At last it's over, and it can't be any too soon for loser Jeff Sullivan, the good-natured political activist who unexpectedly found both his character and his political foundations under attack in a brief cold-weather campaign that generated abundant heat.
The winner and successor to Carol Chumney as state representative from District 89 (Midtown) is Beverly Robison Marrero, who returned to Memphis from Florida three years back to resume her career of political involvement. With 19 of 19 precincts reporting in the Democratic primary, it was: Marrero 750; Sullivan 485.
From the beginning of the relatively brief special-election campaign, state Senator Steve Cohen took charge of Marrero's effort, pushing questions about Sullivan's residence to the fore -- even to the point of requesting district attorney general Bill Gibbons to pursue a felony investigation of Sullivan for falsely claiming a temporary rental on North Graham as his voting address. (Gibbons, a Sullivan supporter, recused himself and referred the matter to an East Tennessee counterpart.)
Though both candidates made an effort to discuss other issues, the reality is that freshman legislators rarely get a chance to influence the legislative dialogue in Nashville, and both were counted on to be reliable members of the Democratic House team.
"The real issue in this race is character," Cohen said, though some of the senator's normal allies wondered privately if he might be guilty of excessive zeal in pressing the case against Sullivan, whose wife Maura was due to give birth this week and who once acknowledged feeling "wiped out" by the intensity of the campaign against him.
Two other politicians of note appeared with Cohen and Marrero at various times during the campaign. Retiring city councilman John Vergos joined the two at an early-voting site to criticize what Vergos called the prevalence of "sham seats" -- i.e., those held by public officials whose residence in the areas represented is suspect.
And another city councilman, E.C. Jones, appeared with Cohen and Marrero on the campaign's final day to endorse Marrero and announce he was asking Sullivan to cease using his name and likeness in campaign fliers. "I am now faced with some questionable issues as to where you live," said Jones in a letter to Sullivan withdrawing his support. In his own successful reelection race this year, Jones had cited opponent Wyatt Bunker for using a questionable address.
But Sullivan, like Marrero, continued to have support from pillars of the political community. A prominent one was state Senator Jim Kyle, a Senate Democrat like Cohen and involved with him in a long-lasting feud that has often frustrated and baffled their partymates. Sullivan had worked closely with Kyle in campaigns and had served the senator in Nashville as an intern.
It was this circumstance, suggested state Rep. Lois DeBerry last week, that was at the root of Cohen's opposition to Sullivan (something the senator himself denied or downplayed). Sullivan also had support from prominent Republicans -- like state Senator Curtis Person and city councilman Brent Taylor -- and was the endorsee of numerous labor organizations, the Memphis Education Association, and the Memphis Police Association.
Now that the question of Chumney's successor has been resolved, there is another matter to be dealt with by the Shelby County Commission on Monday: That is the issue of whether to appoint someone to hold the seat between now and the February 10th general election vote on the seat, regarded as a formality since a Republican won't be on the ballot and no viable write-in candidate is likely to materialize meanwhile.
Chumney had been aggressively lobbying commission members to name Jay Sparks, the campaign manager in her council race, to serve for the intervening several weeks.
But sentiment on the commission seems to be opposed to such a plan, and Democrat Deidre Malone, noting she was the commission's only resident form District 89, sent an all-points email this week, calling for the appointment instead of the primary winner.