consistently questioned the contract between local governments and Hoops, the umbrella organization representing the ownership of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies and local NBA supporters.
Until recently, Willingham and other arena skeptics held a majority on the commission ready to approve a $50,000 contract with the local engineering/consulting firm of Barnett Naylor/Hanscomb to vet arena arrangements. That consensus vanished after a visit to the commission last week from Public Building Authority executive director Dave Bennett, who apparently convinced several commissioners to hold their fire.
Project consultant John Hilkene is on tap for a special meeting Thursday of Willingham's Public Service and Tourism committee, and the commissioner was of two minds about the impending visit. "I'll be pleasantly surprised if he shows up. Their attitude has been, 'Don't bother us. We've got an arena to build,'" said Willingham, who added, concerning the pending watchdog contract, "If he [Hilkene] doesn't show up, you can bet your ass the vote will be there to go ahead."
· On the same day that President Bush told a Las Vegas audience that things were "getting better" for the United States in Iraq, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist hedged that bet after a Memphis speech last week, responding, "No, it's as bad as it looks," when asked if there was "light at the end of the tunnel" in Iraq.
Otherwise, Frist, just concluding two weeks of intense labor in Washington, offered a relatively rosy scenario at an installment of the "Frontline Politics 101" series at the Park Vista Hotel -- particularly concerning the final passage of what Frist described as a "bipartisan" Medicare reform bill.
Frist described the enacted measure, which includes subsidies to drug companies that extend prescription benefits to seniors, as superior to the more "bureaucratic, big-government, more costly" version favored by Kennedy and other Democrats. He said the Medicare bill had succeeded in three aims: "It was bipartisan, it is voluntary, and it will transform Medicare."
Also making a local stop last week was 7th District U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who toured Iraq recently. Before addressing members of the East Shelby Republican Club last week, Blackburn acknowledged that "the way will be hard" in Iraq but, like Frist, offered her full support to the president's current policies.
· Spirited races are shaping up next year for two local countywide offices:
General Sessions Court Clerk: The Republican incumbent, Chris Turner, faces one possible GOP challenger, newcomer Charles Fineberg, and certain Democratic opposition. Among the known or likely Democratic challengers: Becky Clark, who served as chief administrator under former clerks Gene Goldsby and John Ford; former broadcast personality Janis Fullilove, who lost a close race to incumbent City Court clerk Thomas Long this year; state senator Roscoe Dixon, who ran unsuccessfully for the office four years ago; and O.C. Pleasant, longtime chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission.
Shelby County Assessor: The Democratic incumbent, Rita Clark, faces opposition from within her own party ranks. Former assessor Michael Hooks Sr., who held the job from 1988 to 1992, is gearing up for a primary challenge to Clark. Republicans include former Lakeland mayor Jim Bomprezzi, real estate appraiser Grady Frisby, who ran for the office four years ago; Bob Kahn, another former aspirant; and John Bogan.
A special case is frequent candidate Jesse Elder Neely, who has drawn petitions to run for both assessor and General Sessions clerk. Neely is certain to be disallowed as a candidate until he pays accumulated fines owed the state Election Registry for past failure to file financial disclosure statements in previous races.
· Several Democratic presidential campaigns have taken root in Shelby County. Local supporters of both Wesley Clark and Howard Dean held meet-ups this week, and there was a similar turnout for John Kerry (whose chief Memphis-area supporter is U.S. Rep. Harold Ford) last week. Both Richard Gephardt and Joe Lieberman also have some prominent local supporters. John Edwards has had a fund-raiser or two in these parts. Even Dennis Kucinich, widely considered an also-ran, is attempting to set up a local organization, having recently sounded out local activist Jay Sparks, who has at least one other iron in the fire, about setting one up. ·