Friday, October 7, 2005

Early Guns

A year in advance, the field for the sheriff's race starts forming itself.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Okay, the race for Shelby County sheriff may be considered as good as begun. Consider: The incumbent, Republican Mark Luttrell, is already running hard for reelection, touching all the media bases with personal visits and burnishing his vault with the occasional well-attended fund-raiser. Adept at public presentations, the personable Luttrell has, among current officeholders, a grasp of P.R. rivaled only by that of district attorney general Bill Gibbons (who last week was endorsed by both of Shelby County's ranking mayors).

Given that the job of county mayor is probably a gimme for Democrat A C Wharton next year, that makes Luttrell the county's ranking Republican, a reputation enhanced by the fact that the sheriff is a dependable presence at most GOP outings held in the county and can be found at a goodly number of nonpartisan public events as well.

So who is John Harvey, and why is he bothering to compete so hard for the job of sheriff in next year's Republican primary?

Well, Harvey is, as he outlines on his intricately itemized campaign Web site (shelbynet.com/dotnetnuke/), a lieutenant in the Sheriff's Department, and his case against incumbent Luttrell, while detailed, can be summarized in one of Harvey's statements: "It has become clear to me that he [former county Corrections Center director Luttrell] doesn't have a basis of understanding of law enforcement. He has been a career warden, and now occupies the position of Sheriff without the experience for the job."

Harvey buttresses that case with a pageful of statistics and anecdotes purporting to show that Shelby County is the "second-most dangerous" of 320 metropolitan localities.

Meanwhile, the sheriff has made enemies among the jailers by pruning their ranks in the interests of economy. And, though he, like Wharton, has backed off from what now seems an abortive effort to outsource the county's corrections system, that issue continues to simmer as well.

Luttrell will be the odds-on favorite to prevail in the GOP primary against the little-known and underfinanced Harvey -- though the latter has one interesting hole card. Harvey is best buds with the Shelby County Republican Party's latest public hero, erstwhile District 29 state Senate candidate Terry Roland, with whose campaign Web site Harvey's is indexed.

Roland, who continues to contest the 13-vote victory in that special election by Democrat Ophelia Ford, was asked about Harvey on his return from a brief respite with his wife in Jamaica. "He's great," Roland said unreservedly in a telephone conversation on Monday. At first, he sounded determined to offer Harvey his full support. However, Roland called back later to say that, as a member and vice chair of the Shelby County Republican steering committee, it would be inappropriate for him to take sides in a party primary.

And Democratic sheriff's candidates are sure to be heard from. One of them, in fact, stepped forth this week. This was Reginald French, a longtime aide to Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, who planned to file his official papers with the Election Commission on Wednesday.

French, whose credits include a stint as Herenton's executive assistant and another as chairman of the Memphis Alcohol Commission, has been talking up a sheriff's race for some months. French has been out of the public eye for some time, but, aside from his public jobs and his service as a campaign aide to Herenton and other candidates, he has had his share of controversy too.

Some years ago French was involved in an altercation with a neighbor which resulted in his being charged with slashing her tires -- a circumstance that was highlighted when she fell to her death shortly thereafter in an unrelated accident. French also figured somewhat mysteriously in an FBI investigation of corruption in Atlanta, wearing a wire to record his conversations with city officials. He was also revealed to have been a go-between in passing money from a lobbyist to one of those officials.

Still, French has been a key figure in the Herenton era, and, failing a declaration of candidacy by other Democrats, he will have to be reckoned with.

Roland vs. Ford (cont'd.): Roland continues his effort to offset the now officially certified results of his contest with Ophelia Ford -- both in a Chancery Court suit alleging irregularities in the voting (including multiple voting by individuals and illegal enfranchisements of felons) and in a challenge before the state Senate itself, which has final authority over seating its members.

To deal with the matter, Lieutenant Governor John Wilder, the Senate speaker, appointed a blue-chip committee of leadership members, three from each party. They are: speaker pro tem Mike Williams (R-Maynardville), chairman; Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle (D-Memphis); Senate Republican leader Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville); Democratic Caucus chairman Joe Haynes (D-Nashville); Republican Caucus chairman Jeff Miller (R-Cleveland); and Roy Herron (D-Dresden).

These senators will present recommendations to the full body when the Senate convenes in January, and there has been some speculation that, if enough circumstantial evidence and reasonable doubt accrue to the process, a party-line vote could end with the now-majority Republicans (17-16) forcing a new election.

But one key Republican, Judiciary chairman Curtis Person (R-Memphis) said last week he would need to see hard evidence of irregularities to overturn an officially certified election contest.

Ford was certified as the winner of the September 15th special election by a 3-2 party-line vote of the Shelby County Election Commission, but all five commissioners eventually signed the official election document, and Ford was formally sworn in last week in Nashville.

Richard Fields, who is serving as counsel to Roland, said this week that the final form of both the Chancery complaint and the appeal to the state Senate has not yet been determined. "It takes awhile to sift through all the particulars, but we had only a 10-day window to challenge the results," he said.

Gill et al. vs. Fields (cont'd.): Fields had a challenge of his own, of course, with the Shelby County Democratic Party scheduled to deal with a resolution concerning him at the monthly meeting of its executive committee this Thursday night.

The resolution, presented by committee member Del Gill, charges Fields, a committee member himself, with giving improper aid to a Republican opponent of a Democratic candidate in violation of local party bylaws. It proposed three remedies: a) Fields' resignation from the Roland case; b) his resignation from the committee; or c) a vote on his expulsion from the committee.

On the eve of the meeting, Fields was giving no quarter. "The state party bylaws have no such provision, and they supercede local bylaws," he said. "Further, I am doing the party a service by making sure the election process was fair. We've just had a chairman and a former chairman indicted, and three state senators have been indicted." Some of those supporting the challenge to his credentials are "the people who have gotten the party in trouble," he said.

Percy Harvey, longtime attorney and lobbyist for the Memphis school board, died Monday at Methodist Hospital in Germantown. Harvey, who succumbed to cancer, handled school construction negotiations in Memphis and in Nashville. Funeral services will be held Saturday. Details were unavailable at presstime.

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