Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist examines "my dinner" as he ended a long day of meetings and convention preparations Sunday.
We live in strange and, in the Churchillian sense of the word, wonderful times. Whoever is adept at doing astrological charts should get busy and tell us just what planets are now aligned with what others and how long this disorder in our planetary house is expected to last.
I am not going to rehearse here the history of the Iraqi visitors fiasco, nor am I interested in the Who-Shot-John of competing chronologies. The basic issue is clear enough -- that representatives of the new government painstakingly installed in Baghdad by the Bush administration came to Memphis with the full backing of the U.S. State Department and were, at assorted venues, stood up, robbed, and turned away at the door of local government. Many reasons have been given for the last circumstance, but there can be no excuse.
And now, against a backdrop of budgetary and educational crisis that requires the serious attention of everybody in either portion of our two-headed government, we find that both parts of it may be addled to the point of derangement. Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, who is but barely reconciled with the members of his City Council after a long and seemingly gratuitous feud, has just asked for the resignation of the fifth police director to serve during his tenure.
And in county government Wow! Mayor A C Wharton gave a convincing representation Wednesday, August 11th, of a man shocked, shocked at the perfidy of two trusted aides who, he indicated, had connived to shuffle papers and trim corners so as to improperly enhance (double, actually) the annual pension of buddy Tom Jones, a longtime denizen of Shelby County government who has copped to state and federal charges and is awaiting imprisonment for embezzlement via his county credit cards. Right. More public money for a man who has pleaded guilty to wrongfully taking public money.
Like I said, wonderful -- in the Churchillian sense.
I have always liked Bobby Lanier (as who cannot?), am grateful to Tom Jones for his goodwill and supportive attitude at crucial points of my journalistic career, and have maintained an on-again/off-again cordial relationship with ex-Commercial Appeal columnist Susan Adler Thorp, a former colleague and rival whose hard edges coexisted with a soft heart (though there were those who would reverse the adjectives). And, like most people who know A C Wharton, I have regarded him with utmost fondness and respect -- as well as an admiring regard for his well-said and deceptively acerbic commentaries on his political contemporaries.
Well, now it's his time to be regarded. Either A C is being disingenuous to a fault (and a rather large fault, at that) or he is astonishingly naive and uninformed about what goes on in his office.
Like his mayoral predecessors, the current county mayor virtually wore Bobby Lanier like a pair of pajamas. You never saw one in a public place -- or many private ones, for that matter --without the other. They lunched together, had adjoining offices, could not have been closer. When I interviewed Lanier two years ago for a Flyer cover story, he made it clear that he had in essence drafted A C for the role of mayoral candidate. We're talking tight as ticks, folks. How likely is it that a loyal right-hand man like Lanier would not, out of that very loyalty, cue his boss in as to what was going down with their longtime mutual friend Tom Jones? Well, A C certainly looked convincing in his profession of shock Wednesday and seemed for all the world to be close to tears.
As for the others, there was Jones over on WMC Channel 5 at 10 o'clock Wednesday night, dishing more dirt on his old boss, former county mayor Jim Rout. And on WREG News Channel 3, Thorp sort of acknowledged her own involvement in -- or awareness of -- the Jones pension mess and sort of didn't, meanwhile allowing as how her old boss, A C, must have known about the whole deal. Only Lanier, who took a fall in 1994 for one of his serial bosses, then county mayor Bill Morris, was being a stand-up guy; the others were busy doing stand-ups.
Thorp was heard from again the next night on Channel 5, maintaining straight-facedly that she shouldn't be regarded as a "scapegoat," rather as "collateral damage." She once again seemed to contradict her boss and his chief of staff, former prosecutor John Fowlkes, on two of Wharton's premises -- that she was conversant with what went down and that he, the mayor, wasn't. Just the other way around was bystander Thorp's line.
Thorp probably would have been pleased to hear one reporter at Wharton's Wednesday press conference ask a question about "Bobby and Susie," the two-way familiarity conferring an ease of acquaintance on himself and a sense of innocence on them. Well, maybe so, but I've been a staffer myself at the congressional level, and one taboo that is surely universal in all government offices is that you don't invoke the boss' authority without permission, actual or implied. Another is that, if trouble comes, you take the bullet yourself, you don't duck out of the way. Still less do you turn around and shoot at the boss yourself. Then or later.
The boss is the elected one, not yourself. Your authority, such as it is, is entirely borrowed and vicarious. If you can't toe the line, then get out. Thorp managed to imply in her TV interviews that she wasn't forced out but resigned for honorable reasons. If so, good for her, though that surely isn't what Wharton and Fowlkes were saying.
Back when Jones first got himself in such terrible trouble -- and it was he who did so, not Rout -- he came up with the exculpating phrase "culture of entitlement" to describe the climate of Rout's mayoralty. In this he was fully supported by his friend Thorp, who may have had a hand in the coinage. Jones, though, was a right smart wordsmith himself -- smart enough to have known better about a lot of things.
It defies reason that two years later, having named the pathology himself, Jones came back to the trough and prevailed on old friends Lanier and Thorp to help him dip for more. Culture of entitlement, indeed. What were they thinking? Of whom and of what? Certainly not the public and certainly not the public interest.
The two sad and irrefutable facts: Right up until the end, they regarded themselves as entitled. But at the end, as in the beginning, they weren't.
Afterthoughts: Upon the initial appearance of this article on the Flyer Web site last week, I received and responded to several e-mails from Tom Jones, the last of which was written only minutes before he departed for Forrest City, Arkansas, to begin serving his prison term. Since Jones authorized me to do with these as I would, I have condensed and edited these e-mails into a single commentary (see Viewpoint, page 13). It amounts (for the time being) to his last word on the subject.
In general, I found Jones to be gallant -- nay, courageous -- about his fate, if still somewhat defiant in his interpretation of the reasons for that fate. Both in his years of generally superb public service and in the quality of his friendships, Jones had much to commend him, and I hope to stay in touch with him, as he suggested.
I regret what happened to Jones, and, for that matter, to the other characters in the tale.
Further developments: Mayor Wharton's report on the Jones affair was released Monday by mayoral aide Fowlkes (see Cover Story, page 14). Among the findings: Lanier and Thorp both took active roles in expediting an elevated pension that they presumably saw as their longtime friend's just desserts. (One of the tales that got told out of school concerns Thorp's attempt to get Circuit Court clerk Jimmy Moore to hire Jones.) Several other county officers took a role in the process but not, says the report, Wharton himself.
On the city side, Herenton's firing of police director James Bolden was almost inevitable, given his statement last week that he was "disappointed" in Bolden, who had defended his men. "Disappointing" Herenton is as fatal as doing so to John Gotti.
This naked city is getting closer and closer to being full-frontal.
Note: Shelby County Republican executive secretary Don Johnson has indicated that his statements cited here last week about potential Democrats for Bush were general and hypothetical and that he neither has specific knowledge about individuals (or an announcement concerning them), nor would he be authorized to comment on them if he did. Point accepted, with apologies.
The latest round of Election 2004 was concluded last Thursday without surprise -- at least in the Shelby County results.
• Assessor Rita Clark, a Democrat, won a third four-year term in the countywide general election, handily turning back a challenge from Republican Harold Sterling, whom she had ousted in 1996. Unofficial totals from all 283 county precincts showed Clark with 43,518 votes, or 59 percent of the total, and Sterling with 29,741, or 41 percent.
Though there were charges and countercharges in the bitterly contentious race, things may ultimately have been decided by simple arithmetic, with Clark's incumbency, gender, and status as a white Democrat all contributing to her margin.
• General Sessions Court clerk Chris Turner, a Republican, won a narrow victory over his Democratic challenger, state senator Roscoe Dixon, with independent H.A. Branch, like Dixon an African American, conceivably taking enough votes to have influenced the outcome.
Totals from the 283 precincts had Turner with 36,549, or 50 percent of the total vote; Dixon with 35,088, or 48 percent; and Branch with 1,738. Though Branch made a point of endorsing Dixon on Wednesday, the day before the election, there were cynics who suggested -- as is customary in such circumstances -- that he was in the race as a spoiler.
• Chancellor Arnold Goldin, a 2002 appointee by former Governor Don Sundquist to succeed the late Floyd Peete, easily defeated challenger Karen Tyler in a special election.
Though Goldin took nothing for granted and ran hard, he was the prohibitive favorite over the virtually unknown Tyler. Though he was billed by local Republicans as a member of their ticket, the judicial position is officially nonpartisan, and Goldin -- who had been recommended to Sundquist by a nonpartisan lawyers' panel -- had the avowed support of numerous prominent Democrats as well as the GOP establishment.
Vote totals were: Goldin, 37,283 (57 percent); Tyler, 27,824 (43 percent).
• In the most closely watched (and theoretically most competitive) of several contested legislative primaries, lawyer Brian Kelsey won out over five Republican opponents in the GOP primary for the District 83 seat vacated this year by longtime Republican incumbent Joe Kent. Kelsey will oppose Democrat Julian Prewitt in November.
Totals for all 21 precincts were: Kelsey, 3,169 (45 percent); Chuck Bates, 1,784 (25 percent); Mark White, 1,102 (15 percent); Charles W. McDonald, 538 (7.5 percent); Stan Peppenhorst, 307 (4 percent); and Pat Collins, 257 (3.5 percent).
Kelsey's larger-than-expected margin surprised most observers. His focus on mailouts, phone banks, and door-to-door canvassing proved a superior strategy in the end to the TV-heavy tactics of his two main opponents, Bates and White, though Bates too had gone door-to-door.
• In other contested legislative primaries, District 95 House incumbent Curry Todd easily beat newcomer Dan Dickerson in the Republican primary with 4,151 votes (81 percent) to Dickerson's 956 (19 percent); District 85 House incumbent Larry Turner won renomination with 3,264 votes (70 percent), over Errol Harmon, 1,087 votes (23 percent), and Paul Lewis, 319 votes (seven percent).
Neither Democratic incumbent Mike Kernell nor Republican challenger John Pellicciotti had opposition in their respective District 93 primaries, but Pellicciotti made a point, early in the evening, of noting that he had polled slightly more votes than had Kernell. It didn't end that way, however. Kernell finished with 1,526, votes and Pelliciotti had 1,233.
That race, plus one in District 89 between Democratic incumbent Beverly Marrero and GOP challenger Jim Jamieson, will be closely watched in November. So will the race in District 92 between Democratic incumbent Henri Brooks and write-in Republican candidate D. Jack Smith, a former Democratic member of the House who achieved national attention in the 1960s for sponsoring a bill to repeal the state's "Scopes law" outlawing the teaching of evolution.
Smith, who lost a previous comeback race in 1992 against then incumbent state representative Karen Williams, now a Circuit Court judge, has indicated he will make an issue of Brooks' well-publicized refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in sessions of the General Assembly. n
POLITICS by JACKSON BAKER
"In the Clutch":
Shelby County Democrats played host last week to Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards at a well-attended Beale Street rally. For detailed coverage of that event, go to the "On the Fly" section of the Flyer Web site, MemphisFlyer.com.
It depends on whom you ask as to particular identities, but even if you don't ask, leaks and rumors are rife in Shelby County Republican circles just now about the likelihood of some imminent (and eminent) local Democratic defectors to the presidential campaign of the GOP's main man, President George W. Bush.
Nobody is naming names just yet (read: counting eggs before they hatch), but hints and indirect suggestions from a variety of sources led me straightaway to one prospect -- state representative John DeBerry, an African-American businessman/minister who has a constituency he describes as racially and politically diverse. DeBerry represents state House District 90, an oddly shaped area that snakes longitudinally from a portion of Midtown through South Memphis to the Mississippi state line.
"I'm considering it," DeBerry said about the possibility of endorsing Bush. "I'm a Democrat, but I'll be quite honest. I've thought a lot about the candidates and platforms of both parties." DeBerry, a relatively conservative Democrat who professes a serious concern about "values" issues like abortion, prayer, and gay marriage, said he hasn't made up his mind yet but will shortly. There are those in the GOP camp, though, who talk as though he's already on the dotted line.
But a defection by DeBerry, though newsworthy, would be as nothing compared to the Big Kahuna -- Mayor Willie Herenton, whose name escapes the lips of several Republicans. Nobody's claiming the Memphis mayor for the Bush campaign yet, but one local Republican source maintains mysteriously that "conversations have occurred" at the level of Karl Rove, the celebrated chief political aide to Bush.
It is a fact that Herenton has been a no-show so far at any of the several local occasions at which he might have put his authority behind the Kerry-Edwards campaign. The mayor was absent from last week's Beale Street rally featuring Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, the Democrats' recently nominated candidate for vice president.
Herenton, who was incorrectly announced by Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who introduced Edwards at the rally, as having been involved at some point of the North Carolinian's time here, was in fact out of town on Wednesday, the day of the Edwards visit, said his spokesperson, Gale Jones Carson, who added that the mayor considered himself friendly to Edwards.
The mayor returned to Memphis on Thursday. Asked to comment then on reports that he might endorse Bush, Herenton passed word through Carson that he would not comment on his "political plans for the current year."
The mayor made a stir among both Democrats and Republicans locally when, in 2002, he endorsed the U.S. Senate candidacy of Republican Lamar Alexander, the ultimate winner, and not that of Democratic nominee Bob Clement, then a congressman representing Nashville.
That stir attained statewide dimensions when the Memphis mayor traveled to Nashville to share a stage with Alexander.
It should be said that two ranking local Republicans, both with strong connections to the GOP's national establishment, poured cold water on the prospect of a Herenton/Bush axis this year. "I'm not aware of anything like that," said one. "That's unlikely," said the other.
Even so, one of the few Shelby County Republicans willing to put his name on the line, party executive secretary Don Johnson, confirms that an official announcement about prominent local Democrats for Bush is forthcoming, though it probably won't be made until the return to Memphis of the local Republican chairman Kemp Conrad, who is traveling in China as part of a program sponsored by the National Council for Young Political Leaders.
Conrad, a sometime confidante of Herenton's who helped broker the mayor's support for Alexander two years ago and who has made a point of launching various "outreach" campaigns to minorities and other groups not usually identified with Republicanism, will be back in Memphis on or about the 14th, Johnson said.
It depends on who you ask as to particular identities, but even if you dont ask, leaks and rumors are rife in Shelby County Republican circles just now about the likelihood of some imminent (and eminent) local Democratic defectors to the presidential campaign of the GOPs main man, President George W. Bush. Nobody is Naming Names just yet (read: counting eggs before they hatch), but hints and indirect suggestions from a variety of sources led me straightaway to one prospect -- State Representative John DeBerry, an African American businessman/minister who has a constituency he describes as racially and politically diverse. DeBerry represents state House District 90, an oddly-shaped area that snakes longitudinally from a portion of Midtown through South Memphis to the Mississippi state line. Im considering it, DeBerry said about the possibility of endorsing Bush. Im a Democrat, but Ill be quite honest. Ive thought a lot about the candidates and platforms of both parties. DeBerry, a relatively conservative Democrat who professes a serious concern about values issues like abortion, prayer, and gay marriage, said he hasnt made up his mind yet but will shortly. There are those in the GOP camp, though, who talk as though hes already on the dotted line. But a defection by DeBerry, though newsworthy, would be as nothing compared to the Big Kahuna -- Mayor Willie Herenton, whose name escapes the lips of several Republicans. Nobodys claiming the Memphis mayor for the Bush campaign yet, but one local Republican source maintains mysteriously that conversations have occurred at the level of Karl Rove, the celebrated chief political aide to Bush. It is a fact that Herenton has been a no-show so far at any of the several local occasions at which he might have put his authority behind the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Most recently the mayor was absent from last weeks Beale Street rally featuring Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, the Democrats recently nominated candidate for vice president. Herenton, who was incorrectly announced by 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who introduced Edwards at the rally, as having been involved at some point of the North Carolinians time here, was in fact out of town on Wednesday, the day of the Edwards visit, said his spokesperson, Gale Jones Carson, who added that the mayor considered himself friendly to Edwards. The mayor returned to Memphis on Thursday. Asked to comment then on reports that he might endorse Bush, Herenton passed word through Carson that he would not comment on his political plans for the current year. The mayor made a stir among both Democrats and Republicans locally when, in 2002, he endorsed the U.S. Senate candidacy of Republican Lamar Alexander, the ultimate winner, and not that of Democratic nominee Bob Clement, then a congressman representing Nashville. That stir attained statewide dimensions when the Memphis mayor traveled to Nashville to share a stage with Alexander when the new senator-elect celebrated his victory on election night. It should be said that two ranking local Republicans, both with strong connections to the GOPs national establishment, poor cold water on the prospect of a Herenton/Bush axis this year. Im not aware of anything like that, said one. Thats unlikely, said the other. Even so, one of the few Shelby County Republicans willing to put his name on the line, party executive secretary Don Johnson, confirms that an official announcement about prominent local Democrats for Bush is forthcoming, though it probably wont be made until the return to Memphis of the local Republican chairman Kemp Conrad, who is traveling in China as part of a program sponsored by the National Council for Young Political Leaders. Conrad, a sometime confidante of Herentons who helped broker the mayors support for Alexander two years ago and who has made a point of launching various outreach campaigns to minorities and other groups not usually identified with Republicanism, will be back in Memphis on or about the 14th, Johnson said. Thats this Saturday.
Newly nominated Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards was scheduled for a Beale Street stop on Wednesday afternoon of this week, as down payment on the special attention promised Tennessee Democrats at last week's party convention in Boston.
n Governor Phil Bredesen got an unexpected compliment last week in Boston. Introducing Bredesen to a delegation luncheon sponsored by Corrections Corporation of America, CCA president John Ferguson introduced the governor thusly: "Tennessee was fortunate to have the right person elected at the right time."
Reminding delegates that he, as former Gov. Don Sundquist's finance director, had been immersed in Sundquist's ultimately futile efforts on behalf of a state income tax, Ferguson added, "He [Bredesen] put the income tax on the shelf, and that was the right thing to do."
In response, the governor, not especially known for waxing witty, made an effort to do so. He advised Ferguson, a Republican, to come board the Democratic bandwagon. "You're still a young man, and there's time to find religion," he said, to appreciative laughter.
Feeling evidently that he was on a roll, Bredesen sallied forth somewhat later with this observation about U.S. representative Lincoln Davis, the one Democratic congressman in the state who has substantial Republican opposition this year and is campaigning hard as a result.
Said Bredesen of Davis' efforts: "Lincoln is getting really good in the congressional campaign. He grips you with one hand, then he grips you with the other, and he may actually put his leg around you before it's over."
Really. He said that.
n The governor's appearance on Sunday at two Memphis churches along with state senator Roscoe Dixon, candidate in this week's election for the office of General Sessions clerk, was a grateful payback for Dixon's crucial support in late April for the governor's controversial workers'-compensation reform package, one that incurred opposition from organized labor and trial lawyers, as well as several key legislators responsive to both groups.
Dixon, who has good support in such quarters, was the deciding vote in clearing Bredesen's package through the last Senate oversight committee that could have been an obstacle to it.
n Does the explosion on the political scene of Barack Obama, the Illinois U.S. Senate candidate who gave the Democrats' keynote address in Boston, have an impact on the future of 9th District U.S. representative Harold Ford Jr.? It is a question that cropped up in the Tennessee delegation in Boston and one that will necessarily be the subtext of all future conversations about the state's once and future political prodigy.
Looking at the clean-cut young Illinois Senate candidate up on the dais Tuesday night as keynoter, watching his vibes catch on in the FleetCenter, seeing an image that was unmistakably both ethnic and middle-American (father: Kenyan; mother: white Kansan), listening to a rhetoric that hit the political middle but was edgy enough to be forward-looking, one had to wonder: If he succeeds, does that create room for another like him (i.e., Tennessee senator Harold Ford Jr., circa 2006), or does it fill a key role and round out the Democrats' cast of characters for the next several versions of the drama?
Don't imagine that question wasn't on the minds of people both in the Tennessee delegation and elsewhere.
For the record, here was the response of David Marannis, the peerless Washington Post political writer and author of definitive biographies of Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Vince Lombardi. Said Marannis: "He [Obama] won't displace Harold Ford Jr. as a future political star. He may have set a standard [in Tuesday night's keynote address] that could diminish, say, Jesse Jackson Jr. as someone to look to in future years, but Ford is similar enough in his appeal that Obama may have simply enlarged the appetite for such figures."
For the record too, Ford didn't go unnoticed in Boston. His name and image got prominent treatment in such media venues as NBC, USA Today, The New York Times, and The Washington Post -- the last of which singled out the Memphis congressman for post-convention mention as a future presidential prospect.
Incidentally, The Commercial Appeal's Bart Sullivan attributes to me a bon mot about some hypothetical future presidential year -- "Obama and Harold Ford will not run together" -- that I remember Bart saying. Ah, such are the pitfalls when journalists quote each other! (It's a good line, anyway. And certainly true.)
n Joyce Kelly, the Memphis schoolteacher who was billed as Mayor Willie Herenton's fiancée during his 1991 campaign and for years afterward, is no longer such. That fact surfaced in connection with a suit filed in General Sessions Court this month on behalf of Banneker Estates, the posh South Memphis subdivision of which Herenton is both co-founder and its most famous resident.
Though Kelly's current address, as given in the suit, is in nearby Whitehaven, the Banneker Estates Homeowners Association is seeking to recover some $1,880 in membership fees for the years 2000-2003, plus court costs. Mayoral spokesperson Gale Jones Carson points out that Mayor Herenton is not a member of the association's board. Herenton, incidentally, did not attend the Democratic convention, though his Shelby County mayoral counterpart, A C Wharton, did.
Correction: It was incorrectly written here last week that the crowded Republican primary for District 83 state representative could result in a runoff. Actually, state law does not allow for legislative runoffs. It's winner-take-all.