Tuesday, August 30, 2005

POLITICS

Staff-driven or not, Ford blunder on Parole Board letter becomes a potential issue.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 30, 2005 at 4:00 AM

IMPERFECT STORM

Whether or not some oversight by a staff person was responsible for the ill-fated letter to the state Parole Board on behalf of convicted murderer Phillip Michael Britt — sent out over 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. ’s signature and later disavowed by the congressman — anyone who has logged any time at all in a congressional office is aware that most mail is staff-written and signed either by auto-pen or by staffers emulating the boss’s signature.

The greater part of such correspondence is in response to somewhat standard requests for information or assistance or for an elaboration of the congressman’s or senator’s views on this or that topic of the day. And the sheer volume of incoming mail means that most inquiries are met with form letters.

For whatever reason, Britt’s appeal to Ford must have found itself in a pile of such mail destined for routine treatment and was not, as it clearly should have been, directed to Ford for a discretionary response by the congressman himself. The odds for such a mischance occurring were no doubt increased by a stepped-up travel schedule on the part of Ford, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate. It is difficult to believe that the congressman, who is nothing if not cautious in his rhetoric (often elaborately so), would have knowingly written a letter of even qualified support for Britt, who was a principal in the brutal and notorious murder-for-hire of Memphian Debbie Groseclose in 1977.

Whatever the case, it was a Class A boo-boo — and though Ford has manfully taken responsibility for the error (enduring in the process a severe reaming-out over the air by local radio talk-show host Mike Fleming), it has already impacted his Senate race, overshadowing his endorsement by the state AFL-CIO earlier in the week that the story broke.

Sooner or later, somebody on the Ford staff will have some serious ‘splaining to do. Most likely, that moment of truth has already occurred — and not, one would assume, to the offending staffer’s gratification. Expectations governing work in the congressman’s office, as previously in that of his father and predecessor, a zealot for constituent service, are exacting, even by congressional standards.

Simultaneous with the Parole Board flap, but presumably unrelated to it, Rep. Ford has been breaking in a new press secretary, Corinne Ciocia, who succeeded Zac Wright early in August. Wright had returned to his Tennessee home, it was said, as the consequence of back problems and other assorted physical complaints.

Thus did the revolving staff door swing again in the Ford congressional office.

Wright’s immediate predecessor, the short-lived Carson Chandler, was reportedly fired in late 2004 for divulging to Roll Call, a Capitol Hill publication for insiders, that the congressman was a frequent weekend visitor to Florida. Disclosed the periodical on November 22 of last year: “Ford’s press secretary says the Congressman goes to Miami often to visit his father, former Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), and his brother.”

That sort of candor, which clashed somewhat with the stereotyped notion of dutiful back-and-forthing to the district, was bad enough. But what apparently cut it with the congressman were two further revelations in the Roll Call story — one that began this way: “Ford was chilling poolside recently at the schwanky [sic] Delano hotel in Miami. He wore a bathing suit and Washington Redskins baseball cap, puffed on a stogie, and sipped a fruity frozen drink….,” and another that dished on the congressman’s alleged penchant for pricey pedicures.

Although Chandler was specifically ruled out as the source for the latter item, his name was all over the rest of the column, and the effect of the whole was to get him shown the exit.

During his tenure, which lasted a tad longer than six months, Wright committed no such gaffes. He churned out press releases and doggedly monitored Ford’s press availabilities so as to exclude potentially embarrassing or unfriendly questions. But the wear and tear of his high-pressure job began to show on Wright — or so it seemed to some who remembered him from his prior service as chief press aide to the state Democratic Party — and his departure was not altogether a surprise.

For the record, the hard-working Wright’s last press release on Ford’s behalf, dispatched on July 27, was entitled “Ford Stands Up for America’s Future.”

Frist-Lott (cont’d) : As fate would have it, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississipppi was due in Memphis this week for a book-signing, one week after an appearance here by his partner/nemesis/successor Bill Frist, subject of a decidedly unfriendly reference in the newly published memoir by Lott, Herding Cats. [UPDATE: Lott, stranded in his home town of Pascagoula, Mississippi, was prevented from coming when his flight to Memphis was cancelled due to Hurricane Katrina.]

In the book, the Mississippian accuses former protege Frist of “betrayal” for taking advantage of Lott’s impolitic praise of centenarian Strom Thurmond in late 2002 in order to take over as Majority Leader. As noted here last week, Frist had told the Flyer as far back as 1998 that he intended at some point to make a bid for the job.

After a luncheon appearance before the downtown Rotary Club at the Convention Center last Tuesday, the Tennessee senator was asked about what Lott had written.

"I’ve not read the comments, I’ve not read the book,” Frist answered, then did his best to pour honey on the wound. “I have tremendous respect for Trent Lott. I’ve worked with him very closely. I have lunch with him two days a week. He helped me on the energy bill. He helped move America forward on the highway bill, on the recent CAFTA bill. I look forward to working with him constructively. And that’s pretty much where it sits. I know that it was very difficult in the past when he, uh, sat down, and I respect his interpretation of the events that led to that. I’m really looking to the future and to my continued close work with a man who I respect tremendously, Trent Lott, who’s served the people of Mississippi in a very positive and constructive way."

And what about the resolution of the filibuster battle some months back, which was ended in a compromise solution proposed by his likely presidential rival, Senator John McCain? Did he regard this alternative as a defeat for his own hard-line position?

Frist was determined to be upbeat about this, too: "You know, being the elected majority leader of the United States Senate means you do certain things, and I have led on principle. I have led on the basis that I say I’m going to do something, and then I go ahead and do it. I feel strongly on behalf of that principle that nominees deserve and up or down vote. It is our responsibility to treat these nominees with respect, all these nominees, and with advice and consent, and in doing that, I stood on principle to give them an up or down vote.

“Other people felt that not all candidates deserve an up or down vote, and I, you know, respect that, but I don’t agree with it. In terms of was I successful or not, in standing on principle, six nominees who were filibustered in the last Congress by the other side of the aisle, who thought that they had no chance in the future, because of my standing on principle are now sitting federal judges serving the American people."|

Hurricane Kurita: The field of would-be successors to Frist, who will vacate his seat next year to prepare an expected bid for president, includes Rep. Ford, a Democrat, and three Republicans — former congressmen Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary and former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker. It also includes another Democrat, state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, who continues to hang in there with an innovative advertising campaign on Web sites and blogs, despite some staff losses and slowdowns in her more conventional fundraising.

Kurita, who has gained adherents among Democrats who consider Ford too ambiguously conservative, will blow into town this weekend. Her several local appearances include one before the Germantown Democratic Club at the Germantown library on Saturday morning.

New Dance Moves

Since former state senator John Ford has indicated he still intends to plead not guilty of extortion and bribery in the Tennessee Waltz scandal (and to demonstrate in the process that his government accusers were in fact the Bad Guys), it was probably inevitable that one of his fellow indictees should work things in exactly the opposite direction.

When state representative Chris Newton of Cleveland came to Memphis Tuesday morning to change his not-guilty plea to guilty in federal court, he did his best not only to present himself as an innocent in the general, not the legal, sense of the term but almost as a de facto member of the prosecution. (If he turns out to provide state’s evidence in cases against others, that could turn out for real.) While praising Newton (who resigned his legislative seat last week) as having been “forthright,” however, assistant U.S. attorney Tim DiScenza indicated Tuesday that no plea bargaining had been pursued in the case.

First, Newton responded to Judge Jon McCalla’s lengthy reading of the indictment with a highly qualified plea of guilty, alleging straight-facedly that he had intended only to accept a campaign contribution but conceding that he accepted money from the bogus FBI-established eCycle firm “at least in part” to influence the course of legislation.

Talking to members of the media later, Newton lavishly praised both the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office and proclaimed that “the process of rebuilding public trust in our institutions of government, especially the Tennessee General Assembly … begins here with me today.” Though Newton has now copped to being a felon, he was within a few dollars and a few procedures of actually being legal. DiScenza alluded in court Tuesday to a scandal within the scandal — the fact that lobbyist/co-defendant Charles Love of Chattanooga, one of the “bagmen” in the case, had admitted skimming most of the eCycle money intended for Newton. Of the $4,500 routed his way, Newton only got $1,500 — just $500 more than the legal limit for a contribution.

Asked by a reporter how he felt about being skimmed, Newton beamed good-naturedly and pantomimed his answer: “You’re bad!”

Newton’s change of plea follows that of Love’s fellow bagman Barry Myers and puts pressure on the other accused — besides Ford, state senators Kathryn Bowers and Ward Crutchfield and former state senator Roscoe Dixon — to follow suit. This dance could be over before it really gets started good.

UPDATES: HOOKS AND BROOKS

Hooks Indicted: Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks Sr., long under a cloud after his name surfaced in connection with the first “Tennesse Waltz” revelations, was formally charged Tuesday by the Shelby County grand jury with taking $24,000 in bribes from the FBI’s sham “eCycle” electronics firm.

Hooks, who had acknowledged having some involvement with the firm when the news of the FBI sting broke in May, turned himself in at the federal building Tuesday after releasing this statement to his fellow commissioners: “You will undoubtedly hear in the media today news of my indictment. I want to apologize to you for any cloud this issue may put over the County Commission and staff. I ask for your prayers.''

The indictment charges Hooks with receiving money from eCycle in several installments, beginning in September of last year and continuing through March of this year, months during which he was preparing and launching what proved to be an unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat – ironically, one that had been vacated by fellow indictee Roscoe Dixon and that was ultimately won by another indictee, Kathryn Bowers.

Hooks will make a formal plea regarding the charge on September 7 – the anniversary of the first sums received by him from an undercover agent last year.

Brooks Election Appeal rejected: In the course of an hoc meeting of the state Democratic Party executive committee, one conducted partly by conference call from Nashville, the protest by state Representative Henri Brooks of her 20-vote defeat by Ophelia Ford in a special state Senate race was rejected.

A member of the committee said afterward that no formal motion was ever made, and thus no formal vote was taken, on Brooks’ charges that several potential voters had not been apprised of their eligibility and opportunity to vote in the election, held on August 4th, following a change in address. “She just didn’t make the case, and there was evidence refuting her,” said the committee member.

No information was immediately available on Brooks’ further intentions and her possible recourse in the judicial system.

Tuesday’s decision means that Ford, who was thereby formally certified by the committee as the Democratic nominee, will go on to face Republican Terry Roland and independent Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges in the special District 29 general election on September 15. The seat being contested is the one vacated in late May by ‘Tennessee Waltz’ indictee John Ford.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Staying the Course

Congressman Harold Ford still believes in the Iraq war and in Bush's "instinct."

Posted By on Fri, Aug 26, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Though he continues to insist that President Bush rethink the nation's current strategy in Iraq, Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr. made it clear last week that he would not repudiate his original support of the president's decision to intervene militarily in that Middle Eastern nation.

And, while praising as "a brave young lady" Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star mother who had been keeping a well-publicized vigil outside the president's vacation home in Crawford, Texas, Ford declined to second-guess Bush's decision not to meet with Sheehan concerning the war in which her son Casey lost his life.

Addressing the annual awards banquet of the University of Memphis Law School alumni on Friday night, Ford expressed his initial support of the war effort this way: "I support this war in Iraq. I supported it from the very beginning for one reason: Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. Now, there are those who criticize and quarrel with this and make the point over and over again that perhaps we shouldn't have done it the way we've done it, and I would agree. But I wouldn't blame the president, or anybody else for that matter, from waking up on September 12th and wondering aloud what would happen if Saddam Hussein and bin Laden married."

The congressman continued: "It would be very easy for us to sit back in the comfort of our own homes and say, Well, one is secular and one is religious and they won't. It would be very easy for us to think that 9/11 wouldn't happen, but it did."

Bush's "instinct" was right, said Ford, who has visited Iraq three times in the last two years and plans a fourth visit. But he added that there is "a lot of room for change" in how the president pursues operations in Iraq. "I love my president. I love him personally," Ford said. "But he's just wrong - wrong for not being willing to admit that we've made some mistakes. It was right to take him [Saddam] down but wrong to think that we can't right this course."

In particular, Ford said, military action by itself cannot achieve our aims. He said it was incumbent on Americans to understand Islam and suggested the creation of university curricula to facilitate just that. "They understand us, and we don't understand them," he said.

Without naming Saudi Arabia as such, Ford was critical of the administration's policy of "subsidizing the same group of people" who had suppressed women's rights and otherwise curtailed freedom in their own country and had given financial support to Islamic extremist groups.

Spelling that out, in remarks after his speech, Ford said, "I'm not calling the Saudis bad people. My point is that it's clear that the majority of the people on those [9/11] planes were Saudis. It's clear that the Saudi government supports the radical Wahhabism, as it's called."

Concerning Sheehan's vigil, Ford said, "Americans have a right to express their views, and that young lady lost her son and wanted the president to have a conversation with her about that. It's clear we really don't have a strategy. I can't answer for the president as to why he didn't meet with her."

Ford, considered the Democratic frontrunner in next year's U.S. Senate race, added: "If I were president, we'd be doing things a lot different than this president is doing them. I do know that we don't seem to have a clear plan."

"Put that foolishness to rest."

The name of A C Wharton keeps turning up on this or that political blogster's Web site in connection with a possible race for Ford's presumably soon-to-be-vacant 9th District congressional seat.

Forget about it. Asked about it this week, the Shelby County mayor made about as clear-cut and definitive a rejection of the idea as it is possible for a politician to make in this day and age.

"Let me be as clear and unequivocal as possible," Wharton said. "I have not had any intention, do not have any intention, plans, whatever, to run for Congress."

Even Washington, D.C., itself held no charm for Wharton. "I've been there and done that," he said. "I was a trial lawyer with the EOC [Economic Opportunity Commission], and I worked with another firm there. I get in there once in a while to testify and do some business. No, I have no interest."

No interest, no plans, no intention: Out of the mouths of other politicians, anyhow, these can be political wiggle words. Would the mayor eliminate all doubt by making his renunciation of a congressional race absolute and categorical? "Yes," he answered firmly, maintaining that he had owned only two objectives politically. "One I accomplished when I won in 2002. And I want to run again. That's it."

Wharton continued to nail the door shut. "We already have an excellent congressman, and whether he runs [for the U.S. Senate] or not, and I'm confident he will, I have absolutely no interest in that job. And look, I'm 61 years old. I just started this career. It's rough enough to have to run every four years. The way Congress is, I'd be lucky to say at about age 85 [here Wharton assumed a creaky, codger's voice], 'By George, I finally got something passed.'"

The county mayor went on to note the post-9/11 searches and restrictions on one's movements on Capitol Hill and to contrast that with the freer and easier atmosphere of 30 years ago, when he first experienced Washington as a visitor. "I have a better job here," he concluded. A final comment concerning the speculation about his running for Congress: "I wish you'd do me a favor and put that foolishness to rest."

Deed done. Read it and weep, bloggers.

Wharton, Chumney,

on downtown parks:

Some days earlier, the Shelby County mayor had weighed in on the still smoldering, if somewhat dormant, matter of reconfiguring three downtown city parks.

Even as the City Council and Memphis mayor Willie Herenton seemed ready to remove the issue from the table, Wharton floated a new idea in an interview: namely, to amend the sites of the three controversial downtown parks - Forrest Park, Jefferson Davis Park, and Confederate Park - so as to provide "full disclosure" of the historical facts.

"In other words, you might have an elaborate plaque nearby the statue of General Forrest explaining all his wartime exploits and why it is he was venerated and thought a military genius, but also nearby you should have another plaque or memorial pointing out the criticism he's received and the actual facts concerning it - the slave-owning, the possibility of a massacre, the Klan allegations, all of that."

Wharton said it would be a good idea also to add in each of the Confederate-related parks plaques or prominent signs indicating other historical and tourist sites - for example, the National Civil Rights Museum - where visitors could acquaint themselves with another side of the historical context.

And City Council member Carol Chumney, in an e-mail response to the issue, also advanced some thoughts, some of them critical of Herenton.

Said Chumney: "First, I would like to know why Mayor Herenton proposed a resolution to lease the Forrest park to UT, with provisions that it could not be used for another purpose without his approval, and then withdrew the proposal with the added language that the council would also have to approve any alternative use of the park?

"If the lease of the park is a good deal for the citizens of Memphis, as originally proposed by the Mayor, then why isn't it still a good deal for the citizens of Memphis under the democratic common-sense principles of a balance of powers by adding a Council review? Was there another agenda here all along to develop the park? Even so, this issue is bigger than who sits in any elected position."

And the outspoken councilwoman made her own proposal - one somewhat consistent with Wharton's: "What has been left out of the debate altogether is a solid review and discussion on how to best market our image and history to attract tourists, bring jobs, and tell the full story of our history from divergent viewpoints.

"This could include broadening the presentation in the parks, identifying and restoring historical properties, and/or adding exhibits to the National Civil Rights Museum, Wonders, the Pink Palace, or other venues that will share the lessons we can all learn from the former days."

An Old, Old Story

Publication last week of Herding Cats, a memoir by former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, has drawn attention because of Lott's charge that his GOP successor as majority leader, Tennessee's Bill Frist, undermined him to get the job after the flap over Lott's ill-considered birthday praise in 2002 of Strom Thurmond. It was a "betrayal," said Lott. Lest it be thought that the ambitious Frist was propelled only by that scandal, he told the Flyer in 1998 that "a lot of us are not really satisfied with how things are going" on Lott's watch. Frist said then that if "20 or so" Republican senators were prepared to support him, he might launch a leadership bid.

The senator, who is vacating his Senate seat next year, was in Memphis this week as part of a statewide "listening tour." At Rotary, Frist received an overwhelming show of upraised hands in support of his position favoring federal funding of stem-cell research.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

POLITICS

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2005 at 4:00 AM

FRIST COMES TO LISTEN -- AND TO SHOW AND TELL

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, looking into a year, 2006, in which he intends to vacate his Senate seat and, as everybody understands, seek the presidency of the United States, came to Memphis on Tuesday as the last stage of what he has been calling a statewide “listening tour.”

No doubt he is interested in hearing what’s on his constituents’ minds. He is also interested in telling them what’s on his mind. And, as he addressed the downtown Memphis Rotary Club at the Convention Center on Tuesday, he saw to both purposes.

He told the members frankly that he’d used his influence to get a variety of projects funded that were of interest to Memphis. He told them that he had three main concerns that he intended to deal with in what was left of his second Senate term: (1) China, and the trade and job issues associated with that long-term colossus; (2) the cost of health care; and (3) the War on Terror.

Frist, a renowned transplant surgeon before his election and a physician who still plies his trade in pro bono missions to the Third World, also took a poll of his audience on the question of embryonic stem cell research. How many people thought the government should keep hands off and not contribute additional funding to such research? he asked. And he got a sprinkling of hands. How many thought that the government should indeed get behind embryonic stem cell research with accelerated funding?

This latter was precisely the course he had recently recommended, of course – to the dismay of the social conservatives whose support he had been courting for most of the previous year, and to the satisfaction of his medical peers and, if the polls are to be trusted, to the majority of his fellow citizens. Certainly an overwhelming majority of the Rotarians present on Tuesday supported Frist’s statement of support – which represented a direct break with the Bush administration, whose main man he is in the Senate. It was clear that Frist took satisfaction in the outcome of his impromptu poll – one which, it is said, he has taken at every stop on the Tennessee tour, and with the same net result.

After the speech, Frist was asked about two other issues. What about the new book Herding Cats by former Majority Leader Trent Lott, whose job he inherited through what Lott, in the book, calls a “betrayal”? The Mississippian alleges that Frist had undermined him to get the job after the flap over Lott’s ill- birthday praise in late 2002 of now deceased centenarian Strom Thurmond’s segregationst past.

(Lest it be thought that the ambitious Frist was propelled only by the immediacy of that scandal, he had told the Flyer as far back as 1998 that “a lot of us are not really satisfied with how things are going” on Lott’s watch. The Tennesse senator said then that if and when “20 or so” Republican senators were prepared to support him, he might launch his own leadership bid.)

Frist: "I’ve not read the comments, I’ve not read the book. I have tremendous respect for Trent Lott. I’ve worked with him very closely. I have lunch with him two days a week. He helped me on the energy bill. He helped move America forward on the highway bill, on the recent CAFTA bill. I look forward to working with him constructively. And that’s pretty much where it sits. I know that it was very difficult in the past when he, uh, sat down, and I respect his interpretation of the events that led to that. I’m really looking to the future and to my continued close work with a man who I respect remendously, Trent Lott, who’s served the people of Mississippi in a very positive and constructive way."

And what about the resolution of the filibuster battle some months back, which was ended in a compromise solution proposed by his likely presidential rival, Senator John McCain? Did he regard this alternative as a defeat for his own hard-line position

Frist: "You know, being the elected majority leader of the United States Senate means you do certain things, and I have led on principle. I have led on the basis that I say I’m going to do something, and then I go ahead and do it. I feel strongly on behalf of that principle that nominees deserve and up or down vote. It is our responsibility to treat these nominees with respect, all these nominees, and with advice and consent, and in doing that, I stood on principle to give them an up or down vote. Other people felt that not all candidates deserve an up or down vote, and I, you know, respect that, but I don’t agree with it. In terms of was I successful or not, in standing on principle, six nominees who were filibustered in the last Congress by the other side of the aisle, who thought that they had no chance in the future, because of my standing on principle are now sitting federal judges serving the American people."

‘Put that foolishness to rest’:

The name of A C Wharton keeps turning up on this or that political blogster’s Web site in connection with a possible race for the presumably soon-to-be-vacant 9th District congressional seat of Rep. Harold Ford Jr..

Forget about it. Asked about it this week, the Shelby County mayor made about as clear-cut and definitive rejection of the idea as it is possible for a politician to make in this day and age.

“Let me be as clear and unequivocal as possible,” Wharton said. “I have not had any intention, do not have any intention, plans, whatever, to run for Congress.”

Even the place itself had no charm for Wharton. “I’ve been there and done that,” he said. “I was a trial lawyer with the EOC [Economic Opportunity Commission], and I worked with another firm there. I get in there once in a while to testify and do some business. No, I have no interest.”

No interest, no plans, no intention: Out of the mouths of other politicians, anyhow, these can be political wiggle words. Would the mayor eliminate all doubt by making his renunciation of a congressional race absolute and categorical? “Yes,” he answered firmly, maintaining that he had owned only two objectives politically. “One I accomplished when I won in 2002. And I want to run again. That’s it.”

Wharton continued to nail the door shut. “We already have an excellent congressman, and whether he runs [for the U.S. Senate] or not, and I’m confident he will, I have absolutely no interest in that job. And look, I’m 61 years old. I just started this career. It’s rough enough to have to run every four years. The way Congress is, I’d be lucky to say at about age 85 [here Wharton assumed a creaky, codger’s voice], ‘By George, I finally got something passed.’”

The county mayor went on to note the post-9/11 searches and restrictions on one’s movements on Capitol Hill and to contrast that with the freer and easier atmosphere of 30 years ago when he first experienced Washington as a visitor. “I have a better job here,” he concluded. A final comment concerning the speculation about his running for Congress: “I wish you’d do me a favor and put that foolishness to rest.”

Deed done. Read it and weep, bloggers.

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Resistance

Opponents of transforming the downtown parks recoup and regroup.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2005 at 4:00 AM

On Monday, defenders of the status quo were out in force downtown in front of Confederate Park, putting their best face forward, toting not Rebel flags but huge cardboard banners saying, "SAVE OUR HISTORIC PARKS." In the manner of high-schoolers doing a car wash, they waved at passing Front Street motorists, who honked back in solidarity.

It was a decided contrast to the ragtag look of Saturday, when a handful of resisters to name-change proposals showed up in the park, most of them sporting vintage Confederate paraphernalia.

Where had Monday's mainstream-style demonstrators been on the weekend, when the Rev. Al Sharpton and his local supporters had downtown bragging rights more or less to themselves? "We were asked to stay away, and we did," said one of them, lawyer D. Jack Smith - referring apparently to an advisory to that effect from the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization or perhaps one from the ad hoc "Save Our Historic Parks" movement itself.

Smith was an interesting case. In 1967, while a member of the state legislature, he had sponsored a bill striking down the old "Scopes law," the notorious statute forbidding the teaching of evolution in Tennessee's schools. Only last month, on the 80th anniversary of the epic legal battle pitting William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow against each other, Smith had been invited to Dayton, site of the Scopes trial, and honored for his efforts in erasing what had long since come to be seen as a stain on the state's record.

Why was he now defending a symbolism which some clearly regard as an equally ugly blemish?

"It's entirely different," Smith said. "History is real. This is factual, a part of Memphis. It gives us character. We look back as much as we look forward - in all parts of the country. It's where we came from."

The anti-evolution law was otherwise, he argued, "a mistake from the start," or, as he said, supplying the formal legalese, "ab initio." The statute which had bagged science teacher John Scopes had been "an attempt to impose a religious view on everybody, against all our American principles."

The military heroes of the Confederacy, on the other hand, had been "people fighting for their homes as much as anything else." Smith, who numbers three warriors for the Southern cause "and one Confederate judge" among his antecedents, summed it up this way: "There was that famous quote. Someone was asked, 'Why are you shooting it up?' And he answered, 'Because you're here. You're in our home.'"

These days, of course, Memphis is home to an African-American majority, and, in the long run, the attitude of that majority is likely to prevail in questions like the naming of parks and the way in which the old Confederacy and its exemplars should be regarded.

At this stage, that attitude isn't all that easy to divine. The Sharpton rally at Forrest Park had attracted a crowd estimated at 250 - a respectable but not overwhelming number. Mixed among the true believers had been a generous collection of media and curiosity seekers, and most of the heavy hitters among local black politicians had kept their distance. One African-American mayor, A C Wharton, was nowhere to be seen, and the other, Willie Herenton, had formally repudiated the gathering. Like Smith, Herenton had given his imprimatur to the old Confederate emblems as representing "history."

And there was an ordinary lay sense to that term. One of the onlookers at Confederate Park on Monday was housekeeper Regina Carroll, who sat on a bus-stop bench in front of the park, waiting on her ride. She too was a black Memphian, and her reckoning of things was entirely pragmatic. "This park has been named what it is for so long that, if they changed the name, I probably wouldn't be able to find it." She reflected further: "Just like they changed the name of Memphis State, but I still call it Memphis State."

For the time being, the state of things in Memphis is unlikely to change as fast or as far as the Sharpton rally organizers - Shelby County commissioner Walter Bailey; his brother, Circuit Court judge D'Army Bailey; and the Rev. La Simba Gray - would like. There is a reason why people refer to the "weight of tradition." It is something as tangible as granite or bronze and as hard to move without elaborate or heavy machinery - which, in this case, means the engine of a galvanized public opinion, so far dormant, though some detect the beginnings of a rumble.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

POLITICS

Opponents of transforming the downtown parks recoup and regroup.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2005 at 4:00 AM

THE RESISTANCE

On Monday, defenders of the status quo were out in force downtown in front of Confederate Park, putting their best face forward, toting not Rebel flags but huge cardboard banners saying “SAVE OUR HISTORIC PARKS.” In the manner of high-schoolers doing a car wash they waved at passing Front Street motorists, who honked back in solidarity.

It was a decided contrast to the ragtag look of Saturday, when a handful of resisters to name-change proposals showed up in the park, most of them sporting vintage Confederate paraphernalia.

Where had Monday’s mainstream-style demonstrators been on the weekend, when the Rev. Al Sharpton and his local supporters had downtown bragging rights more or less to themselves? “We were asked to stay away, and we did,” said one of them, lawyer D. Jack Smith -- referring apparently to an advisory to that effect from the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization or perhaps one from the ad hoc “Save Our Historic Parks” movement itself.

Smith was an interesting case. In 1967, while a member of the state legislature, he had sponsored a bill striking down the old “Scopes law,” the notorious statute forbidding the teaching of evolution in Tennessee’s schools. Only last month, on the 80th anniversary of the epic legal battle pitting William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow against each other, Smith had been invited to Dayton, site of the Scopes trial, and honored for his efforts in erasing what had long since come to be seen as a stain on the state’s record.

Why was he now defending a symbolism which some clearly regard as an equally ugly blemish?

“It’s entirely different,” Smith said. “History is real. This is factual, a part of Memphis. It gives us character. We look back as much as we look forward—in all parts of the country. It’s where we came from.”

The anti-evolution law was otherwise, he argued, “a mistake from the start,” or, as he said, supplying the formal legalese, “ab initio.” The statute which had bagged science teacher John Scopes had been “an attempt to impose a religious view on everybody against all our American principles.”

The military heroes of the Confederacy, on the other hand, had been “people fighting for their homes as much as anything else.” Smith, who numbers three warriors for the Southern cause “and one Confederate judge” among his antecedents, summed it up this way: “There was that famous quote. Someone was asked, ‘Why are you shooting it up?’ And he answered, ‘Because you’re here. You’re in our home.’”

These days, of course, Memphis is home to an African American majority, and, in the long run, the attitude of that majority is likely to prevail in questions like the naming of parks and the way in which the old Confederacy and its exemplars should be regarded.

At this stage, that attitude isn’t all that easy to divine. The Sharpton rally at Forrest Park had attracted a crowd estimated at 250 – a respectable but not overwhelming number. Mixed among the true believers had been a generous collection of media and curiosity seekers, and most of the heavy hitters among local black politicians had kept their distance. One African American mayor, A C Wharton, was nowhere to be seen, and the other, Willie Herenton, had formally repudiated the gathering. Like Smith, Herenton had given his imprimatur to the old Confederate emblems as representing “history.”

And there was an ordinary lay sense to that term. One of the onlookers at Confederate Park on Monday was housekeeper Regina Carroll, who sat on a bus-stop bench in front of the park, waiting on her ride. She, too, was a black Memphian, and her reckoning of things was entirely pragmatic. “This park has been named what it is for so long that, if they changed the name, I probably wouldn’t be able to find it.” She reflected further: “Just like they changed the name of Memphis State, but I still call it Memphis State.”

For the time being, the state of things in Memphis is unlikely to change as fast or as far as the Sharpton rally organizers -- Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey; his brother, Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey; and the Rev. La Simba Gray -- would like. There is a reason why people refer to the “weight of tradition.” It is something as tangible as granite or bronze and as hard to move without elaborate or heavy machinery -- which, in this case, means the engine of a galvanized public opinion, so far dormant, though some detect the beginnings of a rumble.

Fresh Faces

Even as efforts to alter the face of Memphis were under way in the matter of the city’s downtown parks, a different kind of change seemed inevitable in the matter of Memphis politics.

Although the rumor mill suggests that it is still possible that 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. might drop out of next year’s U.S. Senate race and run instead for reelection to his House seat, it is the overwhelming consensus that Ford’s candidacy is for real and therefore that any of several potential contenders will be taking the oath of office in Washington, come January 2007.

One of these is Ford’s former chief of staff, Mark Yates, an administrator in the investments department of First Tennessee Bank. Cast more or less in the button-down black professional mold of Ford himself, Yates served a stint back in the late ‘90s as local Democratic Party chairman. Out of active politics for several years, he has found, to his surprise, that he has a yen to get back in. Or, as potential office-holders tend to say, to “be of service” to the community.

Yates, who sees himself as bridging the political gap between the Ford orbit and that of Mayor Willie Herenton, hasn’t yet made a decision. But he’s begun to consult local Democrats about the matter. And, as a longstanding member of the city’s financial community, Yates is better situated than most to secure the right level of backing for a potential campaign.

A different situation altogether was presented by another newcomer – one Nikki Tinker, who to the astonishment – nay, the confusion – of most local political observers, was puffed in the D.C. publication The Hill by writer Jonathan A. Kaplan as the “front-runner” in the race to succeed congressman Ford. Only problem: Nobody in these parts could figure out at first who “front-runner” Tinker, billed as a “corporate lawyer,” was.

After a spell, it came to some – not all – of the puzzled ones: Tinker was the tall, slim, young woman who had been the titular head of Rep. Ford’s last reelection campaign. Though she, too, has begun to try to enlarge her circle of local contacts, she remained something of an unknown quantity. Literally. “Nobody knows who she is,” as Yates, put it bluntly this week. Maybe she can develop into a true contender, maybe not, but her trickle-down launch in The Hill, clearly engineered as an entrée to Beltway funding sources, came off locally as so much spin.

(For the record, other names being bruited about as potential congressional candidates: Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey, former MLGW head Herman Morris, lawyer Ed Stanton, Blue Cross/Blue Shield executive Calvin Anderson. Presumed to be interested also are city councilman Myron Lowery, former mayoral aide Ron Redwing, state Senator Steve Cohen, and Shelby County Commissioner Joe Ford. Nor can Jake Ford and Isaac Ford, siblings of the congressman, be written off.)

Another newcomer of a different sort: Gubernatorial candidate Carl “Two Feathers” Whitaker, formerly an independent, has come forth as a fully-fledged Republican, with ambitions of taking on Democratic incumbent Phil Bredesen next year. Whitaker, a pillar of the right-wing “Minuteman” movement, is not exactly what mainstream Republicans, who still have good hopes of getting Nashville state Rep. Beth Harwell into the governor’s race, had in mind. (Meanwhile, sources indicate that an official announcement by Harwell is scheduled for sometime around Labor Day.)

Finally, there is the ultimate fresh face – that of Belz Enterprises president and CEO Ron Belz, who this week responded to rumors concerning a future race for Memphis mayor. Acknowledging that he had discussed the prospect with family members, Belz said frankly that such a venture might be “disruptive” to both family and business.

“No plans for a campaign have been made, and none are likely,” Belz said. Asked if he meant to shut the door on a mayor’s race, he repeated, “I have no plans,” a phrase that, to those in the political trade, usually qualifies as a “non-denial denial.”

Low Comedy in Federal Court

When Chattanooga’s Charles Love turned up in federal court in Memphis Tuesday to change his plea to guilty in the Tennessee Waltz matter, he might as well have come straight from Central Casting. Love looked just like what he was charged with being in the scandal – a bagman.

Dressed in a literally baggy brown four-button suit with cuffs that ballooned out low and overflowed onto the floor, erstwhile lobbyist Love let his attorney, Brian Hoss, do all the talking for him as the two of them listened to Judge Daniel Breen read from the indictment and, later, assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza detail portions of the government’s proof against Love.

The reading of the two documents and Love’s appearance together created a scenario that hinted at every sordid thing one could imagine, not only about the specific crimes of bribery and extortion but about the increasingly disgraced Tennessee legislature itself.

Love had after all led the FBI’s make-believe “eCycle” moneybags men to one of the state Senate’s presumed pillars, the venerable Ward Crutchfield, also of Chattanooga, whose legislative influence could be had, Love told the agents, if they had “gifts to bear.”.

And what the courtroom audience learned about Crutchfield, a co-defendant who has (so far) not changed his plea of not guilty, was in some ways more embarrassing to the senator’s reputation than the offenses he was charged with.

Crutchfield, said DiScenza, fastidiously avoided being so gross as to take into his own hands the eCycle bucks he got and kept asking for. He let his unnamed secretary do that, and when the FBI’s “undercover informant” (presumably the now infamous Tim Willis) came inquiring as to whether the main man had got his money, she was instructed to say that bagman Love had been “mighty nice to us today” or “mighty good to us today.” On those occasions when Crutchfield himself was coaxed into saying something for the FBI’s apparently ubiquitous video- and audio-tapes, he acknowledged receipt with words like “Thank you for being my friend.”

Right. Some friends you got there, Senator.

But the tale of ignominy became pure slapstick when DiScenza’s account got around to the part of the saga involving another co-defendant, state Rep. Chris Newton of Cleveland.

It was not just that Newton, the sole Republican bagged in the FBI operation, was charged with taking the bottom-dollar sum of $4500 for his promise to expedite legislation favorable to eCycle, it developed that middle-man Love had repeatedly skimmed from Newton’s payoffs, sometimes halving them. So the poor legislative shlepper ended up, as compensation for the fate that now awaits him, with maybe enough change to run a bar bill at the downtown Sheraton in Nashville, a late-hours hangout for General Assembly types.

Afterward lawyer Hoss met with reporters and assured them, among other things, that despite what they’d heard in court, his suddenly repentant client had “never done anything like this before.”

Right.

Like the other defendants, who include ex- Memphis legislators John Ford and Roscoe Dixon as well as current state Senator Kathryn Bowers, Love was accused of a series of “offenses against the United States.” If Love -- as of Tuesday, an ex-Hamilton County school board member -- turns state’s evidence, which seems likely, he might get off light on those formal charges, but his offenses against good taste and credibility will be a little harder to expiate.

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Friday, August 12, 2005

No Quarter

Comparing Confederates to Nazis, Commissioner Walter Bailey scoffs at compromise.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2005 at 4:00 AM

As is surely well known, Shelby County commissioner Walter Bailey has become a local leader of the effort to rename the three downtown city parks that have prominent associations with the Confederacy.

Bailey, like most local observers, was relatively subdued in his reaction to Mayor Willie Herenton's proposal last week for resolving the ongoing controversy - a proposal that may have been a masterstroke in its capacity for giving both sides what they want.

"It depends on the result," Bailey said, after pondering the matter for a moment on Monday.

What Herenton had said, in a widely noticed press conference, was that the city had no business renaming parks or digging up graves (one recent suggestion had involved disinterring the bodies of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife and removing both them and the general's statue from Forrest Park to Elmwood Cemetery, where the Forrests had originally been buried). "History," the mayor said, should be respected - whether we approved it or not.

That much of the Herenton plan was music to the ears of traditionalists (read: whites, in the main) who want the city's Old South past and its monuments - not just Forrest Park but the other two contested downtown park spaces, Jefferson Davis Park and Confederate Park - to remain inviolate.

But what the mayor's right hand gave, the left hand took away, as he followed those pronouncements up with the suggestion that the city deed over the two riverside parks to the Riverfront Development Corporation and Forrest Park to the University of Tennessee, the adjacent institution which presumably might covet such high-grade real estate.

It was businessman Karl Schledwitz, a prominent UT alumnus, who had suggested a plan whereby the Forrest graves and statue would be transferred to Elmwood, with the university expanding its medical facilities into the vacated park.

Count Bailey in on that idea: "If the [mayor's] proposal pans out and the council approves it and the Riverfront Development board approves renaming the parks and UT goes forward with the Schledwitz proposal, then I'm for it."

The longtime commissioner, who - pending the outcome of his current appeal of a Chancery Court decision - has been term-limited out of a chance at reelection next year, was not totally enamored of the Herenton proposal, mind you. Certainly not with what may have been the key feature of the mayor's statement: its ambivalence.

"I disagree with that," scolded Bailey. "I think he should have just renamed the park. If he cared anything about making his mark nationally, this would have been the opportunity, because this is a national issue."

Nor was Bailey all that crazy about another recent proposal, this one from city councilman Myron Lowery, who stood alongside two descendants of the late General Forrest a couple of weeks ago and suggested what many people took to be a sensible compromise - one which might, for example, change the name of Forrest Park to Civil War Park and balance the general's statue with appropriate memorials to heroes and heroines of the civil rights movement.

Bailey frowned and waved that off. He then invoked the example of German chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder. "Schroeder erected a monument not to Hitler or Rommel or Goebbels or Eichmann or that crowd, but to victims of the Holocaust. We've got it backwards."

In like manner, the city owes an apology to the victims of slavery, said Bailey. As for making common cause with the descendants of Confederate luminaries, he was unforgiving: "If somebody raped your sister and whipped her, would you want to stand next to the descendants? They showed no contrition. They want to glorify their relatives. They don't show remorse."

And Bailey was inclined to show no quarter to those who might be offended by the uprooting of the Forrests and the statue from the park that, as of now, still memorializes them. "There's a neo-Confederate part of the population that glorifies this man, that romanticizes this man. It's almost like neo-Nazis. You've always had that opposition. Change is always revolutionary. But it takes pressure. It's not going to happen by beseeching people to do the right thing."

Might the commissioner take the lead in asking the County Commission to put itself on record one way or the other? He pointed out that, as a member of the Center City Commission, he had already moved successfully for that body to seek action from the council on transforming the name and nature of the parks.

Bailey shrugged. "I've already had my shot. You have to be selective. I don't want to be all over the place. You have your credibility to think of."

Lastly, the commissioner was asked about the forthcoming visit of Al Sharpton, the prominent black leader and former presidential candidate who has vowed to lead a demonstration here against maintaining the Confederate memorials. Would Bailey be participating in a march or other dramatic action led by Sharpton?

"I'm going to be there," Bailey vowed. "I'm going to be right by his side. Absolutely." Then this man of sometimes stern visage opened up with one of his patented disarming grins and stated what comes off as a clincher: "I'm going to give up my golf game!"

n Anyone visiting the Flyer Web site lately (and please do: MemphisFlyer.com) will have noticed an ad for next year's U.S. Senate race. It's a two-parter, beginning with a panel showing an unflattering likeness of current Republican incumbent Bill Frist over the words "Replace this Republican doctor ... " This morphs into a second panel showing a smiling gray-haired, somewhat pixie-like woman over the words "... with this Democratic nurse."

Then the person browsing is invited to "click here," hence to be transferred to the campaign Web site of Senate candidate Rosalind Kurita, currently a state senator from Clarksville.

What makes this worthy of being referenced here is the fact that this rather catchy visual doesn't appear just in the Flyer. It has turned up on the Web sites of several of the state's major daily newspapers, as well as four or five of the most prominent and frequently visited national political Web sites.

Scott Shields, in an article posted prominently in one of those national sites, the Democratic-oriented MyDD.com, takes note of the ad this week and makes it the occasion for a reevaluation of next year's Democratic primary for the Senate seat (which the GOP's Frist, a potential presidential candidate, has decided to vacate).

"There was a long stretch of time when I didn't think there was any question that Harold Ford Jr. would be the 2006 Democratic candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Bill Frist," begins Shields, who recapped the development of a highly visible national profile for Ford - including Ford's service as keynote speaker at the 2000 Democratic convention, his selection in 2001 as one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World," and his 2002 challenge for the office of House Democratic leader.

"But now all of that has changed," says Shields. "Ford is being challenged for the nomination by state senator Rosalind Kurita." After an analysis of what he clearly regards as a highly effective Internet ad, Shields opines, "Kurita knows that to beat the nationally recognized Ford, she needs to raise her profile. Already she's seeing that strategy pay dividends."

Evaluating a Kurita victory as "a real possibility," Shields concludes this way: "The race is probably still Ford's to lose, but I would not be surprised to see Kurita start putting up some serious numbers. Her embracing of a net-roots campaign, coupled with her outspoken positions on issues like the bankruptcy and energy bills could make her an attractive alternative to the 'centrist' Ford, who supported both."

Meanwhile, from Ford's point of view, some of the edge came off the local Democratic "unity" rally of two weekends ago. New party chairman Matt Kuhn issued a letter of clarification last week to newly elected members of the party executive committee, disavowing what had seemed to be Kuhn's endorsement of Ford's Senate candidacy at the prior rally.

Said Kuhn, in part: "In the excitement Saturday of seeing so many Shelby County Democrats coming together, I made comments that were not appropriate for the Chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party. My remarks about Congressman Ford were intended to show our gratitude for his significant accomplishments on behalf of the Democratic Party.

"Unfortunately, my words went beyond my intentions; I regret any misunderstanding this has caused. As chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party, I cannot and will not endorse any Democratic candidate for elected office unless and until that candidate is the sole Democratic candidate for the position."

Still, members of the Ford faction were included in the slate of officers proposed by Kuhn last week and ratified by the membership.

And the best news of all, from the Ford clan's perspective, came last Thursday, with the narrow Democratic-primary victory of political neophyte Ophelia Ford (by 20 votes over state representative Henri Brooks in the special election for the state Senate seat vacated by brother John Ford in the wake of his arrest in the FBI's Tennessee Waltz sting).

Ford's come-from-behind victory, aided by get-out-the-vote efforts overseen by another brother, former Congressman Harold Ford Sr., was certainly a hurrah for the family's political organization - whether the last or one of several more yet to come remains to be seen. n

Thursday, August 11, 2005

SURPRISES & ODDITIES

Harris resigns, Brooks challenges, Nikki Who? Two-Feathers Who?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2005 at 4:00 AM

It was a day of surprises – sort of. Certainly Terry Harris’ abrupt resignation Thursday as U.S. Attorney for Tennessee’s Western District qualifies as that, though word of the Tennessee Waltz prosecutor's sea-change – involving acceptance of a vice-presidency at FedEx -- had begun to percolate into crevices of the news media early in the day.

By comparison, Henri Brooks’ decision to contest her 20-vote loss in a state Senate primary to Ophelia Ford was something of a no-brainer; anybody that close should roll the dice, and there were a couple of possible polling-place irregularities to mount a protest on.

It was a week of oddities, sort of: What else can you say about a circumstance that had local Democrats scratching their heads in confusion? Said circumstance was a puff piece in The Hill, a Washington, D.C. publication for political insiders. The puffee was one Nikki Tinker, touted by Hill author Jonathan A. Kaplan as the “front-runner” in the race to succeed 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr., now a U.S. Senate candidate. Only problem: nobody in these parts could figure out at first who “front-runner” Tinker, billed as a “corporate lawyer,” was.

After a spell, it came to some – not all – of the puzzled ones: Tinker was the tall, slim, very pleasant young woman who had been the titular head of Rep. Ford’s last reelection campaign. Maybe she can develop into a true contender, maybe not, but this trickle-down launch came off as so much spin.

One more oddity: gubernatorial candidate Carl “Two Feathers” Whitaker, formerly an independent, has come forth as a fully-fledged Republican, with ambitions of taking on Democratic incumbent Phil Bredesen next year. Whitaker, a pillar of the right-wing “Minuteman” movement, is not exactly what mainstream Republicans, who still have good hopes of getting Nashville state Rep. Beth Harwell into the governor’s race, had in mind.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2005

POLITICS

Comparing Confederates to Nazis, Commissioner Bailey scoffs at compromise.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 9, 2005 at 4:00 AM

NO QUARTER

As is surely well known, Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey has become a local leader of the effort to rename the three downtown city parks that have prominent associations with the Confederacy.

Bailey, like most local observers, was relatively subdued in his reaction to Mayor Willie Herenton’s proposal last week for resolving the ongoing controversy – a proposal that may have been a masterstroke in its capacity for giving both sides what they want.

“It depends on the result,” Bailey said, after pondering the matter for a moment on Monday

To recap: What Herenton had said, in a widely noticed press conference, was that the city had no business renaming parks or digging up graves (one recent suggestion had involved disinterring the bodies of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife and removing both them and the general’s statue from Forrest Park to Elmwood Cemetery, where the Forrests had originally been buried). “History,” the mayor said, should be respected – whether we approved it or not.

That much of the Herenton plan was music to the ears of traditionalists (read: whites, in the main) who want the city’s Old South past and its monuments – not just Forrest Park but the other two contested downtown park spaces, Jefferson Davis Park and Confederate Park – to remain inviolate.

But what the mayor’s right hand gave, the left hand took away – as he followed those pronouncements up with the suggestion that the city deed over the two riverside parks to the Riverfront Development Corporation and Forrest Park to the University of Tennessee, the adjacent monolith which presumably might covet such high-grade real estate.

It will be remembered that businessman Karl Schledwitz, a prominent UT alumnus, had suggested a plan whereby the Forrest graves and statue would be transferred to Elmwood, with the university expanding its medical facilities into the vacated park.

Count Bailey in on that idea. “If the [mayor’s] proposal pans out and the council approves it and the Riverfront Development board approves renaming the parks and UT goes forward with the Schledwitz proposal, then I’m for it.”

The longtime commissioner, who – pending the outcome of his current appeal of a Chancery Court decision – has been term-limited out of a chance at reelection next year, was not totally enamored of the Herenton proposal, mind you. Certainly not what may have been the key feature of the mayor’s statement – its ambivalence.

“I disagree with that,” scolded Bailey. “I think he should have just renamed the park. If he cared anything about making his mark nationally, this would have been the opportunity, because this is a national issue.”

Nor was Bailey all that crazy about another recent proposal, this one from city councilman Myron Lowery, who stood alongside two descendants of the late General Forrest a couple of weeks ago and suggested what many people took to be a sensible compromise – one which might, for example, change the name of Forrest Park to Civil War Park and balance the general’s statue with appropriate memorials to heroes and heroines of the Civil Rights movement.

Bailey frowned and waved that off. He then invoked the example of German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder. “Schroeder erected a monument not to Hitler or Rommel or Goebbels or Eichmann or that crowd, but to victims of the Holocaust. We’ve got it backwards.

He continued: “Schroeder is not talking about keeping monuments to Hitler and Rommel and those guys and putting up some monuments also to Jewish victims. He has apologized for what happened to the Jewish people 60 years ago.”

In like manner, the city owes an apology to the victims of slavery, said Bailey As for making common cause with the descendants of Confederate luminaries, he was unforgiving. “If somebody raped your sister and whipped her, would you want to stand next to the descendants? They showed no contrition. They want to glorify their relatives. They don’t show remorse.”

And Bailey was inclined to show no quarter to those who might be offended by the uprooting of the Forrests and the statue from the park that, as of now, still memorializes them. “There’s a neo-Confederate part of the population that glorifies this man, that romanticizes this man. It’s almost like neo-Nazis. You’ve always had that opposition. Change is always revolutionary. But it takes pressure. It’s not going to happen by beseeching people to do the right thing.”

Might the commissioner take the lead in asking the county commission to put itself on record one way or the other? He pointed out that, as a member of the Center City Commission, he had already moved, successfully, for that body to seek action from the council on transforming the name and nature of the parks.

Bailey shrugged. “I’ve already had my shot. You have to be selective. I don’t want to be all over the place. You have your credibility to think of.”

Lastly, the commissioner was asked about the forthcoming visit here of Al Sharpton, the prominent black leader and former presidential candidate who has vowed to lead a demonstration here against maintaining the Confederate memorials down. Would Bailey be participating in a march or other dramatic action led by Sharpton?

“I’m going to be there,” Bailey vowed. “ I’m going to be right by his side. Absolutely.” Then this man of sometimes stern visage opened up with one of his patented disarming grins and stated what came off as a clincher: “I’m going to give up my golf game!”

Anyone visiting the Flyer Web site lately will have noticed an early-bid ad for next year’s U.S. Senate race. It’s a two-parter, beginning with a panel showing an unflattering likeness of current Republican incumbent Bill Frist over the words “Replace this Republican doctor….” This morphs into a second panel showing a smiling gray-haired, somewhat pixie-like woman over the words “…with this Democratic nurse.”

Then the person browsing is invited to “click here,” hence to be transferred to the campaign Web site of Senate candidate Rosalind Kurita, currently a state senator from Clarksville.

What makes this news, worthy of being referenced here in a non-advertising space is the fact that this rather catchy visual doesn’t appear just in the Flyer. It has turned up, apparently, on the Web sites of several of the state’s major daily newspapers, as well as four or five of the most prominent and frequently visited national political Web sites.

Scott Shields, in an article posted prominently in one of those national sites, the Democratic-oriented MyDD (www.mydd.com), takes note of the ad this week and makes it the occasion for a re-evaluation of next year’s Democratic primary for the Senate seat (which the GOP’s Frist, a potential presidential candidate, has decided to vacate).

“There was a long stretch of time when I didn't think there was any question that Harold Ford, Jr. would be the 2006 Democratic candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Bill Frist,” begins Shields, who recapped the development in recent years of a highly visible national profile for Memphis congressman Ford – including Ford’s service as keynote speaker at the 2000 Democratic convention, his selection in 2001 as one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World,” and his 2002 challenge for the office of House Democratic leader.

“But now all of that has changed,” says Shields. “Ford is being challenged for the nomination by State Senator Rosalind Kurita.” After an analysis of what he clearly regards as a highly effective Internet ad, Shields opines, “Kurita knows that to beat the nationally recognized Ford, she needs to raise her profile. Already she's seeing that strategy pay dividends….

Evaluating a Kurita victory as “a real possibility,” Shields concludes this way; “The race is probably still Ford's to lose, but I would not be surprised to see Kurita start putting up some serious numbers. Her embracing of a netroots campaign, coupled with her outspoken positions on issues like the bankruptcy and energy bills could make her an attractive alternative to the ‘centrist’ Ford, who supported both. This race is certainly worthy of some serious attention.”

Meanwhile, from Ford’s point of view, some of the edge came off the local Democratic “unity” rally of two weekends ago. New party chairman Matt Kuhn issued a letter of clarification last week to newly elected members of the party executive committee, disavowing what had seemed to be Kuhn’s endorsement of Ford’s Senate candidacy at the prior rally.

Said Kuhn, in part: “In the excitement Saturday of seeing so many Shelby County Democrats coming together, I made comments that were not appropriate for the Chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party. My remarks about Congressman Ford were intended to show our gratitude for his significant accomplishments on behalf of the Democratic Party.

“Unfortunately, my words went beyond my intentions; I regret any misunderstanding this has caused. As chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party, I cannot and will not endorse any Democratic candidate for elected office unless and until that candidate is the sole Democratic candidate for the position.”

Still and all, members of the Ford faction were included in the slate of officers proposed by Kuhn last week and ratified by the membership.

And the best news of all, from the Ford clan’s perspective, came last Thursday, with the narrow Democratic-primary victory of political neophyte Ophelia Ford (by 20 votes over state Rep. Henri Brooks, her nearest competitor, in the special election for the state Senate seat vacated by brother John Ford in the wake of his arrest in the FBI’s Tennessee Waltz sting.

Ford’s come-from-behind victory, aided by Get-Out-the-Vote efforts overseen by another brother, former congressman Harold Ford Sr. was certainly a hurrah for the family’s political organization – whether the last or one of several more yet to come remains to be seen.

Friday, August 5, 2005

The New Boss

Same as the old boss? A "unity rally" goes Harold Ford Jr.'s way.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Doubt that U.S. representative Harold Ford Jr. is nimble on his feet? Disbelieve that his organization lives and breathes and still has clout?

Don't.

Two developments argue otherwise - one regarding the local Democratic Party's reorganization efforts and another concerning a closely watched special election race. • It's My Party, and I'll Crow if I Want To: One week after suffering a defeat at the local party convention which should have been decisive - at least, symbolically - Ford and the Fordites sponsored a "unity" breakfast at Café Francisco downtown in honor of new Democratic Party chairman Matt Kuhn and his freshly elected executive committee. Cutting to the chase, here, in part, is what Kuhn had to say on Saturday to the gathered faithful. (These included numerous members of the "Convention Coalition" and the party's Herenton/Chism faction, whose votes, together, elected young Kuhn over a Ford-sponsored candidate, the estimable David Cocke.) Kuhn: "It is so good to see everybody here together. ... Last week at this time we came together as a party. And I want you to know that the first call I received was from our congressman, Harold Ford Jr. [applause]. Thank you. Jack Kennedy once said that a rising tide raises all boats. ... I don't know a whole lot about sailing, but I know something about politics, and I just want to say that we need to understand and we need to realize this in Shelby County ... the rising tide in next year's election is sending a Democrat from Shelby County to the United State Senate. ...

"So when our candidate for Senate was not there with us last week, I actually smiled and knew what he was doing and thought it was a good thing. What happened last week was about coming together. And I want to tell you a little something about why I think that and why I think it's important. In 2000, when Al Gore needed someone to give the keynote address at the Democratic convention, Harold Ford Jr. was for us. And in the past election, when John Kerry needed someone from Shelby County to provide vision, leadership, Harold Ford Jr. was with us. This past Thursday, on the floor of the House of Representatives - you labor folks will know what I'm talking about - Harold Ford Jr. was with us. In August of 2006 and in November of 2006, we need to be there for him."

Afterward, Kuhn seemed to be aware that he might have crossed way over a line. (There's a primary on, after all, involving another candidate for the U.S. Senate - state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, who spoke at last week's Democratic convention, which Ford, as Kuhn indicated, had been absent from - and party officials are normally obliged to remain neutral in such matters.) When asked about what he'd said, the new chairman tried to maintain that his remarks weren't really an endorsement.

Not an endorsement? That's like saying Breyer's Ice Cream is non-caloric. Stuff most folks with such a "non-endorsement," Mr. Chairman, and they'll turn into pigs and look for something to run for themselves!

To be sure, not all of Kuhn's votes from last week's convention at the University of Memphis were from Democrats miffed at the congressman's cautious-to-conservative political posture over the last couple of years. Many were, though, and many of those who weren't were seriously out of love with his local organization. And that's not even to mention the Herenton/Chism organization, chief rivals to the Ford people.

The fact is, no other candidate for chairman - not even longtime loyalist Cocke himself - could have sung such an open-voweled hosanna to the congressman as did Kuhn. What does he say to Kurita the next time she comes around? What does he say when his committee meets this Thursday night at the I.B.E.W. union hall on Madison to reorganize?

Estimates as to what will happen then vary widely. Some say that Chairman Kuhn will be asked to backtrack on his Saturday remarks. Others excuse these as merely a sop thrown to the Ford forces. Still others suggest that, afforded such favors, the Ford organization will soon own the sop shop.

In any case, give it to the congressman and give it to his people: They turned around a messy situation in record time and converted Saturday's "unity" rally into a de facto Ford-for-Senate rally. Besides the congressman himself, Shelby County mayor A C Wharton - who had co-sponsored Cocke - addressed the throng on Saturday. The third member of Cocke's triumvirate, assessor Rita Clark, kept her silence, though she was an elbow's length away from the action, putting (as they say) her hands together.

Even some of the congressman's habitual Internet scourges - like Steve Steffens of Leftwingcracker.blogspot.com - were caught up in the swoonfest. In the first post-breakfast posting on his blog, headed "It Was a Good Morning for the SCDP," Steffens praised Ford's "rousing" speech and pledged henceforth to keep his remarks "constructive."

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Hmmmmm, we'll see. But never again doubt that Harold Ford Jr. is one hell of a politician - perhaps one more formidable than his adversaries can hope to match. One might sum up the last week thisaway: The King is dead (not). Long live the King!

Sisterhood Is Powerful: And speaking of kings, the onetime undisputed champion of inner-city Democratic politics is at it again. This would be another notable Ford - Harold Ford Sr., who was the 9th District's congressman for 22 years before bequeathing the job in 1996 to his namesake son.

The senior Ford, now a highly paid consultant living in Florida, was heard from again this week in Shelby County. Literally. Voters throughout the 29th state senate district, where one of two special-election primaries will be resolved this Thursday, received a robocall from the senior Ford making a forceful pitch for sister Ophelia Ford, one of several Democratic candidates for the seat that was vacated by brother John Ford as a result of his Tennessee Waltz indictment and other legal woes.

Making no reference to that background, Ford Sr. reminded listeners of his longtime congressional service and record of constituent service and suggested that Ophelia Ford can be depended on for more of the same. The message concludes: "I strongly recommend Ophelia Ford. ... I would personally appreciate it, and I'm asking you as you go to the polls this Thursday to continue to pray for the Ford family."

Simultaneously, a forest of yard signs for Ophelia Ford began appearing in South Memphis, and a last-minute mailer was scheduled to go out on her behalf. Suddenly, Ophelia Ford's campaign began to resemble an old-fashioned get-out-the-vote effort of the sort that has largely been eschewed by the current congressman.

Before the late push for Ophelia Ford, many observers saw state representative Barbara Cooper to be at or near the lead in the Democratic field, with House colleague Henri Brooks close behind, and another state representative, John DeBerry, making an impressive last-minute effort of his own.

As the last week of the campaign got under way, Southwest Tennessee Community College professor Steve Haley was soldiering on in a campaign that has been more than usually issue-conscious. Haley actually espouses an income tax - at least to the point of having it "on the table," and he doesn't shy away from criticizing Governor Bredesen's TennCare cuts as unnecessary.

Kevin McLellan, another white candidate and a former Southwest cadre himself, takes a contrary view that Bredesen is more sinned against than sinning.

On the Republican side, Millington businessman Terry Roland should win easily against a largely inactive John Farmer.

• The House race is confined to this week's Democratic primary (though Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges will be on the September 15th general election ballot as an independent). The candidates are Alonzo Grant, Andrew "Rome" Withers, Omari Faulkner, and Gary L. Rowe. Grant and Withers have made no great impact but have some degree of name recognition. They come from politically oriented families and have access to tried and true G.O.T.V. techniques. Newcomer Faulkner, a former Hamilton High basketball star, has image factors in his favor, plus endorsements from the Memphis Education Association and the Memphis Area Association of Realtors. Rowe, active in business development and community affairs, earned an endorsement from The Commercial Appeal.


Other Political Notes

Two likely candidates for the position of Juvenile Court judge, which the ailing longtime incumbent Kenneth Turner is said to be vacating next year, are municipal judge Earnestine Hunt Dorse, a 1998 candidate who has declared for the race, and Shelby County commissioner Walter Bailey, who - pending the outcome of an appeal of a term-limits ruling - has not.

• There is no official Ford candidate yet for the 9th District congressional seat which Harold Ford Jr. will be vacating, but former local Democratic chairman Mark Yates, a Ford ally, is said to be thinking long and hard about it.

• Thursday's meeting of the newly elected local Democratic executive committee could feature contested races for party offices. Brad Watkins, a representative of the "Convention Coalition" group Democracy for Memphis, is campaigning for the office of first vice chair, but so is Cherry Davis of the party's Herenton/Chism faction.

• During the local Democrats' chairmanship race, union delegates tended to split along lines analogous to the labor movement's national schism, with AFL-CIO members supporting David Cocke and Teamster members going for ultimate winner Matt Kuhn.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

POLITICS

In a concerted last-minute rush, robocalls and yard signs sport a familiar last name.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2005 at 4:00 AM

SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL

The onetime undisputed champion of inner-city Democratic politics is at it again: Harold Ford Sr., who was the 9th District’s congressman for 22 years before bequeathing the job in 1996 to his namesake son.

The senior Ford, now a highly paid consultant living in Florida, was heard from again this week in Shelby County. Literally. Voters throughout the 29th state Senate District, where one of two special-election primaries will be resolved this Thursday, heard the senior Ford make a forceful pitch for sister Ophelia Ford, one of several Democratic candidates for the seat that was vacated by brother John Ford as a result of his Tennessee Waltz indictment and other legal woes.

Making no reference to that background, Ford Sr. reminds listeners of his longtime congressional service and record of constituent service and suggests that Ophelia Ford can be depended one for more of the same. The message concludes: “I strongly recommend Ophelia Ford….I would personally appreciate it, and I’m asking you as you go to the polls this Thursday to continue to pray for the Ford family.”

Simultaneous with this robocall, a forest of yard signs for Ophelia Ford began appearing in South Memphis, and a last-minute mailer was scheduled to go out on her behalf. Suddenly, Ophelia Ford’s campaign began to resemble an old-fashioned Get-Out-the-Vote effort of the sort that has largely been eschewed by the current congressman, whose impressive statewide and national media presence has been counterpointed by his relative neglect of the once-legendary local Ford machine.

Before the late push for Ophelia Ford, many observers saw state Representative Barbara Cooper to be at or near the lead in the Democratic field, with House colleague Henri Brooks close behind and another state rep. John DeBerry, making an impressive last-minute effort of his own.

As the last week got under way, Southwest Tennessee Community College prof Steve Haley was soldiering on and makes converts in a campaign that has been more than usually issue-conscious. Haley actually espouses an income tax – at least to the point of having it “on the table,” and he doesn’t shy away from criticizing Governor Bredesen’s TennCare cuts as unnecessary.

Kevin McLellan, another white candidate and a former Southwest cadre himself, takes a contrary view that Bredesen is more sinned against than sinning.

On the Republican side, Millington businessman Terry Roland should win easily against a largely inactive John Farmer and has indicated his determination to carry the fight to the Democratic winner in next month’s general election.

The House race is confined to this week’s Democratic primary (though Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges will be on the September 15th general election ballot as an independent). The candidates are: Alonzo Grant, Andrew “Rome” Withers, Omari Faulkner, and Gary L. Rowe. Grant and Withers have made no great impact but have some degree of name recognition, come from politically oriented families, and have access to tried and true G.O.T.V. techniques. Newcomer Faulkner, a former Hamilton High basketball star, has image factors in his favor, plus endorsements from the Memphis Education Association and the Memphis Area Association of Realtors. Rowe, active in business development and community affairs, earned an endorsement from The Commercial Appeal

. Other Political Notes

Two likely candidates for the position of Juvenile Court Judge, which the ailing longtime incumbent Kenneth Turner is said to be vacating next year, are municipal judge Earnestine Hunt Dorse, a 1998 candidate who has declared for the race, and Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey, who – pending the outcome of an appeal of a term-limits ruling – has not.

There is no official Ford candidate yet for the 9th District congressional seat which Harold Ford Jr. will be vacating, but former local Democratic chairman Mark Yates, a Ford ally, is said to be thinking long and hard about it.Thursday’s meeting of the newly elected local Democratic executive committee could feature contested races for party offices. Brad Watkins, a representative of the “Convention Coalition” group Democracy for Memphis, is campaigning for the office of first vice-chair, but so is Cherry Davis of the party’s Herenton/Chism faction.During the local Democrats’ chairmanship race, union delegates tended to split along lines analogous to the labor movement’s national schism, with AFL-CIO members supporting David Cocke and Teamster members going for ultimate winner Matt Kuhn.

UPDATE:

MEET THE NEW BOSS
Ford et al. land on their feet.

Doubt that Harold Ford Jr. is nimble on his feet? Disbelieve that his organization lives and breathes and still has clout?

Don’t.

Two developments argue otherwise – one regarding the local Democratic Party’s reorganization efforts and another concerning a closely watched special election race. (See above: "Sisterhood Is Powerful.")

It’s My Party, and I’ll Crow if I Want To: One week after suffering a defeat at the local party convention which should have been decisive – at least symbolically – Ford and the Fordites sponsored a “Unity” breakfast at Café Francisco downtown in honor of new Democratic Party chairman Matt Kuhn and his freshly elected executive committee.

Cutting to the chase, here, in part, is what Kuhn had to say on Saturday to the gathered faithful: (These included numerous members of the “Convention Coalition” and the party’s Herenton/Chism faction, whose votes, together, elected young Kuhn over a Ford-sponsored candidate, the estimable David Cocke.

:

Kuhn: “It is so good to see everybody here together.…Last week at this time we came together as a party. And I want you to know that the first call I received was from our congressman, Harold Ford Jr (applause) Thank you. Jack Kennedy once said that a rising tide raises all boats….Now, I don’t know a whole lot about sailing, but I know something about politics, and I just want to say that the rising tide we need to understand and we need to realize this in Shelby County…the rising tide in next year’s election is sending a Democrat from Shelby County to the United State Senate….

“So when our candidate for Senate was not there with us last week, I actually smiled and knew what he was doing and thought it was a good thing. What happened last week was about coming together. And I want to tell you a little something about why I think that and why I think it’s important. In 2000, when Al Gore needed someone to give the keynote address at the Democratic convention, Harold Ford Jr. was for us. He was there. And in the past election, when John Kerry needed someone from Shelby County to provide vision, leadership, Harold Ford Jr. was with us. This past Thursday, on the floor of the House of Representatives – you labor folks will know what I’m talking about – Harold Ford Jr. was with us. In August of 2006 and in November of 2006 we need to be there for him.”

Afterward, Kuhn seemed to be aware that he might have crossed way over a line. (There’s a primary on, after all, involving another candidate for the U.S. Senate – state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, who spoke at last week’s Democratic convention , which Ford, as Kuhn indicated, had been absent from -- and party officials are normally obliged to remain netural in such matters.) When asked about what he'd said, the new chairman tried to maintain that his remarks weren’t really an endorsement

Not an endorsement? That’s like saying Breyer’s Ice Cream is non-caloric. Stuff most folks with such a “non-endorsement,” Mr. Chairman, and they'll turn into pigs and run for something themselves!

To be sure, not all of Kuhn’s votes from last week’s convention at the University of Memphis were from Democrats miffed at the congressman’s cautious-to-conservative political posture over the last couple of years. Many were, though, and many of those who weren’t were seriously out of love with his local organization. And that’s not even to mention the Herenton/Chism organization, chief rivals to the Ford people.

The fact is, no other candidate for chairman – not even longtime loyalist Cocke himself – could have sung such an open-voweled hosanna to the congressman as did Kuhn. What does he say to Kurita the next time she comes around? What does he say when his committee meets this Thursday night at the I.B.E.W. union hall on Madison to reorganize?

Estimates as to what will happen then vary widely: Some say that chairman Kuhn will be asked to backtrack on his Saturday remarks. Others excuse these as merely a sop thrown to the Ford forces. Still others suggest that, afforded such favors, the Ford organization will soon own the sop shop

In any case, give it to the congressman and give it to his people: They turned around a messy situation in record time -- and converted Saturday’s “unity” rally into a de facto Ford-for-Senate rally.

Besides Ford himself, Shelby County mayor A C Wharton – who had co-sponsored Cocke along with him – addressed the throng. The third member of Cocke’s triumvirate, Asssessor Rita Clark, kept her silence, though she was an elbow’s length away from the action, putting (as they say) her hands together.

Even some of the congressman’s habitual Internet scourges – like Steve Steffens of Leftwingcracker.blogspot.com – were caught up in the swoonfest (which had an abundance of blue Ford-for-Senate buttons being sported by attendees). In the first post-breakfast posting on his blog, headed “It Was a Good Morning for the SCDP,” Steffens praised Ford’s “rousing” speech and made much of the congressman’s $2500 donation to party coffers (ponied up in response to a challenge from none other than Joe Cooper, who started that game off with a $1000 gift), and pledged henceforth to keep his remarks “constructive.” (Another helping, if you will, Mr. Breyer!)

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss? Hmmmmm, we’ll see. But never again doubt that Harold Ford Jr. is one hell of a politician – perhaps one more formidable than his adversaries can hope to match.. One might sum up the last week thisaway: The King is Dead (not). Long live the King!

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