Don't bet on the prospect of ultimate success, but in the wake of Monday's vote by the Shelby County Commission to let the University of Memphis Tigers out of their lease at The Pyramid, Commissioner John Willingham is renewing his efforts on behalf of casino gambling at that downtown facility.
And Willingham, who expects some help this week from his commission mates at a specially called Wednesday meeting, already has some in Nashville, where two "captioned" bills (i.e., legislation whose purpose is specified but whose details have yet to be filled in) have already been introduced to that end.
Shelby County legislators pushing the bills -- one of which would begin a constitutional-amendment process to legalize casino gambling at The Pyramid, the other of which would authorize "lotteries" (not to be confused with the existing state lottery) and games of "skill" in Tennessee -- are Larry Miller in the state House of Representatives and John Ford in the state Senate.
Governor Phil Bredesen, who had previously been thought unalterably opposed to such legislation, relented on that stand last week in Memphis, where, along with state Senator Steve Cohen, he presided over a ceremony bestowing Hope Scholarships, paid for by the new state lottery, to the first crop of local students to qualify for them.
While still professing to be "not at all sure" that gambling would be a solution to the financial predicament of Memphis and Shelby County, Bredesen said he would be prepared to listen to the opinions of "government and business and community leaders."
The commission's proposed action in approving the bills this week would be a partial compliance with the governor's statement.
Willingham thought he had the votes to put the commission on record behind the legislation on Monday, but a vote at the body's regular meeting was delayed by the technicality that a formal vote had not been taken in committee to add the proposition on Monday's agenda.
That was a point made during the regular session by Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, a declared opponent of casino gambling, and her view was upheld by county attorney Brian Kuhn.
Regardless of whatever show of support the commission or other local sources might provide to the bills, many observers believe they have little to no chance of passage. Said Senator Cohen, who labored for 16 years to get a state lottery approved through the amendment process: "That's about as likely to happen as [the Rev.] Adrian Rogers is to enter Platinum Plus." (Rogers is a prominent local Baptist minister, and Platinum Plus is a well-known topless club.)
• At least one member of the Germantown Democratic Club thought last week's column dealt too kindly with 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who seemed clearly further to the right than most of those gathered to hear him, and, among other things, exonerated President Bush from lying about the presence of WMD in Iraq and advised members to put aside their conviction that Florida's electoral votes were "stolen" by the Republicans in the 2000 presidential election.
At one point, asked about campaign finance, Ford told the members: "You wouldn't believe how many of my good Republican friends will contribute when I ask them."
Said the member, who asked not to be identified, in an e-mail: "I thought the GT Club was a bit hostile to Jr. ... He sure as the devil became agitated with us. ... Did we attend the same meeting? Of course we are going to be polite. That is what my generation was taught when we were young, but he had some pretty hostile and adversarial questions thrown at him by our members, and I had the impression that many of our members were not pleased with his thoughts."
Gathering at a reception after the swearing-in March 19th of new Circuit Court Judge Donna Fields were (l to r) Circuit Court Judge George Brown, Paula Casey, General Sessions Judge Phyllis Gardner, and Judge Fields. Governor Phil Bredesen officiated at the ceremony, which was held in the old Supreme Court chambers on the third floor of the Shelby County Courthouse. Fields replaces retired Judge Robert Lanier.
GOOD DAY FOR GENEVIEVE: At the express request of Governor Phil Bredesen, Genevieve Cohen (center), mother of state Senator Steve Cohen (left), took her bows Friday at a ceremony at the University of Memphis honoring 20 brand-new Hope Lottery Scholars from Memphis and Shelby County. Mrs. Cohen also received a tribute from Memphis' Morris Fair, a member of the state Lottery Board, who told her, "You reproduce well!" That, of course, was a compliment as well to Cohen, who received praise as "the father of the lottery" from Bredesen, a sometime antagonist during last year's legislative battles over the state lottery structure.
Following is a list of 18 local Hope scholars, their high schools, and their chosen colleges:
1. Amber M. Casem, Ridgeway H.S., University of Tennessee, Knoxville
2. Teundrawl Coleman, Frayser H.S., Undecided
3. DeShawn J. Davenport, East H.S., University of Tennessee, Knoxville
4. Brittany L. Forbes, Wooddale H.S., University of Memphis
5. Candice L. Gray, Craigmont H.S., Rhodes College
6. Jordan E. Hewitt, Mitchell H.S., Undecided
7. Jacob S. Kleiman, White Station H.S., Undecided
8. Truc Nhu Ba Le, Overton H.S., Christian Brothers University
9. Brandon J. Patterson, Germantown H.S., University of Memphis
10. KeShunda M. Pittman, Raleigh-Egypt H.S., Tennessee State University
11. Kelvin L. Pollard, Whitehaven H.S., Austin Peay State University
12. Jarvis J. Randall, Cordova H.S., University of Tennessee, Knoxville
13. Heather L. Ross, Bolton H.S., Rhodes College
14. Fabio A. Sarria, Central H.S., Christian Brothers University
15. Dionne M. Smith, Westwood H.S., University of Memphis
16. Tasia H. Todd, Booker T. Washington H.S., Christian Brothers University
17. James Austin Walne, Collierville H.S., University of Tennessee, Knoxville
18. Earl A. Wynne, Hamilton H.S., Undecided
As Democrats look at poll figures that show Massachusetts senator John Kerry competitive with President Bush, they have strikingly divergent ideas about how to exploit the fact.
That became crystal clear two weekends ago when 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr., a national co-chair of the Kerry campaign, addressed members of the Germantown Democratic Club. As always on the stump, Ford was precise, energized, and encyclopedic. As usual, he was persuasive. And, as the animated response he got unmistakenly indicated, he was appreciated.
But some of his ideas encountered resistance with the party faithful, and therein lies evidence of a continuing difference of opinion among Democrats, post-primaries, as to how to deal with some fundamental issues.
Ford began his remarks with assurances that nominee-to-be Kerry has not written off the South as an electoral battleground. And he followed that up with criticism of Republican attempts to stereotype Kerry's home state as too liberal. Massachusetts, Ford noted, was the first American colony to organize a protest against high taxes, the first state to call for the abolition of slavery, and the home of three presidents -- "with a fourth one coming this November."
As for the current red-flag issue of gay marriage, Ford downplayed the controversy and pointed out that "each of the justices" who okayed the process in Massachusetts recently had been appointees of a Republican governor.
So far, so good. The audience was with the congressman, and it continued to be on such other points as what Ford said was the administration's under-funding of Homeland Security and education, its failures on the unemployment front, and the bad form of the "flag-draped coffins" in the Bush campaign's current TV ads.
The congressman was on shakier ground with several other assertions, however. Among them:
• That the presidential election of 2000 should not be regarded as having been "stolen" by chicanery in Florida, as many Democrats continue to assert. "They didn't steal it. They beat us. Accept it. If you want to be angry about it, let's go beat 'em this time." Ford urged adherents of former Democratic candidates, especially those loyal to ex-Vermont governor Howard Dean and former NATO commander Wesley Clark, both of whom he praised, to "put aside" their disappointments and make common cause with Kerry.
• That Democrats should avoid direct accusations about Bush's veracity. "I think we as a party have to be careful not to call him a liar." Ford said he doubted that Bush had purposely misled the country with assertions prior to last year's attack on Iraq that dictator Saddam Hussein possessed WMD. "I don't think presidents do that. If it turns out that he did, the Constitution commands the act we must take to redress that. I don't think we're there."
Ford said that continued speculation that Bush had prevaricated on the presence of WMD in Iraq could be counterproductive. "I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this issue," Ford said. "Politically, we won't win that point. Most Americans root for a president. I don't wake up wanting to see the guy fail. I'm not interested in seeing him fail."
On the presumption that Saddam had been a military menace, Ford said, "Bill Clinton said the same thing. I'm not here to defend George Bush. I want to win. But Bill Clinton had the same policy -- to disarm Iraq and change the regime. George Bush just took it to another level."
Insisting that "we're safer with Saddam Hussein behind bars," Ford said, "John Kerry's position is clear. He voted like all of us did or like many of us did" -- to give the president authority for military action. In defense of his own vote for the 2002 resolution approving potential military action in Iraq, Ford said, "If the president says we're in danger, I'm going to vote for it."
Ford argued that Democrats might better challenge Bush on the question of his retaining CIA chief George Tenet. The congressman suggested a streamlining and massive re-tooling of the nation's intelligence network under a single head, so that "if FBI agents saw something at Memphis airport or Wilson [a corporate air facility]," it could reach the president's attention.
• That taxes against corporations might be abolished. "They only account for $300 billion in taxes," the congressman said. If exempted, "they'd all come back and hire more people. I'd much rather they come back there than go overseas. We need to create incentives for them to come back home."
Although such conspicuously middle-of-the-road assertions were only a modest part of the congressman's speech, they embroiled him in a good deal of debate. One skeptic, club member Roger Easson, would say later, "He cuts Bush slack where he doesn't deserve any slack. We have to draw the line." And others had similar sentiments.
On the other hand, Dr. Ted Strom, a well-known backer of Dean's, grudgingly concurred with what he perceived as Ford's realpolitik: "I don't want to spend the next four years being right on the facts and having George W. Bush as president." Ford, who plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and is also discussed as possible cabinet material in a Kerry administration, also advanced an innovation or two. Notable was his concept of "stakeholder" accounts, whereby newborn American citizens would receive a $1,000 "stake" at birth and receive various add-ons later -- upon reaching the sixth-grade level and upon graduation, for example.
"I think she wants to be mayor," said city councilman Brent Taylor Monday night after he'd addressed the Southeast Shelby Republicans at Fox Ridge Pizza in Fox Meadows.
The "she" was Taylor's council colleague Carol Chumney, whom he had just described to the club members as "a uniter, not a divider," in the same way, ironically meant, that Mayor Willie Herenton had been a "uniter" after his famously inflammatory New Year's Day speech.
Taylor's point was that Chumney, who has been critical lately of both her council mates and the council staff, had supplanted the mayor as an opponent capable of creating unanimity among the rest of the council.
"What she said is no different from what the mayor said. It's just different words, but it's the same message," Taylor said. "She likes to talk about her 13 years of experience in the legislature. I'm surprised at her freshman naivete. Unless you have relationships and can build relationships, you can't get anything accomplished. The only way you can get seven votes is to have good relationships, and to say 'Get on board or get out of the way' is not the way."
Something of a phrase-maker, Taylor fielded a question about Memphis as a prospective host for the MTV awards by saying, "I thought that was 'Mostly Taylor Voters.' He added, "I heard Janet Jackson's other breast was demanding equal time."
It was widely speculated that once 5th District City Council member Carol Chumney seemed to throw in her lot with Mayor Willie Herenton in his off-and-on confrontation with the council (as she did last week in an op-ed piece written for the Flyer), she would have serious problems with her councilmates.
Indeed she does, and those problems may in fact antedate what has undoubtedly been a negative reaction to her published commentary.
Last Tuesday, even as Chumney's commentary -- in which she chastised unidentified council members for "petty" and "divisive" attitudes -- was being readied for publication, council chairman Joe Brown was writing a memo to Chumney in which he reported complaints of staff members that she was imposing an "excessive amount of work" on them.
Each of the council staffers, as Brown pointed out, is responsible to more than one council member. Chumney -- who, along with other projects, had prepared an elaborate questionnaire for residents of her district as well as notices of forthcoming public meetings -- shares the services of staff members Suzanne Martin and Lisa White with two other council members, TaJuan Stout Mitchell and Tom Marshall.
Responding to Brown's memo later last week, Chumney said she had heard no complaints from the staff and wondered "if there isn't some other reason for the complaint." She added: "I wonder if you mind if I mail a copy of your memo to some of my constituents who will be very pleased that I am working the staff so hard that you have to intercede?"
That prompted another memo from Brown in which he said "you have confronted the staff and sent e-mails criticizing their work" and added, "Now, you threaten ... to publish derogatory remarks about their job performance." Brown referred to actions of Chumney's that were "demeaning, punitive, and retaliatory" and said, "This has gotten out of hand." He then informed her that he was apportioning the staff members' time so that Chumney would have the services of Martin and White only on Thursdays.
Chumney answered: "I stand by my prior memo and e-mail and will continue to require professionalism and accountability for my staff."
The plot thickened. At some point, Chumney complained that both Brown and council attorney Allan Wade were paying too close attention to her internal council correspondence.
In a letter to Brown, Wade said he involved himself in members' activities, written or otherwise, only at their request and responded to Chumney's complaints thusly: "I respect her choice to shield her work from me. I would, therefore, respectfully request that you instruct the staff not to forward to me copies of any correspondence, memoranda, documents, e-mails, or other materials authored by, addressed to, received by, or in any way pertaining to Ms. Chumney's Council business."
Several of Chumney's council colleagues have not been so circumspect or deferential. Said E.C. Jones of her Flyer Viewpoint commentary last week: "I resent her allegations that the rest of us are 'petty.'" Said Jack Sammons, comparing Chumney's tenure so far with that of her maverick predecessor's in District 5: "She makes [John] Vergos look like a team player." Various council members have complained privately that Chumney is indifferent to council protocol and, though a freshman member, frequently cites her 13 years of prior legislative experience in an effort to pull rank on her mates.
Chumney isn't backing off. She issued a press release this week headed "Chumney Brings Her Work Ethic and Openness to the Memphis City Council."
In it, she refers to herself as having been "one of the most hard-working and effective legislators" and says, "I am asking for a higher standard of professionalism and accountability ... I will not be bullied into conforming to mediocre or lackadaisical response and will demand respect for my constituents' concerns."
Further: "The staff at City Hall doesn't work for Carol Chumney, Joe Brown, or anyone else. They work for the people of Memphis. While Council members may not agree from time to time, we all have the responsibility to the people who elected us. If we're working hard and all serving our constituents well, we'll all get along just fine."
Fledgling city council member Carol Chumney, victorious last year in a multicandidate race to succeed John Vergos in District 5 (Midtown), got where she is today despite the private efforts of Mayor Willie Herenton, who was widely regarded as favoring two of her opponents -- first, lawyer Jim Strickland, and later, during a runoff election, businessman/physician George Flinn.
Even so, Chumney has chosen to deviate from the more or less united front of her councilmates on issues on which they and the mayor have been in conflict. In a letter hand-delivered to the mayor last week, Chumney reminded Herenton that she "was the only member of the Memphis City Council to vote with you" against overriding the mayor's veto of a council ordinance which asserted the council's right to approve and control funding of interim mayoral appointees.
Comparing her action to the mayor's statement last week renouncing his previous intention to litigate the issue, Chumney said, "Like you, I made the gesture in an effort to end the conflict and allow us all to focus on the real issues at hand." She went on to request a private audience with the mayor "to discuss the process to select the new leader for Memphis Light, Gas & Water prior to any new nomination." Chumney added, "I have some information to share with you which I hope will encourage you to nominate a person with substantial utility experience."
The requested meeting did in fact take place (according to Chumney, in fact, the mayor had meanwhile begun his own overtures to her), and both parties later expressed themselves satisfied with how it went.
In an op-ed written this week for the Flyer (see "My Olive Branch," p. 13), Chumney has amplified on her attitude, implying criticism of "certain members" of the council for engaging in "petty in-fighting" and suggesting that "the tone and name-calling by more than one elected official in this city have been divisive and unproductive."
Though other members of the council have expressed a willingness to try to end the divide, especially after the mayor's peacemaking initiative last Tuesday, they pointedly reasserted their prerogatives on the appointments issue during a council retreat on Wednesday. And they vowed to push ahead on an internal investigation of the mayor's involvement in arranging brokering for last year's prepayment arrangements of Memphis Light, Gas and Water with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
• It's official: Memphis school board member Lora Jobe says she definitely won't run again for her District 5 seat this year. Two potential candidates have so far expressed interest in the seat: lawyer Nick Bragorgos and physician Jeff Warren.
• Memphis attorney John Ryder, now in his second term as Republican national committeeman from Tennessee, will be succeeded later this year by former 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, for whom the post offers a new window of political visibility.
The succession, forecast in this space some weeks ago, was achieved unanimously at Saturday's meeting of the GOP state executive committee in Nashville. Ryder had originally wanted to remain as national committeeman for another term so as to be serving in that role next year when the Southern Republican Leadership Conference is held in Memphis.
But Hilleary, who had meanwhile relocated in Nashville, let it be known that he wanted the post, and, as the party's immediate past gubernatorial candidate, had enough clout to get his way. Ryder gracefully yielded (though some of his party allies felt burned) and will serve instead as chairman of next year's party conference here.
GOP insiders say that Hilleary wanted to be party chairman so as to reinforce his statewide network prior to a likely run in 2006 for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Majority Leader Bill Frist. It is generally believed that Frist, who has presidential ambitions for 2008, will not seek reelection to the Senate.
Other likely Republican candidates for the Senate in 2006 are 3rd District congressman Zach Wamp; former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant; and current 7th District congressman Marsha Blackburn.
Former Memphian Stephanie Chivers, now of Kingston Springs, was elected to a second term as GOP national committeewoman.