Friday, December 31, 2004

News Cycle

Notes from the late political year.

Posted on Fri, Dec 31, 2004 at 4:00 AM

JANUARY 2004: At his annual New Year's Day prayer breakfast, Mayor Willie Herenton virtually declares war on his City Council while seeming to claim divine sanction. The background? Personnel matters, still-fresh MLGW prepayment deal with TVA, and Herenton's ID as alpha male. Darker issues rumored.

Road duty in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the once high-flying Howard Dean first teeters, then crashes to earth while John Kerry begins his improbable rise to the Democratic nomination.

FEBRUARY: In an unexpectedly pivotal Tennessee primary, Kerry disposes of Wesley Clark and John Edwards and virtually seals his eventual nomination. Former Veep Al Gore, at a Nashville rally, denounces President Bush for "betraying" the country in Iraq.

At Clark's swan-song speech, I hear about Bob Mintz, a former Alabama Air National Guard pilot, who, with his buddy Paul Bishop, tell me about Bush's 1972 no-show at their Alabama ANG base. The resulting story goes national and percolates throughout the election year.

Councilman Brent Taylor on Herenton's issuance of a physical dare: "I don't want to meet him outside. I want to meet him at the Health Department. I want him to piss in a cup so we can see what he's on."

MARCH: New council member Carol Chumney begins her yearlong breakaway from her colleagues, charging "petty in-fighting." Councilman Jack Sammons: "She makes [former maverick member John] Vergos look like a team player." Ninth District congressman Harold Ford gets some flak from Germantown Democratic Club members for what they see as "Bush-lite" attitudes.

APRIL: Seventh District congressman Marsha Blackburn comes back from Iraq with a rosy prospectus. Former county commissioner Morris Fair dies not long after making dramatic and pivotal testimony against a multimillion-dollar settlement with Clark Construction Co., over Convention Center cost overruns.

MAY: In Nashville, Governor Phil Bredesen gets heat from fellow Democrats about workers'-comp reforms but eventually prevails. Former state Democratic chair Bill Farmer: "Governor, I wish I had voted for Van Hilleary two years ago instead of working to get you elected. He couldn't have done the damage to us that you've done." State Senator John Ford in a debate on air-travel restrictions: "I don't fly from here to Memphis. I drive -- though some of you may describe that as flying."

Congressman Ford is incorrectly listed byWashington Times as party to a testimonial dinner for Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who claims to be the "messiah."

JUNE: Rumors indicate that Herenton might resign because of ongoing -- and at this point undefined -- investigations. Mayoral press secretary Gale Jones Carson: "This mayor has nothing to hide."

Republican icon John T. Williams dies, following the passing of ex-councilman Bob James, his fellow nonagenarian, by mere weeks. Two Republican county commissioners, Chairman Marilyn Loeffel and first-termer Bruce Thompson, continue a yearlong feud over personal and policy issues.

JULY: A memo materializes from deposed MLGW head Herman Morris, detailing Herenton's high-pressure lobbying on brokering the deal and and the major of MLGW's head-to-be Joseph Lee. Several Ford-family members participate in a wrestling caper. Up in Boston, where the national Democrats convene, a new star materializes -- Illinois' senator-to-be Barack Obama.

AUGUST: Shelby County holds a countywide general election and statewide primary. Key winners: Assessor Rita Clark, General Sessions Clerk Chris Turner, Chancellor Arnold Goldin, and GOP state representative-nominee Brian Kelsey. Bobby Lanier and Susan Adler Thorp lose their county jobs in a controversy over retirement benefits for ex-aide Tom Jones, who begins a yearlong term at federal prison camp in Arkansas. The GOP convenes in New York and renominates President Bush.

SEPTEMBER: The Mintz story resurfaces nationally but is quickly trumped by CBS' "Rathergate." Democratic legislative stalwarts Jimmy Naifeh and John Wilder face determined foes -- but eventually survive. Former legislator Pam Gaia, a gallant reformer, dies. Herenton acknowledges he has thought about stepping down.

OCTOBER: Religious Right icon Ed McAteer dies. The tragic death of county commissioner Joyce Avery's daughter underscores problems with 911 system -- as does the much-lamented heart-attack death of ex-mayor Wyeth Chandler a month later. George Flinn is named a new county commissioner, to succeed Linda Rendtorff, now a Wharton aide. Michael Moore does a local no-show.

NOVEMBER: The election year ends with Kerry-Edwards winning locally but defeated nationally and statewide. Democrats begin a long debate over the party's future. Wesley Clark ponders '08.

DECEMBER: Chumney spouts again on MLGW. Wharton pumps for new tax. Curtis Person is squeezed by GOP state Senate colleagues. A "bombshell" is promised for Herenton's New Year prayer breakfast?

To Be Continued. •

POLITICS: News Cycle

POLITICS

Posted By on Fri, Dec 31, 2004 at 4:00 AM

NEWS CYCLE JANUARY: 2004 At annual New YearÕs Day prayer breakfast Mayor Willie Herenton virtually declares war on his council, while seeming to claim divine sanction. Background? Personnel matters, still-fresh MLGW prepayment deal with TVA, HerentonÕs ID as Alpha male. Darker issues rumored. Readers can chart this pilgrimÕs progress by comparing my interview with Hizzoner (ÒThe Testament of Willie Herenton;Ó just google that title) with mayorÕs year-end sitdown in this issue with my colleague John Branston.

Road duty in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the once high-flying Howard Dean first teeters, then crashes to earth while John Kerry begins his improbable rise to the Democratic nomination.

FEBRUARY: In unexpectedly pivotal Tennessee primary, Kerry disposes of Wesley Clark and John Edwards and virtually seals his eventual win. Former Veep Al Gore, at Nashville rally, denounces President Bush for ÒbetrayingÓ the country in Iraq.

At ClarkÕs swan-song speech, I hear about Bob Mintz, a former Alabama Air National Guard pilot, who Ð with his buddy Paul Bishop Ð ends up telling me about BushÕs 1972 no-show at their Alabama ANG base. The resulting story goes national and perculates throughout the election year.

Councilman Brent Taylor on HerentonÕs issuance of a physical dare: ÒI donÕt want to meet him outside. I want to meet him at the Health Department. I want him to pass in a cup so we can see what heÕs on.Ó

MARCH: New council member (and 2007 mayoral hopeful) Carol Chumney begins yearlong breakaway from her colleagues, charging Òpetty in-fighting.Ó Councilman Jack Sammons: ÒShe makes [former maverick member John] Vergos look like a team player.Ó 9th District congressman Harold Ford gets some flak from Germantown Democratic Club members from what they see as ÒBush-liteÓ attitudes.

APRIL: 7th District congressman Marsha Blackburn comes back from Iraq with rosy prospectus. Former county commissioner Morris Fair dies Ð not long after making dramatic -- and pivotal testimony -- against multi-million-dollar settlement with Clark Construction Co., over Convention Center cost overruns. Co-cover story with Branston (ÒConvention Center Cave-InÓ) documents the settlementÕs flaws, and the commission says no.

MAY: In Topeka, Kansas, for Brown v. Board of Education commemoration.

In Nashville, Governor Phil Bredesen gets heat from fellow Democrats about workersÕ comp reforms Ð but will prevail. Former state Democratic chair Bill Farmer: ÒGovernor, I wish I had voted for Van Hilleary two years ago instead of working to get you elected. He couldnÕt have done the damage to us that youÕve done.Ó State Sen. John Ford in debate on air travel restrictions: ÒI donÕt fly from here to Memphis. I drive Ð though some of you may describe that as flying."

Congressman Ford is incorrectly listed by Washington Times as party to testimonial dinner for Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who claims, improbably, to be the Òmessiah.ÓJUNE: The first report that Herenton might resign because of ongoing Ð and at this point undefined -- investigations. Mayoral press secretary Gal Jones Carson: ÒThis mayor has nothing to hideÓ : Republican icon John T. Williams dies, following ex-councilman Bob James, his fellow nonagenarian, by mere weeks. Two Republican county commissioners, chairman Marilyn Loeffel and first-termer Bruce Thompson continue a year-long feud.over both personal and policy issues. Interview with now you see him/now you donÕt gadfly presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

JULY: A memo materializes from deposed MLGW head Herman Morris to the utilityÕs erstwhile financial officer, detailing both HerentonÕs high-pressure lobbying on brokering deal and role in process of MLGWÕs head-to-be Joseph Lee. Several Ford-family members do a wrestling caper. Up in Boston, where the national Democrats convene, a new star materializes Ð IllinoisÕ senator-to- be Barack Obama.

AUGUST: Shelby County holds a countywide general election and statewide primary. Key winners: Assessor Rita Clark, General Sessions Clerk Chris Turner, Chancellor Arnold Goldin, GOP State Rep-nominee Brian Kelsey. Bobby Lanier and Susan Thorp lose county jobs in controversy over retirement benefits for ex-aide Tom Jones, who begins yearlong term at federal prison camp in Arkansas. GOP convenes in New York and renominates President Bush.

SEPTEMBER: Mintz story resurfaces nationally but is quickly trumped by CBSÕ Rathergate . Democratic legislative stalwarts Jimmy Naifeh and John Wilder face determined foes Ð but will survive. Former legislator Pam Gaia, a gallant reformer, dies. Herenton, before Jones-Johnson light-heavy championship fight at new FedEx Forum, acknowledges he has thought about stepping down.

OCTOBER: Religious Right icon Ed McAteer dies. Tragic death of county commissioner Joyce AveryÕs daughter underscores problems with 911 system Ð as does much lamented heart-attack death of ex-mayor Wyeth Chandler one month later. An Arkansas bus crash kills 14 Chicagoans. George Flinn is named a new county commissioner, to succeed Linda Rendtorff, now a Wharton aide. Michael Moore does local no-show. E.H. Crump Collection unveiled at the Central Library.

NOVEMBER: Election year ends with local victory for Kerry-Edwards. Defeated nationally and statewide, Democrats begin long debate over future. Wesley Clark, interviewed at Clinton Library dedication in Little Rock, looks toward Õ08.

. DECEMBER: Chumney again, on MLGW. Wharton pumps for new tax.. Curtis Person squeezed by GOP state Senate colleagues. ÒBombshellÓ promised for HerentonÕs New Year prayer breakfast? ErÉ.To Be Continued.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Person of Interest

A Shelby County legislator is

at the center of a tug-of-war.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 23, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Curtis Person is under virtually nonstop pressure these days from a number of his fellow Republicans, many of whom are -- directly or indirectly -- putting the screws on the easy-going longtime state senator from East Memphis and Germantown.

The point of this effort is to wean Person away from his oft-stated promise to support octogenarian John Wilder for another term as state Senate president -- an office which carries with it the title of lieutenant governor. Though a nominal Democrat, Wilder has in effect been a nonpartisan political figure since the mid-1990s, when, under challenge by other Democrats, he put together his current coalition of Democrats and Republicans to hold on to his office.

By and large, Senate Republicans have heretofore been happy with Wilder, who awarded them a generous -- though minority -- share of committee chairmanships (one of which belongs to Judiciary chairman Person). But last month's elections, which gave the GOP a one-vote majority in the Senate, has encouraged the body's Republicans to strive for a Senate president from within their own ranks. Most likely, this would be Ron Ramsey of Blountville, last session's minority leader, though other prospects might emerge in a trade-off breaking the current impasse.

Holding firm so far against the tide of intra-party pressure are both Person and Knoxville GOP senator Tim Burchett.

Person went three full decades without having an opponent on the ballot against him. He's an old hand at dissuading potential challengers, but as he looks ahead to 2006, he has his hands full. As previously reported, Beale Street impresario John Elkington says he has been sounded out about opposing Person and is thinking about it. More ominous for the incumbent senator, perhaps, are the number of established, office-holding Republicans who are now considering a race against him.

Two state representatives, Tre Hargett of Bartlett and Paul Stanley of Germantown, the current ranking Republicans in the House, acknowledge that they are both considering a challenge in 2006 to Person. "We wouldn't run against each other, but one of us is likely to make the race," says Stanley. "I'm considering my options," confirms Hargett.

"There's no shortage of people wanting to run against Curtis," says one of his Senate Republican colleagues, Mark Norris of Collierville. Norris, however, still thinks that Person may do a turnaround on the Wilder issue, "particularly if he sees that Wilder has betrayed him on chairmanships."

That last point has to do with whether a reelected Wilder would agree to reverse the current 5-4 ratio by which Democratic committee chairmen outnumber Republicans.

In the opinion of one key Democrat, new Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, "the lieutenant governor would have a hard time changing any of the current chairmen." In any case, opines Kyle, Wilder won't commit himself on a chairmanship formula until he is safely reelected.

It's a chicken-and-egg situation, or maybe a game of chicken, in which somebody finally has to budge. But so far nobody has. Early in January, somebody may.

Another up-for-grabs situation, also involving local Republicans, is that of the party chairmanship. Traditionally there is a hard-fought race for the right to head the Shelby County Republican Party, and the forthcoming one, due for resolution at a party caucus in February, looks to be no exception.

Current chairman Kemp Conrad has opted not to run again, and two local Republicans, Terry Roland, the owner of several automotive businesses in Millington, and Bill Giannini, a Memphis wholesale grocer and restaurateur, have been the announced candidates to succeed him.

After the local GOP's annual Christmas party Monday night, hosted this year by new county commissioner George Flinn, word spread that Roland was considering dropping out of contention. Contacted about that, Roland said in effect that rumors of his departure had been greatly exaggerated.

"I haven't decided," said Roland, who professed disappointment at having overheard "elitist" elements in the party talking disapprovingly of "country bumpkins" -- meaning, presumably, outer-county residents like himself -- challenging for the GOP leadership. "If it weren't for us, Republicans wouldn't win any elections in Shelby County," said Roland, who promised a decision about staying in after he returns from this week's GMAC Bowl in Mobile.

State senator Steve Cohen, who this week came out for increased funding of lottery scholarships, takes a dimmer view of Governor Phil Bredesen's call to relax academic requirements for the scholarships -- a move which Cohen believes would overburden the fund. "He doesn't need to be the Gordon Bonnyman of the lottery," said Cohen, referring to the Tennnessee Justice Center head whose opposition to limiting TennCare coverage has been cited by the governor as a factor in that program's potential insolvency.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

POLITICS: Person of Interest

A Shelby County legislator is at the center of a tug-of-war in the state Senate.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 21, 2004 at 4:00 AM

PERSON OF INTEREST Curtis Person is under virtually non-stop pressure these days from a number of his fellow Republicans, many of whom are -- directly or indirectly -- putting the screws on the easy-going longtime state senator from East Memphis and Germantown.

The point of this effort to wean Person away from his oft-stated promise to support octogenarian John Wilder for another term as state Senate president -- an office which carries with it the title of lieutenant governor. Though a nominal Democrat, Wilder has in effect been a non-partisan political figure since the mid-‘80s, when, under challenge by other Democrats, he put together his current coalition of Democrats and Republicans to hold on to his office.

By and large, Senate Republicans have heretofore been happy with Wilder, who awarded them a generous -- though minority -- share of committee chairmanships (one of which belongs to Judiciary chairman Person). But last month’s elections, which gave the GOP a one-vote majority in the Senate, has encouraged the body’s Republicans to strive for a Senate president from within their own ranks. Most likely, this would be Ron Ramsey of Blountville, last session’s minority leader, though other prospects might emerge in a trade-off breaking the current impasse.

Holding firm so far against the tide of intra-party pressure are both Person and Knoxville GOP Senator Tim Burchett.

Person went three full decades without having an opponent on the ballot against him. He’s an old hand at dissuading potential challengers, but as he looks ahead to 2006 he has his hands full. As previously reported, Beale Street impresario John Elkington says he has been sounded out about opposing Person and is thinking about it. More ominous for the incumbent senator, perhaps, are the number of established, office-holding Republicans who are now considering a race against him.

Two state representatives, Tre Hargett of Bartlett and Paul Stanley of Germantown, the current ranking Republicans in the House, acknowledge that they are both considering a challenge in 2006 to Person. “We wouldn’t run against each other, but one of us is likely to make the race,” says Stanley. “I’m considering my options,” confirms Hargett.

“There’s no shortage of people wanting to run against Curtis,” says one of his Senate Republican colleagues, Mark Norris of Collierville. Norris, however, still thinks that Person may do a turnaround on the Wilder issue, “particularly if he sees that Wilder has betrayed him on chairmanships.”

That last point has to do with whether a reelected Wilder would agree to reverse the current 5-4 ratio by which Democratic committee chairmen outnumber Republicans.

In the opinion of one key Democrat, new Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, “the lieutenant governor would have a hard time changing any of the current chairmen.” In any case, opines Kyle, Wilder won’t commit himself on a chairmanship formula until he is safely reelected.

It’s a chicken-and-egg situation, or maybe a game of chicken, in which somebody finally has to budge. But so far nobody has. Early in January, somebody may.

Another up-for-grabs situation, also involving local Republicans, is that of the party chairmanship. Traditionally there is a hard-fought race for the right to head the Shelby County Republican Party, and the forthcoming one, due for resolution at a party caucus in February, looks to be no exception.

Current chairman Kemp Conrad has opted not to run again, and two local Republicans, Terry Roland, the owner of several automotive businesses in Millington, and Bill Giannini, a Memphis wholesale grocer and restaurateur, have been the announced candidates to succeed him.

After the local GOP’s annual Christmas party Monday night, hosted this year by new county commissioner George Flinn, word spread that Roland was considering dropping out of contention. Contacted about that, Roland, the owner of several automotive businesses and the first to declare for the party post, said in effect that rumors of his departure had been greatly exaggerated.

“I haven’t decided,” said Roland, who professed disappointment at having overheard “elitist” elements in the party talking disapprovingly of “country bumpkins” -- meaning, presumably, outer-county residents like himself -- challenging for the GOP leadership. “If it weren’t for us, Republicans wouldn’t win any elections in Shelby County,” said Roland, who promised a decision about staying in after he returns from this week’s GMAC Bowl in Mobile.

State senator Steve Cohen, who this week came out for increased funding of lottery scholarships, takes a dimmer view of Governor Phil Bredesen‘s call to relax academic requirements for the scholarships -- a move which Cohen believes would over-burden the fund. “He doesn’t need to be the Gordon Bonnyman of the lottery,” said Cohen, referring to the Tennnessee Justice Center head whose opposition to limiting TennCare coverage has been cited by the governor as a factor in that program’s potential insolvency.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Yule Tides

Usually, pols wind down over the holidays; this year, they're turning up the heat.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 17, 2004 at 4:00 AM

First the blast, then the bombshell? One of the major social events of each December is the bash thrown by Memphis mayor Willie Herenton. Ever since 1991, when such an affair preceded Herenton's inauguration to his first term, the city's glitterati and movers and shakers have gathered in the Continental Room of The Peabody to sample the generously available edibles, potables, and quotables (which is to say, each other).

At a suitable point in the evening, there is always an exhortatory address by Hizzoner, followed by a dance band and some congenial hoofing by the more energetic. A good time is had by all.

This year, there were some variations on all that.

To begin with, there was but one member of the City Council on hand -- count 'em, one: first-termer Scott McCormick. No Barbara Swearengen Holt, no Rickey Peete, no Myron Lowery -- to name but three of the council members who have generally been considered close to Herenton. Unsurprising, of course, was the absence of Carol Chumney, the councilwoman who would be mayor. Chumney had her own party a couple of weeks ago at the Central Avenue Holiday Inn, with many of the same prominent lobbyists and zoning lawyers present. She indicated she would also not be attending the Christmas dinner that was held this past weekend for other council members at Folk's Folly.

Pete Aviotti, the mayor's special assistant and the impresario of this annual Christmas party, jested -- a propos a circumstance reported recently in this column -- that he had encountered Chumney at another gathering a few evenings ago and volunteered to bring her a glass of wine. "I'm going to have a Sprite," he quoted her as saying, somewhat solemnly. (The Flyer story contained a "he said/she said" anecdote wherein the two had divergent memories concerning Chumney's consumption of wine at a prior event and whether Aviotti had been solicitous, teasing, or even gallant, as he recalls, or intimidating, in Chumney's account.)

Though attendance overall seemed conspicuously down from past years, there were some expected attendees at the Herenton party, like Shelby County mayor A C Wharton and his former right-hand man, Bobby Lanier, who left office during the flap over former aide Tom Jones' retirement benefits but allowed as how he was now busy at work on Wharton's reelection campaign. There were some surprise guests too -- like Joyce Kelly, the mayor's erstwhile fiancée.

One of the mayor's longtime backers from the business community mused out loud about reports that Herenton may be a person of interest in one or more federal investigatons currently under way. "He may have done some things wrong," the man said, "but I don't care. He's been good for the city."

Present also at the party was longtime Herenton intimate Reginald French, who has himself been involved in an ongoing federal investigation into alleged political corruption involving city construction contracts in Atlanta, a case in which French testified after apparently wearing a wire for the prosecution. It is uncertain how much of an overlap there might be between that case and anything involving Memphis city government -- though speculation on the point has been rampant.

His spirits -- and his mayoral access -- seemingly undampened by that circumstance, an ebullient French said at the mayor's party that Herenton would have a "bombshell" to unload at his forthcoming New Year's Day prayer breakfast. "It's going to be hot! It'll make last year's look tame," said French, referring to Herenton's full-decibel blast at City Council members, one that engendered yearlong tensions at City Hall and involved, among other things, claims of divine sanction for the mayor.

There was something of a buzz among partygoers as to just what the bombshell might be: The consensus was that it involved a Herenton plan for an extensive reorganization of city government -- with a restructuring of Memphis Light, Gas & Water at the heart of that plan.

The mayor himself was keeping his own counsel. When, as is customary at these Christmas-party affairs, Aviotti introduced him midway in the proceedings and he took the dais, Herenton was unwontedly restrained. He said little that was exhortatory, little, indeed, of any sort that could be remembered later on, except for his half-hearted urging of partygoers to get down on the dance floor. Immediately thereafter, the band started up, and a somewhat desultory line dance got under way.

Doubling Up: Too much success can, as they say, breed discontent. Or an embarrassment of riches. Or simple variety. Or whatever. In the wake of the GOP's national election triumph, Republican women in Shelby County are experiencing one or more of these outcomes, big-time.

Many members of Shelby County Republican Women, a long-established organization in these parts, learned of the formation of an alternative group only last week, when, as they prepared for their own annual Christmas party, they received invitations to a competitive party given by the new organizaton, Republican Women With Purpose.

"Theirs is more expensive," said Jean Drumright, chairman of this year's SCRW Christmas party, referring to purportedly higher dues and other membership fees charged by RWP. "They must be the rich Republicans!"

"I hate it that they're taking it personally," said Barbara Trautman of Germantown, president of the new club, which had a combination "announcement meeting" and Christmas party of its own this week at the Germantown home of longtime GOP eminence Maida Pearson Smith.

As Trautman explained it, the new club -- which arose out of campaign efforts on behalf of the Bush campaign -- will be more convenient for Republican women in the Germantown/Collierville area. "They wanted their own club in their own neighborhood area," Trautman said.

RWP (let us be the first to use the acronym) will meet at Ridgeway Country Club on Poplar Avenue in Germantown, a point considerably farther east than SCRW's traditional meeting venue at the Racquet Club on Sanderlin.

One of the mainstays of the new club is parliamentarian Annabel Woodall of East Memphis, a longtime SCRW member.

Like SCRW, RWP is in conformity with rules of the state and national federations of Republican women, and one of those rules -- perhaps inconvenient for those Republican women caught in the middle, geographically or otherwise -- is that full membership, including the right to hold office, can be had in only one club sanctioned by the governing federations.

"I've tried to reassure them. We can work together," insisted Trautman. "There's room for all of us. I mean, Nashville has three clubs, and Dallas has 16!"

Both clubs had the GOP brass out this week. Guest of honor at SCRW's Christmas party, held Monday at Devonshire Gardens, was the outgoing state Republican chairman, state representative Beth Halteman Harwell of Nashville.

Harwell, who intends to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2006, inaugurated a new slate of SCRW officers, headed by Jeanette Watkins of Germantown.

Scheduled to do the equivalent honors at RWP's meeting was 7th District U.S. representative Marsha Blackburn, that group's guest of honor. Blackburn is another possible Senate candidate in 2006.

Among those attending both parties were former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, yet another 2006 Senate hopeful, and his wife, Cyndi.

Harwell In: That Senate race -- for the seat being vacated by Majority Leader Bill Frist, who most likely will run for president in 2008 -- numbers three definite contenders on the Republican side, as of now.

Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker is already in, and Bryant is certain to follow. Simultaneous with Blackburn's trip to Memphis on Monday, Bob Davis of Nashville was being installed as her successor in the GOP chairmanship. That allowed her to make it definite, she confirmed Tuesday: "I will absolutely be a candidate for the Senate seat."

Elkington vs. Person? Ranking state Republicans are putting the screws on two GOP state senators -- Curtis Person of Memphis and Tim Burchett of Knoxville -- who have indicated they will break ranks with their fellow Republicans (who now hold a majority of one in the Senate) and vote for octogenarian John Wilder of Somerville to continue in his role as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor.

The state GOP's governing board voted Saturday to permit Republican officials to endorse future opponents for Person and Burchett. (Beale Street impresario John Elkington said at Mayor Herenton's Christmas party that he had been lobbied by key Republicans to consider a race against Person in 2006.) •

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

POLITICS

Usually pols wind down over the holidays; this year, theyÕre turning up the heat.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 14, 2004 at 4:00 AM

YULE TIDES First the Blast, Then the Bombshell? : One of the major social events of each December is the bash thrown by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton. Ever since 1991, when such an affair preceded HerentonÕs inauguration to his first term, the cityÕs glitterati and movers and shakers have gathered in the Continental Room of The Peabody to sample the generously available edibles, potables, and quotables (which is to say, each other).

At a suitable point in the evening, there is always an exhortatory address by Hizzoner, followed by a dance band and some congenial hoofing by the more energetic. A good time is had by all.

This year there were some variations on all that.

To begin with, there was but one member of the City Council on hand Ð count Ôem, one: first-termer Scott McCormick. No Barbara Swearengen Holt, no Rickey Peete, no Myron Lowery Ð to name but three of the council members who have generally been considered close to Herenton. Unsurprising, of course, was the absence of Carol Chumney, the councilwoman who would be mayor. Chumney had her own party a couple of weeks ago at the Central Avenue Holiday Inn, with many of the same prominent lobbyists and zoning lawyers present. She indicated she would also not be attending the Christmas dinner that was held this past weekend for other council members at FolkÕs Folly.

Pete Aviotti, the mayorÕs special assistant and the impresario of this annual Christmas party, jested Ð a propos a circumstance reported in a recent Flyer Ð that he had encountered Chumney at another gathering a few evenings ago and volunteered to bring her a glass of wine. ÒIÕm going to have a Sprite,Ó he quoted her as saying, somewhat solemnly. (The Flyer story had contained a he said/she said anecdote wherein the two had divergent memories concerning ChumneyÕs consumption of wine at a prior event and whether Aviotti had been solicitous, teasing, or even gallant, as he recalls, or simply intimidating, in her own account.

Though attendance overall seemed conspicuously down from past years, there were some expected attendees at the Herenton party, like Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton and his former right-hand man, Bobby Lanier, who left office during the flap over former aide Tom JonesÕ retirement benefits, but allowed as how he was now busy at work on WhartonÕs reelection campaign. There were some surprise guests, too Ð like Joyce Kelly, the mayorÕs erstwhile fiancŽe.

One of the mayorÕs longtime backers from the business community mused out loud about reports that Herenton may be a person of interest in one or more federal investigatons currently under way. ÒHe may have done some things wrong,Ó the man said, Òbut I donÕt care. HeÕs been good for the city.Ó

Present at the party was longtime Herenton intimate Reginald French, who has himself been involved in an ongoing federal investigaton -- one involving alleged political corruption involving city construction contracts in Atlanta, a case in which French testified after apparently wearing a wire for the prosecution. It is uncertain how much of an an overlap there might be between that case and anything involving Memphis city government Ð though speculation on the point has been rampant.

His spirits Ð and his mayoral access -- seemingly undampened by that circumstance, an ebullient French said at the mayorÕs party that Herenton would have a ÒbombshellÓ to unload at his forthcoming New YearÕs Day prayer breakfast. ÒItÕs going to be hot! ItÕll make last yearÕs look tame,Ó said French, referring to HerentonÕs full-decibel blast at city council members, one that engendered yearlong tensions at City Hall and involved, among other things, claims of divine sanction for the mayor.

There was something of a buzz among party-goers as to just what the bombshell might be: The consensus was that it involved a Herenton plan for an extensive reorganization of city government Ð with a restructuring of Memphis Light Gas & Water at the heart of that plan.

The mayor himself was keeping his own counsel. When, as is customary at these Christmas-party affairs, Aviotti introduced him midway in proceedings and he took the dais, Herenton was unwontedly restrained. He said little that was exhortatory, little, indeed, of any sort that could be remembered later on, except for his half-hearted urging of partygoers to Get Down on the dance floor. Immediately thereafter, the bank started up, and a somewhat desultory line dance got under way.

Doubling Up: Too much success can, as they say, breed discontent. Or an embarrassment of riches. Or simple variety. Or whatever. In the wake of the GOPÕs national election triumph, Republican women in Shelby County are experiencing one or more of these outcomes, big-time.

Many members of Shelby County Republican Women, a long-established organization in these parts, learned of the formation of an alternative group only last week, when, as they prepared for their own annual Christmas party, they received invitations to a competitive party given by the new organizaton, Republican Women With Purpose.

ÒTheirs is more expensive,Ó said Jean Drumright, chairman of this yearÕs SCRW Christmas party, referring to purportedly higher dues and other membership fees charged by RWP. They must be the rich Republicans!Ó

ÒI hate it that theyÕre taking it personally,Ó said Barbara Trautman of Germantown, president of the new club, which has a combination Òannouncement meetingÓ and Christmas party of its own this week at the home of longtime GOP eminence Maida Pearson Smith in Germantown.

As Trautman explained it, the new club Ð which arose out of campaign efforts on behalf of the Bush campaign Ð will be more convenient for Republican women in the Germantown/Collierville area. ÒThey wanted their own club in their own neighborhood area,Ó Truman said. RWP (let us be the first to use the acronym) will meet at Ridgeway Country Club on Poplar Avenue in Germantown, a point considerably further east than SCRWÕs traditional meeting venue at the Racquet Club on Sanderlin in the White Station area of Memphis.

There is some overlap, however, as one of the mainstays of the new club is parliamentarian Annabel Woodall of East Memphis, a longtime SCRW member.

Like SCRW, RWP is in conformity with rules of the state and national federations of Republican women, and one of those rules Ð perhaps inconvenient for those Republican women caught in the middle, geographically or otherwise -- is that full membership, including the right to hold office, can be had in only one club sanctioned by the governing federations, although members of one Republican womenÕs club can be ÒassociatesÓ of another.

In other words, Shelby County women wishing to join a Republican womenÕs club may have to choose.

ÒIÕve tried to reassure them. We can work together,Ó insists Trautman. ÒThereÕs room for all of us. I mean, Nashville has three clubs, and Dallas has 16!Ó

Both clubs had the GOP brass out this week. Guest of honor at SCRWÕs Christmas Party, held Monday at Devonshire Gardens (ironically, a short stoneÕs throw from Ridgeway Country Club, the RWPÕs bailiwick), was the outgoing state Republican chairman, State Representative Beth Halteman Harwell of Nashville.

Harwell, who intends to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2006, inaugurated a new slate of SCRW officers, headed by Jeanette Watkins of Germantown.

Scheduled to do the equivalent honors at RWPÕs meeting was 7th District U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, that groupÕs guest of honor. Blackburn is another possible Senate candidate in 2006.

Among those attending both parties were former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, yet another 2006 Senate hopeful, and his wife Cyndi.

Harwell In: That Senate race Ð for the seat being vacated by Majority Leader Bill Frist, who most likely will run for president in 2008 Ð numbers three definite contenders on the Republican side, as of now. Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker is already in, and Bryant is certain to follow. Simultaneous with Harwell's trip to Memphis on Monday, Bob Davis of Nashville was being installed as her successor in the GOP chairmanship. That allowed Harwell to make it definite, she confirmed Tuesday: ÒI absolutely intend to be a candidate for the Senate seat.Ó

Elkington vs. Person? Ranking state Republicans are putting the screws on two GOP state senators Ð Curtis Person of Memphis and Tim Burchett of Knoxville Ð who have indicated they will break ranks with their fellow Republicans -- who now hold a majority of one in the senate Ð and vote for octogenarian John Wilder of Somerville to continue in his role as Senate speaker and Lt. Governor.

The state GOPÕs governing board voted Saturday to permit Republican officials to endorse future opponents for Person and Burchett. (Beale Street impresario John Elkington said at Mayor HerentonÕs Christmas party that he had been lobbied by key Republicans to consider a race against Person in 2006.)

Seeing Red and Buying Blue: Democrats in Shelby County Ð like, presumably, those elsewhere -- are now circulating email lists of retail corporations who gave prodigiously to either Republicans or Democrats. ÒBlue ChristmasÓ the campaign is called, and ÒBuy BlueÓ is the watchword.

There is a boycott aspect to the campaign, of course, since the message is also clear: DonÕt buy ÒRed.Ó Clearly, Republicans with access to the list (http://www.buyblue.org/bluexmas.html) can just reverse the recommended priorities.

The ÒRedÓ and ÒBlueÓ lists are amazingly itemized, but here is a sample of the corporate donors, along with their party of choice by percentage donated:

ÒRedÓ (Republican): Circuit City, 96 percent to Republicans; K-Mart, 86 percent; WalMart, 80 percent; Home Depot, 94 percent; Outback Steakhouse, 96 percent; Tricon Global Restaurants (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell), 87 percent; Holiday Inn, 73 percent; Exxon/Mobil, 88 percent; Russell Stovers Chocolates, 100 percent; Hallmark Cards, 92 percent.

ÒBlueÓ (Democratic): Barnes & Noble, 98 percent to Democrats; BorderÕs, 100 percent; Calvin Klein, 100 percent; Footlockers, 100 percent; E & J Gallo Winery, 90 percent; Sonic Corporation, 100 percent; LoewÕs Hotels, 99 percent; Hyatt Hotels, 87 percent; StarbuckÕs, 100 percent; Price Club/Costco, 98 percent; Estee Lauder Companies, 91 percent.

Wurzburg Chosen: Elected new president of the Public Issues Forum at a Christmas party/reorganizational meeting of the progressive discussion group last weekend was attorney Jocelyn Wurzburg.

HARWELL ENTERS 2006 SENATE RACE

HARWELL ENTERS 2006 SENATE RACE

Posted By on Tue, Dec 14, 2004 at 4:00 AM

State Representative Beth Halteman Harwell of Nashville, who just stepped down as state Republican chairman, has thrown her hat into the race for Majority Leader Bill Frist's U.S. Senate seat in 2006.

The Republican race for the seat, which Frist will vacate to prepare for a likely 2008 presidential run, now numbers three definite contenders. Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker is already in, and former 7th District U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant is certain to follow.

Harwell revealed her intentions during and after a trip to Memphis on Monday, where she was guest of honor at the Christmas party of the Shelby County Republican Club. Simultaneous with her visit, Bob Davis of Nashville was being installed as her successor in the GOP chairmanship. That allowed her to make it definite, she confirmed Tuesday: “I absolutely intend to be a candidate for the Senate seat.”

Harwell said that sometime after the turn of the year she would be forming an exploratory committee.

On the Democratic side, 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford of Memphis has said he will be a candidate, and it is possible, though not likely, that Nashville mayor Bill Purcell will join Ford in the primary.

Friday, December 10, 2004

A Runoff Rundown

There's a case against it, and a case for it. Sometimes it's the same case.

Posted on Fri, Dec 10, 2004 at 4:00 AM

As this edition of the Flyer was getting ready for press, voters were heading to the polls to determine whether incumbent school board member Hubon "Dutch" Sandridge or his runoff opponent, Tomeka Hart, would represent District 7 on the Memphis school board for the next four years. Hart came within a hair of winning outright on November 2nd, polling 12,691 votes or 47 percent. Sandridge lagged behind, with only 8,807 votes or 33 percent, and qualified for the runoff round only because a third candidate, Terry Becton, managed 5,578 for a 21 percent showing -- enough to deprive Hart of an absolute majority and force a Sandridge-Hart runoff.

In some quarters, this circumstance has caused a good deal of hand-wringing and tut-tutting about the unfairness of it all. Though Sandridge clearly garnered something less than a vote of confidence from his constituents last month, and Hart, just as clearly, tapped a wellspring of genuine support, the challenger was in danger of losing to the incumbent because of the special circumstances of a runoff election -- in which, without another major race to help drive a large turnout, Sandridge's long-established connections might outweigh Hart's demonstrated grass-roots appeal.

So went the theory, and it was buttressed by the appearance, late in the runoff campaign, of a controversial Sandridge flyer emphasizing his party credentials in a district heavy with Democratic voters. Dirty pool, said Hart's supporters, on the grounds that A) the school board election was formally nonpartisan; and B) the local Democratic Party itself had taken no position on the candidates.

The fact remained that it was up to Hart's team, in the runoff as on Election Day, to get her voters out and to win at least a modicum of the votes that went originally for Becton. If she did (and her popularity on November 2nd certainly indicated her capacity to do so), she had little to worry about. If she couldn't, then that fact would suggest that her initial edge over the somewhat tarnished Sandridge had been ephemeral.

The idea of a runoff remains controversial. The original objections to it locally were based on its onetime usefulness to a white political establishment as a means of keeping prominent black candidates from getting into office via the achievement of a mere plurality in a crowded field. The way things now stand in local elections -- runoffs mandatory in district elections but impermissible in at-large races -- is the result of the late federal judge Jerome Turner's Solomonic way of halving the baby when faced with plaintiffs charging racial bias a decade ago.

Now that demographics have shifted locally, the racial argument aganst runoffs is either moot or it works the other way. Some of those who are boosting City Council member Carol Chumney for city mayor in 2007, for example, are frank about their hopes that she, as a white female, could win a plurality in a field that is likely to draw several male African-American candidates.

And sometimes other factors clearly outweigh race in the debate over runoffs. Take a situation from 1992: Local Republicans were revving up to change the way county elections were held, instituting a local party primary for the first time and using the election for General Sessions Court clerk to put the hammer on local office-holders. The genial long-term incumbent in that race was Gene Goldsby, who had been urged to run as the GOP's candidate but preferred to run, as he always had, as a political independent. There were two other candidates -- state senator John Ford, a Democrat, though running without party label as such, and Republican party activist Shirley Stone, who owned her party's nomination. Stone, though a virtual unknown to the population at large, drew enough party-line votes from Goldsby to give Ford a plurality.

The lesson took: Immediately thereafter the remaining white county office-holders climbed off the fence and discovered that they were, in fact, "Republicans" and would henceforth run as such. When Democrats later followed suit with their own local primaries, black office-holders and office-seekers decided they were "Democrats." The argument could be made, in fact, that the absence of a runoff in that three-way 1992 race actually worked to exacerbate racial polarities rather than to relieve them. (There is, however, one conspicuous exception to the party-line/racial-line rule: Rita Clark, a white suburbanite who has now won three consecutive races as a Democrat for county assessor.)

I leave it to the partisans for and against John Ford to fight it out as to whether his 1992 victory was an argument for or against runoff elections. In any case, Ford was defeated by current General Sessions clerk Chris Turner in 1996, when both ran as party nominees. Republican Turner barely survived his general election contest this year, winning over the Democratic nominee, state senator Roscoe Dixon, by a hair as Harvey Branch, an independent African American, garnered 1,738 votes -- somewhat more than the 1,461-vote differential between Turner and Dixon. It is generally believed that Dixon, now an administrative assistant to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, could have prevailed in a runoff.

• The Shelby County Commission, which on Monday made the latest of several past and pending decisions about appointments -- naming Steve Summerall, an assistant administrator, to the position of chief administrator -- faces another potentially vexing choice in January as commissioners contemplate the question of who should succeed Dixon as state senator from District 33.

Commissioner Michael Hooks, now serving as commission chairman, wants the seat and would be a sure thing to get the appointment from his commission mates. But Hooks knows that if he's in office as of January, when Dixon will be taking leave of his seat, he'll be subject to legislative rules against doing any fund-raising while the General Assembly is in session. That would put Hooks at a disadvantage in next year's special election for the seat, and so he is believed to favor the appointment of a strictly interim appointee -- former state representative Alvin King being the most probable candidate.

That solution would enable Hooks to run on even terms against likely opponent Kathryn Bowers, a state representative and the current chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party.

• The selection of Summerall came after a bit of bartering that resulted in two other new appointees: Floria Todd, who takes Summerall's old job as deputy administrator, and Frances Elkins, executive secretary. Clay Perry continues in his role as a second deputy administrator. Though the general public remained largely ignorant of, and indifferent to, the outcome, there had been a good deal of partisan maneuvering in the several weeks since former chief administrator Grace Hutchinson announced her resignation to serve Mayor Wharton as his chief budget officer for the schools, a job bearing the title of deputy director of the division of administration and finance.

Summerall wanted to move up and had the support, it appeared, of six of the commission's seven GOP members -- all save maverick Republican John Willingham, who favored Winslow "Buddy" Chapman, a city police director three decades ago. Chapman had been an applicant for the job when Hutchinson first got it in 2003. She had succeeded Calvin Williams, who resigned under pressure and was later indicted an accessory in the case of misconduct charges against former Juvenile Court clerk Shep Wilbun.

Besides Chapman, another former applicant seeking the chief administrator's job was City Council staff administrator Lisa Geater, who started out with solid support from the commission's six Democrats. There things stood for the last few weeks: six for Summerall; six for Geater; and one for Chapman. The logjam began to break when Democrat Cleo Kirk expressed interest in giving an assistant's position to Todd, who had a background in budgetary matters. Additional pressure was put on newly appointed commissioner George Flinn, who had been weighing all contenders, not to break ranks with his fellow Republicans. The long and the short of it: Summerall got his majority, Todd got her job, and two commissioners -- Democrat Julian Bolton and Republican Willingham -- ended up going along with the arrangement after first complaining.

Chief broker in the deal was first-term Republican David Lillard, who played a somewhat similar role in lining up votes last month for Flinn as the replacement for departed commissioner Linda Rendtorff, now Wharton's director of community affairs.

• Flinn, by the way, took his first major political step on Monday as a commissioner, announcing during a debate that he would vote against a zoning proposal by Wayman "Jackie" Welch, a developer with more than usual political clout, out of sensitivity to neighborhood residents' concerns. (A vote on the proposal was deferred, pending further negotiations between Welch and opponents of the proposal, which would add a car-wash to an existing project in Cordova.) Coupled with his deliberative course of action on the Summerall appointment, Flinn demonstrated something of an ability to tread the line between independence and collegiality.

• State senator Steve Cohen, who waged a 16-year legislative struggle on behalf of legalizing a state lottery, may be in for another long-odds, long-term battle. Cohen plans to introduce legislation in the coming session on behalf of legalizing medical marijuana for patients whose doctors recommend it. •

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

POLITICS

POLITICS

Posted By on Wed, Dec 8, 2004 at 4:00 AM

A RUNDOWN ON RUNOFFS As the newest print edition of the Flyer was getting ready for press, voters were heading to the polls to determine whether incumbent school board member Hubon "Dutch" Sandridge or his runoff opponent, Tomeka Hart, would represent District 7 on the Memphis school board for the next four years.

Hart (who would take the runoff handily) came within a hair of winning outright on November 2nd, polling 12,691 votes or 47 percent. Sandridge lagged behind, with only 8,807 votes or 33 percent and qualified for the runoff round only because a third candidate, Terry Becton, managed 5,578 for a 21-percent showing -- enough to deprive Hart of an absolute majority and force a Sandridge-Hart runoff.

In some quarters, the circumstance had caused a good deal of hand-wringing and tut-tutting about the unfairness of it all. Though Sandridge clearly garnered something less than a vote of confidence from his constituents last month, and Hart, just as clearly, tapped a wellspring of genuine support, the challenger was in danger of losing to the incumbent because of the special circumstances of a runoff election -- in which, without another major race to help drive a large turnout, Sandridge’s long-established connections might outweigh Hart's demonstrated grass-roots appeal.

So went the theory, and it was buttressed by the appearance, late in the runoff campaign, of a controversial Sandridge flyer emphasizing his party credentials in a district heavy with Democratic voters. Dirty pool, said Hart’s supporters, on the grounds that (a) the school board election was formally non-partisan; and (b) the local Democratic Party itself had taken no position on the candidates.

The fact remained that it was up to Hart's team, in the runoff as on Election Day, to get her voters out and to win at least a modicum of the votes that went originally for Becton. If she did (and her popularity on November 2nd certainly indicated her capacity to do so), she had little to worry about. If she couldn’t, then that fact would suggest that her initial edge over the somewhat tarnished Sandridge had been ephemeral -- in layman’s language, a fluke.

The idea of a runoff remains controversial. The original objections to it locally were based on its onetime usefulness to a white political establishment as a means of keeping prominent black candidates from getting into office via the achievement of a mere plurality in a crowded field. The way things now stand in local elections -- runoffs mandatory in district elections but impermissible in at-large races -- is the result of the late federal judge Jerome Turner ‘s Solomonic way of halving the baby when faced with plaintiffs charging racial bias a decade ago.

Now that demographics have shifted locally, the racial argument aganst runoffs is either moot, or it works the other way. Some of those who are boosting city council member Carol Chumney for city mayor in 2007, for example, are frank about their hopes that she, as a white female, could win a plurality in a field that is likely to draw several male, African-American candidates.

And sometimes other factors clearly outweigh race in the debate over runoffs. Take a situation from 1992: local Republicans were revving up to change the way county elections were held, instituting a local party primary for the first time and using the election for General Sessions Court clerk to put the hammer on local office-holders. The genial long-term incumbent in that race was Gene Goldsby, who had been urged to run as the GOP’s candidate but preferred to run, as he always had, as a political independent. There were two other candidates -- state Senator John Ford, a Democrat, though running without party label as such; and Republican party activist Shirley Stone, who owned her party's nomination. Stone, though a virtual unknown to the population at large, drew enough party-line votes from Goldsby to give Ford a plurality.

The lesson took: Immediately thereafter the remaining white county office-holders climbed off the fence and discovered that they were, in fact, “Republicans” and would henceforth run as such. When Democrats later followed suit with their own local primaries, black office-holders and office-seekers decided they were "Democrats." The argument could be made, in fact, that the absence of a runoff in that three-way 1992 race actually worked to exacerbate racial polarities rather than to relieve them. (There is, however, one conspicuous exception to the party-line/racial-line rule: Rita Clark, a white suburbanite who has now won three consecutive races, as a Democrat, for county assessor.)

I leave it to the partisans for and against John Ford to fight it out as to whether his 1992 victory was an argument for or against runoff elections. In any case, Ford was defeated by current General Sessions clerk Chris Turner in 1996, when both ran as party nominees. Republican Turner barely survived his general election contest this year, winning over the Democratic nominee, state Senator Roscoe Dixon, by a hair as Harvey Branch, an independent African American, garnered 1,738 votes -- somewhat more than the 1,461-vote differential between Turner and Dixon. It is generally believed that Dixon, now an administrative assistant to Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, could have prevailed in a runoff.

The Shelby County Commission, which on Monday made the latest of several past and pending decisions about appointments -- naming Steve Summerall, an assistant administrator, to the position of chief administrator -- faces another potentially vexing choice in January as commissioners contemplate the question of who should succeed Dixon as state senator from District 33.

Commissioner Michael Hooks, now serving as commission chairman, wants the seat and would be a sure thing to get the appointment from his commission mates. But Hooks knows that if he’s in office as of January, when Dixon will be taking leave of his seat, he’ll be subject to legislative rules against doing any fund-raising while the General Assembly is in session. That would put Hooks at a disadvantage in next year's special election for the seat, and so he is believed to favor the appointment of a strictly interim appointee -- former state representative Alvin King being the most probable candidate.

That solution would enable Hooks to run on even terms against likely opponent Kathryn Bowers, a state representative and the current chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party.

The selection of Summerall came after a bit of bartering that resulted in two other new appointees: Floria Todd, who takes Summerrall's old job as deputy administrator, and Frances Elkins, executive secretary. Clay Perry continues in his role as a second deputy administrator. Though the general public remained largely ignorant of, and indifferent to, the outcome, there had been a good deal of partisan maneuvering in the several weeks since former chief administrator Grace Hutchinson announced her resignation to serve Mayor Wharton as his chief budget officer for the schools, a job bearing the title of deputy director of the division of administration and finance.

Summerall wanted to move up and had the support, it appeared, of six of the commission’s seven GOP members -- all save maverick Republican John Willingham, who favored Winslow “Buddy” Chapman, a city police director three decades ago. Chapman had been an applicant for the job when Hutchinson first got it in 2003. She had succeeded Calvin Williams, who resigned under pressure and was later indicted an accessory in the case of misconduct charges against former Juvenile Court Clerk Shep Wilbun.

Besides Chapman, who failed to win any backers other than Willingham, another former applicant seeking the chief administrator’s job was city council staff administrator Lisa Geater, who started out with solid support from the commission’s six Democrats. There things stood for the last few weeks: Six for Summerall; six for Geater, and one for Chapman. The logjam began to break when Democrat Cleo Kirk expressed interested in giving an assistant’s position to Todd, who had a background in budgetary matters. Additional pressure was put on newly appointed commissioner George Flinn, who had been weighing all contenders, not to break ranks with his fellow Republicans. The long and the short of it: Summerall got his majority, Todd got her job, and two commissioners -- Democrat Julian Bolton and Republican Willingham -- ended up going along with the arrangement after first complaining (Bolton: “raw politics”; Willingham: "a package deal.")

Chief broker in the deal was first-term Republican David Lillard, who played a somewhat similar role in lining up votes last month for Flinn as the replacement for departed commissioner Linda Rendtorff, now Wharton’s director of community affairs.

Flinn, by the way, took his first major political step on Monday as a commissioner, announcing during a debate that he would vote against a zoning proposal by Wayman "Jackie" Welch, a developer with more than usual political clout, out of sensitivity to neighborhood residents’ concerns. (A vote on the proposal was deferred, pending further negotiations between Welch and opponents of the proposal, which would add a car-wash to an existing project in Cordova.) Coupled with his deliberative course of action on the Summerall appointment, Flinn demonstrated something of an ability to thread the line between independence and collegiality.

State Senator Steve Cohen, who waged a 16-year legislative struggle on behalf of legalizing a state lottery, may be in for another long-odds, long-term battle. Cohen plans to introduce legislation in the coming session on behalf of legalizing medical marijuana for patients whose doctors recommend it.

Friday, December 3, 2004

The Last Ditch

Whether victim or aggressor, Chumney keeps the pressure on about MLGW.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 3, 2004 at 4:00 AM

People normally make one of two assumptions about the City Council's member from District 5. In one view, Carol Chumney is a shameless showboat and opportunist, hell-bent on running for mayor in 2007 and heedless of other public officials' feelings -- especially those of her colleagues. In another interpretation, the outspoken first-term council member is a gallant seeker after truth, justice, and good government -- a veritable tribune of the people.

Adherents of both views have grown mightily in the course of the ongoing controversy over Memphis Light, Gas & Water, the giant city-owned utility.

Once again last week, Chumney became the focus of two-way discontent when she protested the decision by a council majority to drop its investigation of issues relating to how MLGW's prepayment last year to the Tennessee Valley Authority was brokered.

Chumney was one of three members to vote against the decision to defer to an ongoing and presumably parallel investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and, potentially, other federal agencies. Voting with Chum-ney were Tom Marshall and Brent Taylor. But in a written statement prepared this week, Chumney includes Marshall, in his role as chairman of the council's Personnel, Intergovernmental, and Annexation Committee, among those she takes to task, either for failure to follow through with the investigation or for efforts to suppress it.

Though she later acknowledged that some of her word usage in the statement -- which appeared briefly on the Flyer Web site Monday and was removed pending an effort to verify its charges -- might have been inappropriate, Chumney stands by the substance of her assertions. In the statement (titled "WHAT THE PUBLIC DOESN'T KNOW ABOUT THE CITY COUNCIL'S MLGW BOND INQUIRY") she contends, among other things, that Marshall was prevailed upon by other council members -- Rickey Peete and unnamed others -- not to include Rodney Herenton, son of Mayor Willie Herenton and a member of the city's brokerage community, in a formal request for written answers regarding their roles in the affair. The request was, de facto, the last action in the council's investigation. As Chumney notes, some have alleged that the younger Herenton -- employed successively by Morgan Keegan and the FTN Financial division of First Tennessee Bank, two parties to the eventual brokering arrangement -- might have been in a position to profit directly from it.

Both the ongoing FBI probe and the council's more tentative -- and now terminated -- one were launched amid suspicions by some that Herenton had intervened in the structuring of the MLGW/TVA deal to reward brokerages and law firms that had supported his campaigns financially.

Peete angrily denied the alleged intervention with Marshall, and Marshall backed him up later Monday, saying, "I never related to Councilman Chumney that Rickey Peete or anybody else asked me not to include the mayor's son, Rodney Herenton." Maintaining that it was "my decision and my decision alone," Marshall did acknowledge that he had conferred with other council members before leaving Rodney Herenton off the list of those formally questioned under council letterhead because, as Marshall had said in a memo cited by Chumney, he "was not listed as a participant in the official transaction."

Marshall said that staff members who audited his conversation on the matter with Chumney "confirm that I never stated Rickey Peete had that involvement." Chumney, however, stands by her assertion. In her written statement Monday, she complained further about the wording of Marshall's letter containing questions to former MLGW president Herman Morris, suggesting that Morris should have been asked, regarding alleged taped telephone conversations with the mayor and others on the MLGW matter, "whether or not such tapes exist and if so, request[ing] that they be produced to the council for our review." By asking only if Morris had tapes in his possession, said Chumney, Marshall allowed him "to artfully dodge the question ... leaving the public in the dark on the important issue of whether taped conversations do exist regarding the deal."

Chumney also wrote that she was "slandered by both the Mayor, and Councilman [Edmund] Ford; and threatened by Ford and a member of the Mayor's administration for simply asking questions." Chumney, a lawyer, conceded Tuesday that her use of the term "slander" was loose and said she was willing to withdraw it. But she insisted that Herenton, who called her "mean, angry, and reckless" last June, had meant thereby to intimidate her.

As for Councilman Ford, Chumney cited his widely reported (and recorded) statement to her at a council committee meeting chaired by Marshall last week, "You better watch your back." Though others present, including the Flyer's John Branston, agree with Chumney that the remark was unwarranted and deserved a reprimand from Marshall, a recording of Ford's remarks indicate some degree of ambiguity. His previous sentence, imputing an alliance between Chumney and former MLGW executive Larry Thompson (one that Chumney denies), was "He's going to get you in trouble," and could lead to an interpretation of the "watch your back" remark as a "fair warning" (subsequent words from Ford) about Thompson's influence.

The suggestion in her Monday statement that "a member of the Mayor's administration" had threatened her turned out, as Chumney amplified on it Tuesday, to refer to remarks made to her at a recent council meeting by the mayor's special assistant, Pete Aviotti.

Both Chumney and Aviotti agree that at a recent social gathering the councilwoman and Aviotti's wife, a First Tennessee employee, quarreled about Chumney's skepticism concerning the bank's relationship to the MLGW/TVA deal. Both agree that the parting between Chumney and the Aviottis was cordial. And both agree that Aviotti greeted Chumney at the next council meeting with a reference to Chumney's departure from the party. As Aviotti remembers it, he said, "Carol, I'm glad the police didn't pick you up. You had three glasses of wine." Chumney remembers him as saying, "I could have had you picked up."

Aviotti insists, in any case, that he was only teasing and that, when Chumney responded, "I only had one glass," he said, jovially, "Oh, I know. I know." Chumney's recollection is that Aviotti persisted in stating she had consumed three glasses of wine. Interestingly, Aviotti also recalls having hugged Chumney when she left the social gathering and having said "Be careful" in a solicitous manner. Chumney doesn't recall those words, but she insists that Aviotti's manner and meaning at the council meeting later were both meant to intimidate -- an interpretation scoffed at by Aviotti, who says that, in any case, he was not acting on behalf of Mayor Herenton.

Elaborating on all the circumstances Tuesday, Chumney continued to insist on the existence of "a culture of threats, intimidation, and bullying" at City Hall and asserted, "Anyone who opposes the mayor on any issue is either fired or threatened [with firing]." She cited the cases of Morris, forced out by the mayor late last year, and a succession of discharged police directors under Herenton. (Gale Jones Carson, the mayor's spokesperson, vehemently denied all Chumney's allegations on Monday.)

And Chumney stands by the substance of her Monday statement -- specifically that, as she put it then, the council, in opting out of what had once been billed as a "Watergate-type" investigation of its own, had abrogated its "fiduciary responsibility in oversight of MLGW operations." Further: "Perhaps they [the council majority] are unaware that the U.S. Attorney will not investigate violations of the city charter, or ordinances. Or perhaps they simply forgot when they ran for the council, that the old adage applies: If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen."

Whatever the merits of her case, Chumney plainly intends to remain in the kitchen herself, close by the cauldron of the MLGW matter and other controversial issues -- even though, as she acknowledges, dealing with the reaction of her colleagues over the past several months has from time to time constituted "rough duty." As for allegations, increasingly made by some of her colleagues and other observers, that she's merely grandstanding, she sighs and says, "What difference would that make, even if it were true, which I deny? Does that mean these issues should not be dealt with? I don't think so!"

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

POLITICS: The Last Ditch

Whether victim or aggressor, Chumney keeps the pressure on about MLGW.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 1, 2004 at 4:00 AM

THE LAST DITCH People normally make one of two assumptions about the city councilÕs member from District 5. In one view, Carol Chumney is a shameless showboat and opportunist, hell-bent on running for mayor in 2007 and heedless of other public officialsÕ feelings and prerogatives Ð especially those of her colleagues. In another interpretation, the outspoken first-term council member is a gallant seeker after truth, justice, and good government -- a veritable tribune of the people.

Adherents of both views have grown mightily in the course of the ongoing controversy over Memphis Light Gas & Water, the giant city-owned utility.

Once again last week, Chumney became the focus of two-way discontent when she protested the decision by a council majority to drop its investigation of issues relating to how MLGWÕs prepayment last year to the Tennessee Valley Authority was brokered.

Chumney was one of three members to vote against the decision to defer to an ongoing and presumably parallel investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and, potentially, other federal agencies. Voting with Chumney last week were Tom Marshall and Brent Taylor. But in a written statement prepared this week, Chumney includes Marshall, in his role as chairman of the councilÕs personnel, intergovernmental & annexation committee, among those she takes to task, either for failure to follow through with the investigation or for efforts to suppress it.

Though she later acknowledged that some of her word usage in the statement Ð which appeared briefly on the Flyer website Monday and was removed, pending an effort to verify its charges Ð might have been inappropriate, Chumney stands by the substance of her assertions. In the statement (entitled ÒWHAT THE PUBLIC DOESNÕT KNOW ABOUT THE CITY COUNCILÕS MLGW BOND INQUIRYÓ) she contends, among other things:

(1) That Marshall was prevailed upon by other council members Ð Rickey Peete and unnamed others -- not to include Rodney Herenton, son of Mayor Willie Herenton and a member of the cityÕs brokerage community, in a formal request for written answers regarding their role in the affair. (The request was, de facto, the last action in the councilÕs investigation). As Chumney notes, some have alleged that the younger Herenton -- employed successively by Morgan Keegan and the FTN Financial division of First Tennessee Bank, two parties to the eventual brokering arrangement Ð might have been in a position to profit directly from it.

Both the ongoing FBI probe and the councilÕs more tentative and now terminated one were launched amid suspicions by some that Herenton had intervened in the structuring of the MLGW/TVA deal to reward brokerages and law firms that had supported his campaigns financially.

Peete angrily denied the allegation concerning his alleged intervention with Marshall, and Marshall backed him up later Monday, saying, ÒI never related to councilman Chumney that Rickey Peete or anybody else asked me not to include the mayorÕs son, Rodney Herenton.Ó Maintaining that it was Òmy decision and my decision alone,Ó Marshall did acknowledge that he had conferred with other council members before leaving Rodney Herenton off the list of those formally questioned under council letterhead because, as Marshall had said in a memo cited by Chumney, Rodney Herenton Òwas not listed as a participant in the official transaction.Ó

Marshall said that staff members who audited his conversation on the matter with Chumney Òconfirm that I never stated Rickey Peete had that involvement.Ó Chumney, however, stands by her assertion. In her written statement Monday, she complained further about the wording of MarshallÕs letter containing questions to former MLGW president Herman Morris, suggesting that Morris should have been asked, regarding alleged taped telephone conversations with the mayor and others on the MLGW matter, Òwhether or not such tapes exist and if so, request[ing] that they be produced to the Council for our review.Ó By asking only if Morris had tapes in his possession, said Chumney, Marshall allowed him Òto artfully dodge the questionÉleaving the public in the dark on the important issue of whether taped conversations do exist regarding the deal.Ó

(2) That Chumney was Òslandered by both the Mayor, and Councilman [Edmund] Ford; and threatened by Ford and a member of the MayorÕs administration for simply asking questions.Ó Chumney, a lawyer, conceded Tuesday that her use of the term ÒslanderÓ was loose and said she was willing to withdraw it. But she insisted that Herenton, who called her Òmean, angry, and recklessÓ last June, had meant thereby to intimidate her.

As for Councilman Ford, Chumney cited his widely reported (and recorded) statement to her at a council committee meeting chaired by Marshall last week, ÒYou better watch your back.Ó Though others present, including the FlyerÕs John Branston, agree with Chumney that the remark was unwarranted and deserved a reprimand from Marshall, a recording of FordÕs remarks indicates some degree of ambiguity. His previous sentence, imputing an alliance between Chumney and former MLGW executive Larry Thompson (one that Chumney denies), was ÒHeÕs going to get you in trouble,Ó and could lead to an interpretation of the Òwatch your backÓ remark as a Òfair warningÓ (subsequent words from Ford) about ThompsonÕs influence.

The suggestion in her Monday statement that Òa member of the MayorÕs administrationÓ had threatened her turned out, as Chumney amplified on it Tuesday, to refer to remarks made to her at a recent council meeting by the mayorÕs special assistant, Pete Aviotti.

Both Chumney and Aviotti agree that, at a recent social gathering, the councilwoman and AviottiÕs wife, a First Tennessee employee, quarreled about ChumneyÕs skepticism concerning the bankÕs relationship to the MLGW/TVA deal. Both agree that the parting between Chumney and the Aviottis was cordial. And both agree that Aviotti greeted Chumney at the next council meeting with a reference to ChumneyÕs departure from the party. As Aviotti remembers it, he said, ÒCarol, IÕm glad the police didnÕt pick you up. You had three glasses of wine.Ó Chumney remembers him as saying, ÒI could have had you picked up.Ó

Aviotti insists, in any case, that he was only teasing and that, when Chumney responded, ÒI only had one glass,Ó he said, jovially, ÒOh, I know. I know.Ó ChumneyÕs recollection is that Aviotti persisted in stating she had consumed three glasses of wine. Interestingly, Aviotti also recalls having hugged Chumney when she left the social gathering and having said, ÒBe carefulÓ in a solicitous manner. Chumney doesnÕt recall those words, but she insists that AviottiÕs manner and meaning at the council meeting later were both meant to intimidate Ð an interpretation scoffed at by Aviotti, who says that, in any case, he was not acting on behalf of Mayor Herenton.

Elaborating on all the circumstances Tuesday, Chumney continued to insist on the existence of Òa cultureÉof threats, intimidation, and bullyingÓ at City Hall and asserted, ÒAnyone who opposes the mayor on any issue is either fired or threatened [with firing]É.Ó She cited the cases of Morris, forced out by the mayor late last year, and a succession of discharged police directors under Herenton. (Gale Jones Carson, the mayorÕs spokesperson, vehemently denied all ChumneyÕs allegations on Monday.)

And Chumney stands by the substance of her Monday statement Ð specifically that, as she put it then, the council, in opting out of what had once been billed as a ÒWatergate-typeÓ investigation of its own, had abrogated its Òfiduciary responsibility is oversight of MLGW operations.Ó Further: ÒPerhaps they [the council majority] are unaware that the U.S. Attorney will not investigate violations of the city charter, or ordinances. Or perhaps they simply forgot when they ran for the Council, that the old adage applies: if you canÕt take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.Ó

Whatever the merits of her case, Chumney plainly intends to remain in the kitchen herself, close by the cauldron of the MLGW matter and other controversial matters Ð even though, as she acknowledges, dealing with the reaction of her colleagues over the past several months has from time to time constituted Òrough duty.Ó As for allegations, increasingly made by some of her colleagues and other observers, that sheÕs merely grandstanding, she sighs and says, ÒWhat difference would that make, even if it were true, which I deny? Does that mean these issues should not be dealt with? I donÕt think so!Ó

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