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.

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