Friday, February 24, 2006

The Twain Meet

Barack Obama and Harold Ford campaign together in Memphis for a pairing of Democratic Party stars.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2006 at 4:00 AM

There are no two ways about it. The joint appearance in Memphis on Monday of Illinois U.S. senator Barack Obama and Tennessee senatorial candidate Harold Ford Jr. was a huge success for the latter's campaign. The crowd that greeted the two politicians was large, demonstrative, and liberally sprinkled (no pun intended) with converts to Ford's cause.

The throng of several thousand that jammed the ballroom of the University of Memphis-area Holiday Inn on Central Avenue was, quite literally, standing room only. It was made up of hundreds of Memphians who had dutifully R.S.V.P'ed to an invitation that had gone out on the local Democratic Party network by e-mail, letter, phone call, and word-of-mouth but included as well several hundred additional attendees who had responded merely to advance news reports of the event.

So obvious was it that an overflow would occur for the affair billed originally as a luncheon, event organizers dispensed with the idea of providing tables for the party regulars and other political-circuit types who thought they had reserved them -- and who stood in long check-in lines to get in. Provided instead were finger-food buffet tables at one end of the cavernous room and a few folding chairs next to the stage for early-bird arrivals.

Here and there in the crowd were Democrats who had been skeptical about Ford's candidacy on ideological grounds -- fearing that the Memphis congressman was too cautious or too politically conservative -- but were beginning to succumb to what they saw as reality. One such, acknowledging that a Democratic alternative existed in state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, dismissed those who maintained that Kurita still had a fair chance of prevailing in the party primary, scoffing, "Give us a break!"

That attitude was based in part on financial disclosures showing that Ford had raised upward of $3 million -- much of it, as Republican senatorial candidate Bob Corker has recently charged, from outside Tennessee -- while Kurita was still well south of her first million. But much of it too, stemmed from an unremitting news focus -- including an abundance of statewide and national media accounts -- that has been trained on the Memphis congressman.

And, finally, much of the drift to Ford was a consequence of the seemingly obvious fact that Democratic Party officialdom, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, had made a conscious decision to put the party's eggs in Ford's basket.

One indication of the hierachy's preference was Obama's visit on Ford's behalf, clearly calculated and not too coincidentally timed in conjunction with NBC anchor Brian Williams' well-publicized confusion of the two in televised coverage of President Bush's State of the Union message.

For obvious reasons, both Obama and Ford played off the two-peas-in-a pod metaphor. Once introduced (by local power lawyer Arnold Perl, one of several dignitaries onstage with Ford and Obama), the Illinois senator, who was elected in 2004 and promptly became a national figure, looked out on the large, racially mixed crowd and jested, "I know about half of y'all are related to Harold." Obama, the son of a Keniyan father and Kansas mother, went on to do send-ups of his own African name, maintaining that he had been called everything from "Alabama" to "Yo' Mama."

From there he elaborated on the supposed connection between himself and Ford, laying on the irony at one point: "You can't elect a black Democrat to the United States Senate. You all heard that, I know." He recounted his own against-all-odds success in Illinois -- even in supposed unfriendly climes like downstate Cairo, Illinois -- and concluded with a peroration that owed much to the oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King. "As Dr. King said, the arc of the universe bends toward justice," Obama said, proclaiming a vision of the fall campaign to come that located Ford's candidacy within the King tradition. "We put our hands on that arc, and we're knocking on doors. ... Wherever we go, we're spreading the word about a new young man that's going to turn it around in Washington."

He beckoned to Ford -- and to thunder from the audience.

And yet there were two ways about it, two distinct personas on display at the Holiday Inn on Monday. There was even an inadvertent irony when Obama, in his introduction for Ford, evoked what he saw as the mission of the Democratic Party in words almost identical to those used on the stump by Kurita. "I am my brother's keeper," said Obama, speaking of himself as a Democrat. "I am my sister's keeper."

And, in his catalogue of the "simple values" that animated Democrats, Obama made reference to a series of presumed expectations held by the party's largely working-class constituency: "They expect [that] if they're able to do the work, they should be able to find a job that pays a living wage. ... They expect that they shouldn't be bankrupt when they get sick." And so on.

Obama's oblique reference to last year's congressional passage of a strict, loophole-closing bankruptcy bill proposed by the Bush administration, a bill opposed by Obama and by the Democratic leadership in both houses in Congress, constituted an even larger irony. After all, Ford whose 9th congressional district overlaps with what has been called "the bankruptcy capital of America," had been among the minority of Democrats who had voted for the legislation. This was the vote that, along with Ford's support of the Iraq war, is often cited by his critics as evidence that Ford is too pliable in relation to the president and his administration.

Even Obama's concluding point in his characterization of Democrats -- "They do think that government can help" -- was later counter-pointed in an odd, even awkward way by Ford himself.

Speaking at one point of an impoverished mother he'd met at a campaign stop, Ford said, "She wasn't complaining to me about her salary, Senator Obama. She wasn't even complaining to me about the working conditions where she worked. She was complaining basically because of the same reasons why my mom and dad loved me and raised me the way they did, sending me to church every Sunday and making sure I did my homework and wanting me to do better. She wanted the same thing for her kids. And all she wanted to know was, why was government getting in the way, why was government making it harder?"

Like so much of what Ford says on the stump these days, the statement had a political ambivalence that obscured whatever political philosophy lies at its core. Ford continued, denouncing "one group [that] dedicates themselves to finding division, and finding the point of separation and amplifying every moment that can tear us apart and amplifying every moment that forces us to see division where it may exist and encourage division where it doesn't exist."

In contrast, Ford designated another group that he said included himself and Obama: "We have to be in the business of uniting and pulling people together. We have to be in the business of not just identifying what's wrong and yelling loud about it but ... working harder to make it right."

Ford spent much time defending himself and his extended family against a variety of criticism, including "narrow and intolerant and asinine statements" apparently emanating from the media. "I know they write a lot about my family, but they raised us right."

Identifying himself with "a new generation of leadership," Ford said his critics were frustrated "because they can't label me." Liberals thought he was "too conservative," he said, while conservatives characterized him as "too liberal." All he was trying to do, said Ford, was to follow the gospel of Matthew and "take care of the people."

He concluded with a promise that, regardless of "all that they say about my mama and my daddy and my aunt and my uncle," he intended to go on to the Senate and "make Tennessee and America a better place."

When the tumult that followed his remarks died down, Ford and Obama, who had arrived together, went to opposite ends of the room on handshaking and autograph-signing missions before each finally departed to his own separate mission and itinerary.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Draft Mike?

7th District Democrats get their hopes up as they eye a possible congressional run by Memphis' Crime Commission head.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Democrats of Tennessee's 7th congressional district, who haven't elected one of their own to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than 30 years, are dreaming anew as of this week.

Several of them have launched an impromptu "Draft Mike" movement, hoping to persuade Mike Heidingsfield, current head of the Memphis-Shelby County Crime Commission, to carry the party standard this fall against incumbent Congressman Marsha Blackburn, one of the GOP's rising stars in the House.

The good news for the needy Democrats is that Heidingsfield, who has just returned from a year spent training members of the fledgling Iraqi police force on behalf of the State Department, is willing to consider the idea. Or so he said after addressing members and guests of the Germantown Democratic Club at the Butcher Shop restaurant in Cordova Monday night.

"I surely wouldn't close the door on it," said Heidingsfield when asked point-blank after his speech about the prospect of running. And, though he has been addressing several groups of late about his experiences in Iraq, regardless of their political coloration (a speech to the downtown Kiwanis Club was reported in last week's Flyer), he affirmed Monday night that if he ran, he would likely do so as a Democrat.

Appropriately enough for those Democrats who might thereby get their hopes up, Heidingsfield's status as a former Air Force colonel and his high-profile tour of duty in Iraq give him the kind of military cachet that was possessed by the last Democrat to be elected from the district -- former Admiral William Anderson, a long-term incumbent who was defeated by the GOP's Robin Beard, an ex-Marine, in 1972.

No other Democrat has won since, though Bob Clement, then of Dickson and later a congressman from Nashville's 5th District, came close against Republican Don Sundquist in 1982.

One thing that Heidingsfield, who headed up the U.S. police-training mission in Iraq, and Blackburn, who has made several trips to that beleaguered Middle East country, share is their upbeat assessment of the Iraqi people's gratitude for their liberation from former dictator Saddam Hussein. From that point, their perspectives differ, however.

Blackburn has continually professed optimism about the prospect for an enduring democracy in Iraq, while Heidingsfield has made it clear that he foresees the likely development there of a Shiite theocracy, like that of neighboring Iran, and the possible splitting of Iraq into three spheres of influence -- one Shiite, one Sunni, and one Kurdish.

Asked Monday night whether the United States should have invaded Iraq in the first place, Heidingsfield said, "No, I don't think we should have gone in there." He went on to say that the American military presence had drawn the very kind of militant Islamic opposition that had been wrongly identified in Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion.

Heidingsfield said American forces were stretched so thin and tied up as a result of the Iraq venture that a future military effort against Iran, a more dangerous power, might be hampered. He said he had "no doubt whatsoever" that such a military mission was in the planning stages.

Blackburn, meanwhile, was heard from during the week -- issuing a press release that blasted former Vice President Al Gore as well as two former Democratic presidents for "trashing [their] country while traveling on foreign soil."

Focusing on remarks made by Gore in Saudi Arabia about alleged abuses in the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies, Blackburn said, ""We've now watched Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore slam the United States in speeches across Europe and the Middle East. ... Whether they're pandering to audiences hostile to the United States or simply espousing their policy views, their comments fuel the sort of anti-American propaganda broadcast by Al-Jazeera."

Among the attendees at the Germantown Democratic Club's Monday night meeting were several officeholders, Democratic and Republican. One of the latter was district attorney general Bill Gibbons, who held the latest in a series of events, a campaign "kickoff" at the Doubletree Hotel on Sunday, and issued a mail-out bearing several hundred endorsements, some from Democrats. At press time, Gibbons was still unopposed, though two Democrats -- Mimi Phillips and Alicia Howard -- had pulled petitions.

The already crowded Democratic field for the 9th District congressional race may shortly draw another entry: state representative Joe Towns, who said last weekend he should be regarded as a "certain" candidate.

Attorney Larry Parrish, who had been considered a possible candidate for the state Senate seat of the retiring Curtis Person, is apparently going to run for a Circuit Court judgeship, instead.

Last week saw all five of the major U.S. Senate candidates gathered at one podium for the first time. Appearing in Nashville at a forum sponsored by the Tennessee Press Association were Democrats Harold Ford Jr. and Rosalind Kurita and Republicans Ed Bryant, Bob Corker, and Van Hilleary.

By all accounts, the joint appearance was free of the kind of vitriolic exchanges that are almost certain to ensue in the two parties' hotly contested primaries as well as in the general election to follow. The most obvious divergence of opinion was between Kurita and Bryant over trade issues.

"I am not a free-trader. I believe this is a nation of free souls, not a multinational corporation. ... I believe the most important thing is protecting American jobs," said Kurita, who represents the Clarksville area in the state Senate.

Replied Bryant, a former congressman from West Tennessee's 7th District: "You can put up all the walls you want -- tariffs -- but that's not going to work."

The candidates expressed general agreement that future military action may be called for against Iran, which has announced plans for a stepped-up nuclear program.

Later in the week, the Republican candidates engaged in a game of one-upmanship via competitive press releases. Corker, the former Chattanooga mayor who is perceived as a moderate and has raised the most money of any Senate candidate so far (almost $5 million!), issued a release boasting that he had bested Hilleary in a straw-vote poll of Washington County Republicans (though he confessedly was edged out in the poll by Bryant).

For his part, Hilleary put out a release about his higher standing in two other recent polls, one conducted jointly by the Knoxville News Sentinel and radio station WBIR and the other by an independent polling firm for OnMessage Inc.

Bryant issued one release about the Washington County poll and another claiming a $150,000 year-end edge in fund-raising over fellow conservative Hilleary. (The last round of financial disclosures showed both clustered closely together, just short of the million-and-a-half mark.)

Ford raised hackles and eyebrows -- at least in the political blogosphere -- by a statement issued after last week's funeral of Coretta Scott King. One sentence in the brief statement -- "Funerals should not be ceremonies to fabricate a life's works" -- puzzled various bloggers and respondents, some of whom regarded Ford as thereby siding with Republican critics of anti-Bush political statements made at the funeral, while others saw the remark as an instance of impenetrable waffling.

A later appearance by Ford on the morning show of TV/radio host Don Imus seemed to put the congressman resolutely on the side of the political positions taken during her lifetime by King. Ford appeared to condone at least the religious/cultural context of the avowedly political remarks made by former President Carter, the Rev. James Lowery, and others.

Reminder: All candidates wishing to file for offices in the May 2nd party primaries for countywide offices must have their completed petitions into the Election Commission by noon Thursday. Candidates wishing to run as independents for countywide office have until April 6th to file. The Flyer's Web site (MemphisFlyer.com) will monitor last-minute filing developments this week.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

POLITICS: Draft Mike?

7th District Democrats get their hopes up as they eye a possible congressional run by Memphis’ Crime Commission head.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2006 at 4:00 AM

New Page 1

Democrats of Tennessee’s 7th congressional district, who haven’t elected one of their own to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than thirty years, are dreaming anew as of this week.

           

Several of them have launched an impromptu “Draft Mike” movement, hoping to persuade Mike Heidingsfield, current head of the Memphis-Shelby County Crime Commission, to carry the party standard this fall against incumbent congressman Marsha Blackburn, one of the GOP’s rising stars in the House.

           

The good news for the needy Democrats is that Heidingsfield, who has just returned from a year spent training members of the fledgling Iraqi police force on behalf of the State Department, is willing to consider the idea. Or so he said after addressing members and guests of the Germantown Democratic Club at the Butcher Shop restaurant in Cordova Monday night.

           

“I surely wouldn’t close the door on it,” said Heidingsfield when asked point-blank after his speech about the prospect of running. And, though he has been addressing several groups of late about his experiences in Iraq, regardless of their political coloration (a speech to the downtown Kiwanis Club was reviewed in the “Fly-By” section of last week’s Flyer), he affirmed Monday night that, if he ran, he would likely do so as a Democrat.

           

Appropriately enough for those Democrats who might thereby get their hopes up, Heidingsfield’s status as a former Air Force colonel and high-profile tour of duty in Iraq give him the kind of military cachet that was possessed by the last Democrat to be elected from the district – former Admiral William Anderson, a long-term incumbent who was defeated by the GOP’s Robin Beard, an ex-Marine, in 1972.

           

No other Democrat has won since, though Bob Clement, then of Dickson, and later a congressman from Nashville’s 5th District, came close against Republican Don Sundquist in 1982. (Clement lost a race for the U.S. Senate in 2002; Sundquist served two terms as governor and retired from politics in 2003.)

           

One thing that Heidingsfield, who headed up the U.S. police-training mission in Iraq, and Blackburn, who has made several trips to that beleaguered Middle East country, share is their upbeat assessment of the Iraqi people’s gratitude for their liberation from former dictator Saddam Hussein. From that point, their perspectives differ, however.

           

Blackburn has continually professed optimism about the prospect for an enduring democracy in Iraq, while Heidingsfield has made it clear that he foresees the likely development there of a Shiite theocracy, like that of neighboring Iran, and the possible splitting of Iraq into three spheres of influence – one Shiite, one Sunni, and one Kurdish.

 

Asked Monday night whether the United States should have invaded Iraq in the first place, Heidingsfield said, “No, I don’t think we should have gone in there” and went on to say that the American military presence had drawn the very kind of militant Islamic opposition that had been wrongly identified in Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion.

           

Heidingsfield said American forces were so stretched thin and tied up as a result of the Iraq venture that a future military effort against Iran, a more dangerous power, might be hampered. He said he had “no doubt whatsoever” that such a military mission was in the planning stages.

           

Blackburn, meanwhile, was heard from during the week – issuing a press release that blasted former Vice President Al Gore as well as two former Democratic presidents for “trashing [their] country while traveling on foreign soil.”

           

Focusing on remarks made by Gore in Saudi Arabia about alleged abuses in the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies, Blackburn said, “"We've now watched Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore slam the United States in speeches across Europe and the Middle East.   Whether they're pandering to audiences hostile to the United States or simply espousing their policy views, their comments fuel the sort of anti-American propaganda broadcast by Al-Jazeera.   This behavior is unprecedented and dangerous."

N

 

Among the attendees at the Germantown Democratic Club’s Monday night meeting were several office-holders, both Democratic and Republican. One of the latter was District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, who held the latest in a series of events, a campaign “kickoff” at the Doubletree Hotel on Sunday and simultaneously issued a mailout bearing several hundred endorsements, some from Democrats. At press time, the GOP’s Gibbons was still unopposed, though two Democrats – Mimi Phillips and Alicia Howard had pulled petitions.

 

The already crowded Democratic field for the 9th District congressional race may shortly draw another entry – state Representative Joe Towns, who said last weekend he should be regarded as a “certain” candidate.

 

Attorney Larry Parrish, who had been considered a possible candidate for the state Senate seat of the retiring Curtis Person, is apparently going to run for a Circuit Court judgeship, instead – the one now held by D’Army Bailey..

 

Last week saw all five of the U.S. Senate candidates considered to be major gathered at one podium for the first time. Appearing in Nashville at a forum sponsored by the Tennessee Press Association during the TPA’s annual convention were Democrats Harold Ford Jr. and Rosalind Kurita and Republicans Ed Bryant, Bob Corker, and Van Hillleary.

             

By all accounts, the joint appearance was free of the kind of vitriolic exchanges that are almost certain to ensue in the two parties’ hotly contested primaries as well as in the general election to follow. The most obvious divergence of opinion was between Kurita and Bryant over trade issues.

           

“I am not a free trader. I believe this is a nation of free souls, not a multinational corporation….I believe the most important thing is protecting American jobs," said Kurita, who represents the Clarksville area in the state Senate.

           

Replied Bryant, a former congressman from West Tennessee’s 7th District: "You can put up all the walls you want, tariffs, but that's not going to work."

           

The candidates expressed general agreement that future military action may be called for against Iran, which has announced plans for a stepped-up nuclear program.

           

Later in the week the Republican candidates engaged in a game of one-upmanship via competitive press releases.  Corker, the former Chattanooga mayor who is perceived as a moderate and has raised the most money of any Senate candidate so far (almost $5 million!), issued a release boasting that he had bested Hilleary in a straw-vote poll of Washington County Republicans (though he confessedly was edged out in the poll by Bryant).

           

For his part, Hilleary put out a release about his higher standing in two other recent polls, one conducted jointly by the Knoxville News Sentinel and radio station WBIR and the other by an independent polling firm for OnMessage Inc,

           

Bryant issued one release about the Washington County poll and another claiming a $150,000 year-end edge in fundraising over fellow conservative Hilleary.  (The last round of financial disclosures showed both clustered closely together, just short of the million-and-a-half mark.)

           

Ford raised hackles and eyebrows – at least in the political blogosphere – by a statement issued after last week’s funeral of Coretta Scott King. One sentence in the brief statement  -- “Funerals should not be ceremonies to fabricate a life’s works” – puzzled various bloggers and respondents, some of whom regarded Ford as thereby siding with Republican critics of anti-Bush political statements made at the funeral, while others saw the remark as an instance of impenetrable waffling.

           

A later appearance by Ford on the morning show of TV/radio host Don Imus seemed to put the congressman resolutely on the side of the political positions taken during her lifetime by King. Ford appeared to condone at least the religious/cultural context of the avowedly political remarks made by former president Carter, the Rev. James Lowery, and others.

 

Reminder: Thursday of this week sees the first important deadline of this election year. All candidates wishing to file for offices in the May 2nd party primaries for countywide offices must have their completed petitions into the Election Commission by noon. Candidates wishing to run as independents for countywide office have until April 6 to file. Thiss Web site will monitor last-minute filing developments this week.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Room for One More

Julian Bolton exits the county commission and gets ready for a 9th District congressional race.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 10, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Longtime Shelby County commissioner Julian Bolton announced Monday that he would not seek reelection this year, regardless of whether the state Supreme Court should rule in favor of Bolton and other plaintiffs in a suit against the county's current term-limits restrictions.

Bolton's announcement, made first in a press release circulated to media present at Monday's commission meeting, and subsequently in a statement addressed to his fellow commissioners, was followed by the commissioner's private acknowledgement that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Congress in Memphis' 9th District.

Bolton, the first big-name African-American public official to express interest in the race, answered in the affirmative when asked if he thought his entry would tend to cause a contraction in the number of candidates seeking the seat. "There will still be five or six, though, maybe more, right up to and possibly through [the primary filing deadline of] April 6th."

The 9th District seat, which is being vacated by incumbent Harold Ford Jr., now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, has attracted a wide field of aspirants so far, both Democratic and Republican.

Before Bolton's confirmation of intent on Monday, the best-known candidate to express an interest had been state senator Steve Cohen, also a Democrat.

The other two county commissioners, both Democrats, who have been active parties to the suit against the term-limits restriction, are Walter Bailey and Cleo Kirk. The state Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue sometime soon.

Okay, let's play What If: Supposing the state Senate should vote to void last fall's special state Senate election in District 29 and that vote were to be upheld by the courts. What would the Shelby County Commission -- which has a 7-6 party division favoring Republicans over Democrats -- do?

Erstwhile Republican candidate Terry Roland says he remains certain that six of the seven Republicans are committed to vote for him as an interim appointee. (The seventh is the openly undecided Bruce Thompson, whose District 5 is tenuously balanced between Republican and Democratic voters.)

But even a modest amount of probing uncovers a fair amount of ambivalence on the part of other commissioners. Some profess to be open-minded about their choice for an interim District 29 senator but acknowledge they'll likely go for Roland when push comes to shove. Others lean in the opposite way: They praise Roland and congratulate him for his efforts -- before, during, and after the election -- but are consciously ruminating about a more neutral choice for interim senator.

Others simply say, like Republican commissioner David Lillard, that they won't comment on their choice until it comes time to make one.

One GOP commissioner who has been on the horns of the general dilemma is George Flinn, who at press time was scheduled for a Tuesday night appearance with Roland at a meeting of the Shelby County Conservative Republican Club. Talk about pressure!

Except that Angelo Cobrasci, the SCCRC's founder, put himself on record this past weekend as favoring the interim appointment of someone other than either Roland or Democrat Ophelia Ford, whom some of the commission's six Democrats say they'll vote for.

The case which Cobrasci and others make against the selection of either Roland or Ford (both of whom presumably will run for the seat again in this year's regular election cycle) is that, by definition, there may be no way of knowing which of them actually polled more legitimate votes.

One Republican commissioner who definitely will vote for Roland and who has in fact promised to nominate him for the interim appointment is current chairman Tom Moss, a longtime Roland friend who will thereby do himself no harm with his Republican constituency in District 4, Position 2.

The once-controversial Moss was suspect with some rank-and-file Republicans after he was appointed commissioner in late 2000 by the body's Democrats, along with then GOP commissioner Clair VanderSchaaf, in a package deal that involved the simultaneous appointment of then Democratic commissioner Shep Wilbun as Juvenile Court clerk.

But Moss seems to have consolidated his position in his fellow Republican commissioners and in GOP circles generally. And though several potential primary opponents are considering a race against him this year -- former foe Jim Bomprezzi has already filed; Wyatt Bunker and John Bogan have pulled petitions; and Lang Wiseman, one of Roland's lawyers, is contemplating running -- Moss's position would seem even more secure than it proved to be four years ago, when he prevailed against Bomprezzi and one other Republican opponent in the primary.

Though in one sense the race for Probate Court clerk may have the character of a rerun -- Republican incumbent Chris Thomas facing yet another challenge from former employee/litigant Sondra Becton -- the drama may be enlivened by additional cast members. Notably, Cheyenne Johnson, a top aide to assessor Rita Clark. Johnson hasn't made her move yet, but is getting a lot of preliminary talk on the Democratic side. Meanwhile, Democrat Dale Dean and independent Harold May have picked up petitions too.

County commissioner John Willingham's on-again/off-again attitude toward a mayor's race may be on again. Or so indicated Willingham after a well-attended 50th wedding anniversary celebration for himself and wife Marge at East Memphis' Summit Club Saturday night. Willingham said that Mayor A C Wharton would make the issue moot by taking a more positive approach to revenue alternatives like the payroll tax which Willingham is proposing -- now in its 42nd version.

Another surprise mayoral possibility is the Rev. Jeffrey Woodard, who, with fellow jailers' spokesperson Warren Cole, has kept up a running year-long campaign to prevent the commission from privatizing the county jail and corrections center. Woodard, who would run as a Democrat, also said he was considering supporting Willingham for mayor, though. Go figure.

Freshman state representative Brian Kelsey of Collierville, who decided early on last year to disregard protocol, continues to speak out on a variety of issues without clearing things in advance with the legislative elders of either party. During the course of the special session on ethics, which ended this week, Republican Kelsey proposed 33 separate amendments to the legislation in progress and had begun issuing a daily press release on the "Loophole of the Day."

No harm, no foul, except -- wait a minute! -- Kelsey announced midway through the special session that he would be returning his $150 per diem and challenged fellow legislators to do the same. "We're getting paid to do nothing," Kelsey said in a press release. "This is the heart of ethics reform. Are we doing the people's business or are we lining our own pockets?"

That may have been what fellow GOP state rep Currie Todd of Collierville was referring to at the Republicans' annual Lincoln Day dinner Saturday night, when, sitting at the same table with Kelsey, Todd proclaimed: "We're taking away his computer!"

Correction: Shelby County commissioner Deidre Malone (District 2, 3 -- not 3, 1, as was reported last week) is still free of duly filed opponents, though two potential ones have drawn petitions, Democrat Jeffrey Shields and independent Jesse Elder Neely.

In commission District 3, 2, Sidney Chism says he will continue to vie for that seat even if incumbent Cleo Kirk follows through on a recent change of mind and decides to run again, after all. Three other Democrats who have pulled petitions are Bob Hatton, Clifford Lewis, and the aforesaid Jeffrey Shields.

Friday, February 3, 2006

Sorting Things Out

As 9th District candidates begin to make their move, a judge and various contenders mull the future.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 3, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Even as reports grew, circulated by intimates of Shelby County commissioner Julian Bolton, that Bolton was highly likely to enter the race, the crowded field of declared District 9 congressional candidates redoubled their efforts to gain an advantage.

Several of these candidates were capsuled in this space last week, on the eve of their appearance at a Tuesday night cattle-call forum sponsored by Democracy for America at the IBEW union hall. One who wasn't -- but clearly should have been -- was Tyson Pratcher, currently an aide to U.S. senator Hillary Clinton of New York.

In word-of-mouth discussions after the forum and on the local blogosphere circuits, Pratcher received high marks indeed for his spirited and detailed answers to questions. As I suggested in online coverage after the event: "... Pratcher [made] full use of his presumed expertise and connections ('Senator Clinton and I did some work on this issue ...') but persuasively rather than presumptuously so, going on in most cases to spell out exactly what he meant. As in the case of specific labor legislation when faced with the same question about union rights ...

Others dominating post-forum discussions as having done well were Joseph Kyles, a prominent member of the Rainbow/Push organization; University of Memphis law professor Lee Harris; and lawyer Ed Stanton, Jr. Reaction to three others -- consultant Rod Redwing, pastor Ralph White, and lawyer/activist Bill Whitman, a fresh entry -- was more subdued.

White, especially, raised eyebrows by expressing surprise at being asked about the Iraq war and by giving an extended lament about union corruption when asked about measures he might pursue regarding organized labor.

Though Redwing had seemed relatively laid-back and noncommittal at the forum, he was anything but that at a well-attended rally in his honor on Saturday at April House on the old Defense Depot grounds. Running down a litany of issues ranging from the war to "living-wage" legislation, Redwing galvanized his crowd and offered thereby a reminder that his early start last year had allowed him to develop a bona fide grass-roots organization.

Last week's leading gainer, however, may have been Stanton, who not only impressed attendees at the forum but was a runaway winner in a $50-a-head straw poll/fund-raiser sponsored by the Shelby County Democratic Party at the Rendezvous restaurant. Stanton's 56 votes put him ahead of the absent Pratcher, with 19, and Redwing, who got five votes despite referring to the event as requiring a "poll tax" and asking his supporters not to participate. Other vote-getters were Kyles and Harris, with two votes each.

Another straw poll, conducted by radio station WLOK, would see Redwing the victor, with state senator Steve Cohen second. Absent from both the forum and the SCDP straw poll were lawyer Nikki Tinker, who has gathered significant name recognition but has not yet figured on the public stump, and Cohen, whose entry is now regarded as all but certain.

"If Julian gets in, this thing will come down to Bolton vs. Cohen," predicted Shelby County commissioner Deidre Malone last week.

Meanwhile, this week saw a new entry: businessman Marvell Mitchell, whose credentials include appointment by Governor Phil Bredesen to the state Lottery Board, membership on the Chamber of Commerce board, and service as chairman of the Black Business Association.

Among the topics of discussion among the Republican state senators who, en masse, attended last week's hearing on the District 29 election dispute in U.S. district judge Bernice Donald's court, was the GOP's quandary in finding a suitable opponent to run against Democratic incumbent governor Phil Bredesen.

Two name Republicans -- former state representative Jim Henry of Kingston and state representative Beth Harwell of Nashville, a recent party chairman -- have opted out of a gubernatorial race in recent weeks.

One of the Republican senators in Memphis for the hearing, Jim Bryson of Franklin, gave a shrug and acknowledged the likelihood when asked if a GOP member of the legislature might be drafted by the state party to run as a quasi-official candidate.

Even as Bryson spoke, meanwhile, an unofficial but highly visible and declared Republican candidate, Carl "Two Feathers" Whitaker -- a leader of the Minuteman movement, which attaches high priority to stopping illegal immigration -- was preparing to address a rally in Nashville outside the office of U.S. Senate majority leader Bill Frist.

The rally, which took place on Friday, drew "a thousand" people to hear his discussion of "this issue of illegals," Whitaker later reported.

Judge Donald's ruling on the District 29 matter was promised for this Wednesday. At issue were at least three aspects of the dispute: her own jurisdiction over the issue; continuation of an injunction prohibiting further action by the state Senate to void the election; and the prospect of further judicial review of Democrat Ophelia Ford's allegations of due-process violations. Should Donald allow the Senate to vote, it is expected to ratify (probably this week) a previous vote nullifying last year's special election, in which Ford was the provisional 13-vote winner over Republican Terry Roland, who has alleged various irregularities in the voting.

If the Senate ends up completing action this week, the burden will then be on the Shelby County Commission, to choose between Ford, Roland, or a third party as an interim senator, pending this fall's general election.

David Pickler, the perennial chairman of the Shelby County School Board, this week became the first board member to announce his candidacy for reelection, advising that, if reelected to a four-year term, it would be his last.

There could be a change of plans, however. Pickler remains a possible candidate for the District 31 state Senate seat (East Memphis, Germantown) held for decades by Curtis Person, if Person should decide not to run for reelection. Other prospective candidates for an open District 31 seat would be state representative Paul Stanley and former state representative Larry Scroggs.

Person's name has been mentioned frequently of late as a possible candidate for Juvenile Court judge, and his candidacy for that job, if he goes on to consider it, would also be conditional -- dependent on the reelection plans, so far unannounced, of longtime incumbent judge Kenneth Turner, whom Person serves as a part-time aide.

In other developing races:

Juvenile Court Clerk: A showdown is brewing in the Democratic primary between Memphis school board member Wanda Halbert and former clerk Shep Wilbun. Halbert has already filed for the position, while Wilbun, who has been making frequent media appearances to stoke a return to public life, hasn't as of yet. He has, however, pulled a petition from the Election Commission.

Probate Court Clerk: The on-again, off-again struggle between incumbent Republican Chris Thomas and employee Sondra Becton, a Democrat, may be on again. Becton last week drew a petition to run again for the job, which she has sought before. Some years back, she also filed charges of harassment (nonsexual) and discrimination against Thomas, which were settled out of court.

Criminal Court Clerk: Kevin Gallagher, formerly an aide to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, has company in his Democratic primary race. Gallagher, who had a well-attended announcement party late last year, will be opposed by veteran activist Vernon Johnson Sr. Republican incumbent Bill Key is seeking reelection.

Shelby County Commission, District 3, Position 1: Incumbent Deidre Malone has already drawn two primary opponents in this traditionally Democratic district: James Harvey and Adrian Killebrew.

Shelby County Commission, District 3, Position 2: "It would be a shame if the people of this district should lose so effective a spokesman." That ringing endorsement of the incumbent, Cleo Kirk, comes from a prospective candidate for his seat, businessman Bob Hatton, who is, in fact, something of a protégé of Kirk. Hatton, who is also considering a run for two other commission seats, will not run for Position 2 if Kirk's appeal of the county's current term-limits provisions is upheld by the state Supreme Court.

Another declared candidate for the District 3, Position 2 seat is former Teamster leader and interim state senator Sidney Chism, who may also choose another seat to run for if Kirk's appeal is sustained.

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