In Memphis and Shelby County, the cycles are so arranged that one year out of every four is election-free. The year just past, 2005, should have provided such a hiatus, but its political circumstances were so momentous as to keep politics -- and politicians -- in everybody's face all year long even though there was no full-scale balloting.
Ah, but late in 2005 there was one local political race of consequence -- a state Senate special election race in District 29 that managed to echo the year's biggest, most overarching political event, the so-called Tennessee Waltz scandal alleging wholesale corruption in both state and local government.
And it was, after all, the eve of 2006, a year which will boast the largest ballot in local history, including races for everything of consequence but the White House. Multitudes of politicians were launching plans for political campaigns, and several score of them had their races under way.
By way of farewell to this eventful "off"-year, here is a Top 10 list of highlights from 2005. Apologies to David Letterman and, for that matter, to readers who would just as soon forget that some or all of this actually happened:
10) The incredible shrinking treasury: Actually, make that "treasuries," since both city and county government experienced grievous shortfalls during the year. Both governments were forced to bite the bullet -- closing useful programs and even shutting down long-running boondoggles. High side: The county commission imposed a moratorium on new development. Low side: The city terminated recreation programs, including (sigh!) summer softball.
9) The incredible shrinking mayor: Or maybe this erstwhile mayor-for-life is just laying back. In any case, there were frequent occasions, several of them high-protocol, when Memphis chief executive Willie Herenton was nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, rumors of every known kind -- some flattering, most not -- continued to swirl about him.
8) The incredible un-shrinking violet: Councilwoman Carol Chumney continued her high-profile undeclared campaign for mayor in 2007, jousting with both Herenton and councilmates at every opportunity and working up a legitimate following in the process.
7) MLGW: So many controversies revolved around the city's mammoth utility, ranging from rate questions to leadership squabbles to a ruined dialogue with the City Council to recurring rumors of potential future sell-offs that even the lingering TVA pre-purchase scandal was made to seem dull normal.
6) TennCare: Now you see it, now you don't. Governor Phil Bredesen said he had no choice, for budgetary reasons, but to drastically cut the rolls of the state-run health-insurance system. Various critics, ranging from aggrieved activist groups to state senator Steve Cohen, a potential gubernatorial entry, kept insisting he did.
5) A C: Shelby County mayor Wharton finally moved beyond merely looking good to provide solid leadership in the areas of urban sprawl and alternative revenue sources. A C-D.C.? No, no congressional race, but some were touting him as the next city mayor. Meanwhile, his reelection is a shoo-in.
4) Harold Ford Jr. and friends: Though progressive Democrats simmered over what they saw as his Blue-Dog equivocations, the 9th District congressman's campaign was inevitably the centerpiece of national media attention to a U.S. Senate race in Tennessee that also included Democratic state senator Rosalind Kurita and three name Republicans: ex-Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker and former congressmen Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary.
3) John Ford: A one-man Titanic saga (or should that be Sink the Bismarck!), the once-and-futureless state senator would have gone down in the Tennessee Waltz anyhow, but he'd already sprung a thousand leaks from the investigations of his wheeling and dealing that resulted from the financial info in this frequent father's petitions for child-support relief.
2) Roland v. Ford et al.: or however the messy post-District 29-election challenge comes to be known to history. Live state senators and not dead voters will take a shot at resolving it in January.
1) The Tennessee Waltz: The FBI's "e-Cycle" sting made for bad music in its allegations of extortion and bribery on a massive scale (involving, among others, the aforesaid John Ford and various other local pols), but it served as a rousing overture to the New Year's special legislative session on ethics reform. I mean, let's think positive, right?
Next: 2006, which will be busier and, just possibly, better.