Sunday, September 12, 2004

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

Posted By on Sun, Sep 12, 2004 at 4:00 AM

THOMPSON OR MOSS? Much of the public’s attention -- or the attention of that part of it that actually follows county government and politics -- is focused on the question of who’s going to get the Shelby County Commission seat of Linda Rendtorff. Rendtroff, of course, has been designated by county mayor A C Wharton as his director of community services, and she will shortly be leaving the commission to take that position -- leaving her seat vacant for a list of aspirants that numbers now about a dozen and is still growing. When Rendtorff does leave -- at some point within the next month -- the commission will choose from that list. Before that happens, however, the commission must make another choice -- of its own officers for the coming year. That will happen on Monday, and, while there’s no mystery as to who the new chairman will be -- that’s Democratic commissioner Michael Hooks, who has been serving this year as vice chairman under chair Marilyn Loeffel -- there is considerable doubt as to the identify of Hooks’ own successor as chairman-in-waiting. In the alternating formula by which the commission traditionally selects its officers, Democrat Hooks followed Republican Loeffel, and he will be followed in turn next year by another Republican, the new vice-chairman. But who? Tom Moss or Bruce Thompson? “It’ll be a donnybrook,” predicted another GOP commissioner, John Willingham, who indicated he hadn’t yet made up his own mind. The contest has overtones beyond the personal. Thompson is a financial manager/entrepreneur who was elected in 2002 to represent District 5, a relatively compact one ranging from Midtown to Southeast Memphis and -- roughly balanced politically and racially -- is regarded as the commission’s swing district. A fiscal conservative and environmentalist, Thompson seeks to overhaul long-established procedures and made an abortive try for the chairmanship in 2003, his first year on the commission. Moss, a homebuilder/developer, was appointed to the commission in late 2000 and was reelected in 2002. He is one of three representatives from District 1, the sprawling outlying district which includes Shelby County’s rural areas and outer suburbs. He is a stout defender of commission traditions -- including that of seniority -- and is not averse to the kind of hard bargaining and coalition building across party lines that led to his surprise selection in 2000. The two have frequently disagreed -- particularly on the issue of new housing developments in Shelby County, which Moss usually looks upon with more favor than does Thompson. Each man has made it clear he has no interest in backing down in favor of the other. Thompson claims commitments from David Lillard and Joyce Avery, two fellow members of the Class of ‘02, and hopes to get at least one other Republican vote from a group including Rendtorff, Willingham, and chairman Loeffel. He insists that his eleventh-hour decision to leave the chairmanship race last year involved a commitment from winner Loeffel to support him as the next Republican chairman. His chances for getting Loeffel’s vote are, however, doubtful at best, since the two, who disagree even more profoundly than he does with Willingham, have been locked in a mutual vendetta for most of Thompson’s time on the commission. “Whoever gets a majority of the Republicans will probably be approved by the Democrats, too, as a courtesy,” ventures Thompson. Moss, who emphasizes his seniority over Thompson and said he was prepared to back Rendtorff for the vice-chairmanship before her status changed, disagrees. “That’s wrong. All commissioners have a mind of their own, and they have every right to make their own choice,” he says.

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