Thursday, April 27, 2006

Delayed Verdict

With Ford and Roland both out for now, the County Commission hedges on a District 29 senator.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 27, 2006 at 4:00 AM

The residents of state Senate District 29, which runs from top to bottom of the Shelby County riverfront, will just have to wait a while for representation in the Tennessee General Assembly.

After a dramatic week in which both of last year's major-party contenders ceased to be immediate prospects for holding the office -- one voluntarily, one involuntarily -- and in which the Shelby County Commission decided to put off deciding on the matter, the seat seemed likely to go unfilled for the duration of this year's legislative session.

First, in a dramatic and long postponed session of the state Senate in Nashville last Wednesday, Democrat Ophelia Ford, who was sworn in as the apparent 13-vote winner of a special election last September, became an ex-senator Wednesday afternoon when her colleagues voted 26-6 to void that election result as "incurably uncertain." Next, Terry Roland, the Republican contender in that election, took himself out of the running as a possible interim replacement at a Monday-morning press conference. Roland, who had been in the Senate gallery when the historic vote occurred last week, had hinted of his intentions then, suggesting that public hearings be held before the Shelby County Commission declared a successor to Ford.

And finally, later on Monday, the commission concluded intermittent debate on the matter by shelving plans for a vote on May 8th and scheduling one for May 22nd instead. A date that late could actually occur after the completion of the current legislative session -- a point recognized by Republican Bruce Thompson and Democrat Walter Bailey, each of whom pushed for the earlier voting date.

Bailey, who wanted assurances from his colleagues that the historical "ethnic" and political character of the predominantly black and Democratic district would be respected in naming an interim senator, was nevertheless willing to take his chances without such guarantees.

Ultimately, though, the commission adopted the position of Democrat Julian Bolton, who said there should be no "rush to judgment." At a fund-raiser for his 9th District congressional campaign later Monday, Bolton acknowledged his own concern that the commission, which has a 7-6 Republican majority, might name a Republican to cast the last few votes for what has been a traditionally Democratic district.

Thompson saw the issue differently, maintaining that the closeness of the disputed election called for a fresh look on the part of all commissioners. Asked after Monday's commission meeting about persistent rumors that his refusal to commit his vote in advance had prompted Roland's decision to withdraw, Thompson said only, "I made it clear to everyone that I was keeping an open mind."

Under the circumstances, whoever gets appointed on May 22nd is likely to be regarded as an honorary senator. Among those who have expressed interest to commissioners about the interim position is Belz Enterprises head Ron Belz, who has also nursed thoughts of running for city mayor.

Roland and the now-deposed Ford are both on the ballot again this year, though Ford must first defeat Steve Haley in the Democratic primary for a reprise of last year's race to occur.

Ophelia Ford's final appearance in the Senate, it was generally conceded, was dignified and capped by a graceful farewell speech to her colleagues. Before she got to that point, she had waited out a preliminary period in which she, like other Shelby Countians, was called upon to be a celebrant as University of Memphis president Shirley Raines, head Tiger football coach Tommy West, and members of the team were recognized in the chamber.

While others, including longtime U of M booster Steve Cohen, Tennessee Waltz indictee Kathryn Bowers, and venerable Senate speaker John Wilder all sported the blue-and-gray Tiger jerseys that were handed out, Ford chose to drape hers around her neck for a prolonged spell as a gesture of solidarity. Under the circumstances, it was the kind of thing the British call a nice distinction.

Ultimately, all of that was over, people were back in their workaday garb, and Wilder was banging his gavel to usher in the real business. Republican Micheal Williams, chairman of the special Senate investigating committee that had been digging into the District 29 matter from way back in January, announced that the committee had duly made a determination -- by a vote of 5-1, including two Democrats, one of them the Senate's Democratic leader, Jim Kyle of Memphis.

The upshot was that last year's special election -- dogged by irregularities both suspected and real (e.g., two dead voters) -- was found to have been "incurably uncertain." U.S. district judge Bernice Donald, who back in January had stayed Senate action on due-process grounds, had declined to issue a follow-up injunction earlier last week, and Williams thereupon asked for a favorable vote on the panel's findings to void the election.

Lt. Governor Wilder dutifully called for a vote, and that was when Cohen had his moment as the lone and last stay against getting the process over with. "Is there not going to be a debate?" he asked. The senator would say later that he hadn't premeditated anything other than to explain his reasons for voting against voiding the election.

In the end he did more, sounding like the lawyer he is as he recapped (or spontaneously re-created)) some of the arguments that Ford's attorneys David Cocke and Steve Mulroy had made on her behalf before Judge Donald on Tuesday.

In the course of his remarks, Cohen asked assistant state attorney general Janet Kleinfelter and former judge Ben Cantrell, the special Senate committee's lawyer, onto the floor of the chamber to explain -- awkwardly, as it turned out -- the reasons for voiding the election.

It all came back to that issue of incurable uncertainty, though as Cohen pointed out, neither Kleinfelter nor Cantrell was able to make the case for more than 12 suspect votes, one less than the margin by which Ford was certified the winner by the Shelby County Election Commission last year.

All in all, it was a spirited performance by the senator, at least as effective as the one made in court Tuesday by Cocke and Mulroy and one, incidentally, that will do Cohen no harm politically in his current campaign for Congress in the majority-black 9th District -- in which two of a numerous field of opponents happen to have the last name of Ford.

(At a South Memphis forum for 9th District congressional candidates Sunday night, Cohen recalled his feeling that Ford had been "like a lamb led to slaughter" on the day of the Senate vote.)

But in the end only six Democrats voted no against the resolution. Besides Cohen and Ford herself, the nay-voters were Bowers, Ward Crutchfield, the Chattanooga Democrat who himself faces trial in the Tennessee Waltz scandal, Democrat Thelma Harper of Nashville, and Joe Haynes, also of Nashville, the Senate Democratic caucus leader.

Kyle later made a point of saying his vote was not intended as any kind of criticism of Ford herself.

"I expect to see her back after November," the Democrats' Senate leader said. "She's been an effective senator." Kyle was careful to make one distinction. "A lot of the media has referred to this as an 'ouster,'" he noted. "It's anything but. Ophelia's done nothing wrong."

Who had? he was asked. "The whole election system," he said. "The election commission and county government both have something to answer for. And why haven't [district attorney] Bill Gibbons and the T.B.I. [Tennessee Bureau of Investigation] come up with legal recommendations. Somebody has done something wrong, and they need to be identified and dealt with."

As if the Republican Party's conservatives were not divided enough by the dual presence of former congressmen Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant in this year's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, another fissure has developed in the ranks. Angelo Cobrasci, head of the Shelby County Conservative Republican Club, said last week he had decided to endorse former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, widely perceived as something of a moderate.

Apprised of this last Wednesday after a Nashville forum appearance alongside Bryant, Corker, and Democrat Harold Ford Jr., Hilleary shrugged and said the reason was probably his quick endorsement of the GOP gubernatorial candidacy of state senator Jim Bryson of Franklin. (Cobrasci has served as campaign manager for Carl "Two Feathers" Whitaker, the state Minuteman head who switched his own bid from the Republican primary to independent status when Bryson announced.)

“You will notice I’m the only Senate candidate who has endorsed Bryson. Corker and Bryant haven’t,” Hilleary contended, maintaining that all his GOP rivals had done was welcome the entry of Bryson, who was strongly urged to run by ranking state Republicans.

Several observers at last week’s forum, held at Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel, noted that Ford, whom they credited with an effective and somewhat aggressive performance, delivered his own closing remarks and then upstaged Hilleary’s, either intentionally or otherwise, by exiting early, conspicuously shaking hands and making conversation with various attendees as he left during the former 4th District congressman’s attempts to sum up.

A day or so after the long-expecting unveiling of two statewide television spots by Corker, Hilleary rushed a couple of his own into circulation, one of them attacking both Corker and Ford as lacking conservative credentials.


In addition to the Shelby County Commission races chronicled in this week's cover story, there are contests on the primary ballots for several other offices.

SHELBY COUNTY MAYOR: On the Democratic side, incumbent mayor A C Wharton is heavily favored over county jailers' advocate Jeffrey Woodard, who is running a protest campaign against what he sees as Wharton's cautiousness.

As it happens, Woodard is also giving verbal support to the campaign of outgoing county commissioner John Willingham, a longtime Wharton antagonist, who is pushing an ambitious program of reforms, including a proposed payroll tax. Opposing both the tax and Willingham in the Republican primary is political newcomer Brent Todd.

SHERIFF: Incumbent Mark Luttrell had the Republican ballot all to himself after Roland ally John Harvey thought better of a race, but several Democrats are vying for the right to challenge him on August 3rd. The field includes businessman and Alcohol Commission head Reginald French, educator Jesse Jeff, sheriff's deputy Bennie Cobb, and police captain Elton Hyman. French is favored.

CIRCUIT COURT CLERK: Democrats Roderic Ford and Johnnie Ruth Williams are vying for the right to oppose incumbent Jimmy Moore in August. Both Democrats are relative unknowns;
CRIMINAL COURT CLERK: Democrats Kevin Gallagher and Vernon Johnson compete for the right to take on incumbent Bill Key of the GOP. Gallagher, a former aide to county mayor Wharton, has campaigned aggressively and has support from key Democrats of both races who covet diversity on what is otherwise a predominantly African-American ticket; bail bondsman Johnson is a veteran activist;

JUVENILE COURT CLERK: In the Democratic primary, school board member Wanda Halbert and former clerk Shep Wilbun are competing for the seat now held by unopposed Republican incumbent Steve Stamson. The showdown is regarded as a tossup, though some regard Wilbun as the favorite because of a general feeling that his former tenure as clerk was unfairly maligned in the media and in the courts (where a misconduct charge against him was dismissed). The hard-working Halbert's tenacious campaigning is respected, however.

PROBATE COURT CLERK: On the Democratic side Sondra Becton takes on Leon Dishmon. GOP incumbent Chris Thomas is unopposed. Becton, a consistent antagonist of former boss Thomas over the years, is favored in her primary race.

SHELBY COUNTY CLERK: This clerkship, vacated this year by outgoing Republican incumbent Jayne Creson, has races going on in both parties. On the Democratic side, the contestants are Charlotte Draper, Otis Jackson, Zoltan T. Scales, and Joe Young.
Draper and Scales are currently employed in the clerk's office, while Jackson, a FedEx employee, and Young, a mental health administrator and former state Democratic official, have more political experience per se.  This race, like that between Republicans Debbie Stamson and Marilyn Loeffel, is considered too close to call.

Stamson, currently an administrator in the clerk's office and wife of Juvenile Court clerk Steve Stamson, has been endorsed by Creson and has considerable support among party regulars, while two-term county commissioner Loeffel has a strong base in her home base of Cordova and among social conservatives.

There are no primary races for DISTRICT ATTORNEY GENERAL, where GOP incumbent Bill Gibbons and Democrat Gail Mates are unopposed; for TRUSTEE, where incumbent Republican Bob Patterson and Democrat Becky Clark lack opposition; and REGISTER, where the August candidates will be GOP incumbent Tom Leatherwood and Democrat Coleman Thompson. -- JB

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Neutral Gear

Representative Ford, suddenly the Democratic nominee by default, makes a point of sounding nonpartisan.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Last Thursday, at the end of his first full day as the undisputed Democratic Party nominee for the U.S. Senate, 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr. concluded a statewide bus tour in hometown Memphis with a brief, rousing -- and highly nonpartisan -- speech in front of his East Memphis headquarters.

Though Ford at one point made a respectful, even gallant reference to Clarksville state senator Rosalind Kurita, who had withdrawn from the Democratic primary race the previous day, he made no effort to adapt any of Kurita's sometimes militant Democratic rhetoric to his own style, which remained virtually free of any partisan inflections.

One of the characteristics of the congressman's stump style is his habit of arbitrarily working the names of audience members into his remarks. Thus it happened that Larry Papasan, the former MLGW head and current board chairman of Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, became the recipient of one publicly offered confidence.

At one point in his rhetorical roll, Ford said, "I'm not a Democrat, Larry Papasan, running up to Washington yelling 'Democrat, Democrat, Democrat, Democrat.' Somebody's going to go, and I know I make some Democrats upset at times because I'm just a believer [that] if it works, you have to support it. And if it doesn't work, you don't support it."

In fact, were it not for the multiple uses of the word "Democrat" in that one passage, Ford would have used the word "Republican" at least as often, if not more so, in his 10 minutes or so of speaking, after being introduced to the crowd by former Georgia senator Max Cleland.

And the congressman was careful to be as value-neutral as possible in his terminology. No GOP-bashing, a la Howard Dean. (Or, for that matter, Harry Truman.)

Periodically citing members of his audience, Ford acknowledged office-holders of both parties. Among the Republicans he called by name were "my friend" District Attorney Bill Gibbons and Sheriff Mark Luttrell. ("I didn't mind," professed the unmentioned Reginald French, one of several Democratic candidates for sheriff who were on hand.)

Luttrell, in fact, is a political neighbor to Ford; his headquarters (which Luttrell formally opened early this week to a large gathering) adjoins that of the congressman's, a space which has historically been occupied by GOP campaigns. On the other side of Ford's HQ is the headquarters site of Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, a Democrat.

Ford's ecumenical style at times made him sound like a candidate in a local nonpartisan race: "I don't know of any Republican way of paying $69 per barrel of oil. I don't know of any Democratic way to lose your job. I don't know of a Republican way to pay too much for prescription drugs. I don't know of a Democratic way to run up the deficit. And I certainly don't know of a Republican way to get a knock on your door, Sidney Chism, saying, 'Mr. Kirk, Commissioner Kirk, that's your baby that's dead.'"

(The congressman's evenhandedness extended even to that carefully balanced mention of the two Democratic candidates for a County Commission seat, Chism and incumbent Cleo Kirk. For the record, the term-limited Kirk is ineligible to serve but is campaigning nevertheless.)

The most direct reference Ford made to the three major candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the Senate came via a warning to the crowd that "terrible" things would be said by them about him and members of his family.

"There's nothing you can say and do that will bring any distance between me and my family," Ford declared. "They're my family, and they're all I've got. But I want to say one thing: I'm running, not them."

He went on: "If you want to debate why it is that your party has voted for five years and run up a deficit, come ask me. If you want to debate why it is that you were in Congress ... for two of the years that the president was there and you voted to cut veterans' spending, come talk to me. If you want to debate why health care is where it is, come talk to me. Let's have that debate."

Even Ford's most direct appeal to traditional Democratic allegiances, at the end of his speech, was politically ambidextrous. "I'm proud to be your nominee for the Democratic Party. I'm going to make Republicans proud, and I will make independents proud. I will make this state proud."

At his conclusion, Ford told the crowd that regardless of their partisan leanings, they should ignore the "bad things" they would hear about him and his family, and "if Republicans can defend Don Rumsfeld and George Bush, I know you can defend me."

To judge by a continuing bitterness toward Ford on the e-mail networks and in the blogs of hard-core Democratic progressives in the wake of Kurita's withdrawal, the congressman may have a harder time getting some of his own party-mates to defend him.

But he seems to have calculated that the prize he seeks among the voters of a politically variegated state is more likely to be won by blander and broader-based appeals like the ones in his speech Thursday night.

It will be up to Ed Bryant, Van Hilleary, and Bob Corker, the three GOP Senate hopefuls, to make Ford seem more "Democrat, Democrat, Democrat, Democrat" than he chooses to on his own.


"I had worked just as hard as a possibly could for a very long time. And sources of possible support I had reason to expect would be open to me weren't." Thus it was that state senator Kurita, cutting her losses, decided last week, a day before the formal withdrawal deadline, that she would exit the Senate campaign she had been doggedly pursuing for well over a year.

One of those sources, Kurita acknowledged, was Emily's List, the women's movement political action committee whose name is an acronym for "Early money is like yeast." In Kurita's case, it never rose. Nor did support from several other Democratic Party sources -- both statewide and national -- that she, a practitioner of traditional Democratic politics, had reason to expect help from.

Her positions, including opposition to basic changes in Social Security and to the highly restrictive bankruptcy bill that Ford voted for last year, were measurably closer to the policies espoused by the Democratic leadership in Congress than those of the Memphis congressman, but it had become clear that the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, headed by New York senator Charles Schumer, was backing Ford. Indeed, on a barnstorming tour last year, Schumer cited the Tennessee Democratic primary as one of several he had an interest in and warned Kurita publicly about "attacking" Ford.

Under the circumstances, one of Kurita's most significant fund-raising boosts had been achieved last year from an innovative ad she placed on several political Web sites, showing the face of Bill Frist, the outgoing Republican incumbent, morphing into that of Kurita. "Replace this Republican Doctor ... with this Democratic Nurse," the ad said. Her fund-raising in the last quarter of 2005 was significant, though far less than that of Ford, who recently announced that he had raised $1.5 million in the first quarter of 2006 -- putting his total to the stratospheric level of $5.7 million, marginally ahead of previous fund-raising leader Corker.

Kurita's withdrawal came as a shock to local supporters, several of whom had spent time with her as recently as the previous weekend, when she came to Memphis to participate in a skeet-shooting event.

Kurita said there was "absolutely no deal" with Ford or with any representative of his campaign, nor had there been any contact between the two campaigns. Asked if she intended to endorse the congressman, she said, "I really haven't even begun to think about that."


Up to this point, GOP Senate candidate Bryant, who represented part of Shelby County as 7th District congressman from 1995 to 2003, has made the most number of visits to Shelby County. But his Republican opponents may be on their way to catching up.

Former 4th District congressman Hilleary, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002 and now serves as GOP national committeeman from Tennessee, made his ritual fly-by "announcement" last Wednesday at the Wilson Air terminal, where Corker had made a similar appearance last month. Although contending for the record that "there's plenty conservative vote to go around," Hilleary made it clear that he'd just as soon fellow conservative Bryant decamped from the race to make for a clearer shot at Corker, widely regarded as more moderate.

In a press release this week, Hilleary bore down on the point, claiming to be leading Bryant in most polls and to have out-raised him financially in the first quarter of 2006, with new receipts of $412,355. For his part, Bryant continued daily e-mail attacks on purported shortcomings of former Chattanooga mayor Corker's administration and released a new Zogby poll showing him with a larger potential lead over Ford than Hilleary.

Corker, who visited Memphis for several days this week, trumpeted his own fund-raising, which showed first-quarter receipts of $772,000 -- more, he said, than the combined amounts of $767,000 collected by Hilleary and Bryant ($335,000).


Another year, another path?

Members of New Path, a predominantly African-American group which describes itself as "a nonpartisan political action organization dedicated to encouraging young leaders in Shelby County," held a press conference at the Tom Lee Memorial on Riverside Drive last week to introduce three of the group's endorsees in this year's elections. They were: Mike Rude, a Republican primary candidate for the Shelby County Commission's District 1, Position 1 seat; Melvin Burgess Jr., Democratic primary candidate for the commission's District 2, Position 2 seat; and Kevin Gallagher, Democratic primary candidate for Criminal Court Clerk.

New Path, which is largely credited for having helped member Tomeka Hart to an upset win for the Memphis school board in 2004, held a fund-raising event later in the week -- one which, said Mike Ritz, another GOP candidate for the District 1, Position 1 seat, had to do without some of the group's traditional donors, who were supporting his campaign, not Rude's nor that of Charles Fineberg, who also seeks the seat.

"They never even invited me for an interview," said Ritz, who charged that New Path had made its selections arbitrarily, in an effort to present a slate balanced by party and race.


The Single-Resource Theory

Four members of the "Fellows" program of the Leadership Academy (formerly Goals for Memphis) have decided to help Shelby County voters cut to the chase when confronted with the record number of candidates running in a gargantuan number of races (pushing 200, depending on where the voter lives) on the county's various election ballots this year. Lesley Beasley, Nicole Hernandez, Jenny Koltnow, and Kerr Tigrett, hoping to provide a "single source" point of reference, have compiled a "Guide to Memphis and Shelby Counted Elected Offices" ( with "specific information about city, county, state, and federal elected offices [including] a job description, length of term, salary, minimum qualifications, name of current seat holder, election information, and a related Web site."

Any further questions will have to be answered by the candidates themselves, if they'll talk turkey. But this is a start.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Political Squeeze Plays

"Plots, true or false, are necessary things/to raise up commonwealths, and ruin kings." -- John Dryden

Posted By on Fri, Apr 14, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Several plots, real or alleged, are afoot in the politics of Shelby County just now. To take some of these, in no particular order:

1) Ford vs. Ford vs. Whomever: Last week's filing deadline for statewide and federal races ended with lawyer Joe Ford Jr., son of the county commissioner, as one of several candidates for the Democratic primary for the 9th District congressional seat being vacated by his first cousin, current U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr.

Simultaneously, another first cousin, the current congressman's brother Jake Ford, filed as an independent.

For the record, Joe Ford Jr. sounded genuinely annoyed at Jake Ford's filing, disclaimed any family-wide knowledge of or participation in his decision to run, and scoffed at both Jake Ford's qualifications and his chances of polling many votes as an independent. "I don't care what his name is, who his brother is, or who his dad is," said Joe Ford, who predicted a victory in the general election for the winner of the crowded Democratic primary.

There were others, however, who saw the double-Ford entry as a ploy to ensure that a Ford family member would still be on hand to contest the issue among black Democratic voters if state senator Steve Cohen, the only major white candidate, should emerge as the Democratic nominee.

In the ensuing three-way race, which would presumably include a white Republican, Cohen's vote total would be squeezed, allowing a Jake Ford victory. Or so goes the theory. Meanwhile, various Democrats were supposedly exhorting Jake Ford -- probably in vain -- to pull out by this Thursday's withdrawal deadline.

2) LaSimba Gray et al. vs. Cohen: There was no doubting that an effort was under way to undermine Cohen's chances from another direction. The Rev. LaSimba Gray, a principal organizer of a multi-candidate forum held on Sunday night at First Baptist Church on Broad Street, made no bones about it in his introduction of the aspirants:

The forum was "to make some sense of the confusion that is taking place," Rev. Gray said. "All that we have fought for all of these years ... we could end up losing it this year." He went on: "Tonight's forum is to see if we can come to some sense of for whom we should vote. It may well be that, for the first time in 32 years, African Americans will be without representation in the U.S. Congress from West Tennessee."

That was fairly direct corroboration of Cohen's somewhat anxious paraphrase, before the event, of a well-known Carly Simon lyric. "I'll bet this song is about me," the senator said.

In the event, Cohen sang effectively from his own songsheet, pointing out a series of his votes and legislative proposals over the years that expressly benefited African Americans as well as several instances of his having supported black candidates against white ones in local elections.

"I've always represented African Americans," Cohen said in a passionate opening statement, which concluded thusly: "I ask you to vote for the content of my character and not the color of my skin, and you'll never ever regret it!" In answer to several questions and in his closing remarks, Cohen made similar statements, to general applause.

After the event, several of the other candidates expressed regrets, both to Cohen and to this reporter, that the racial issue had been brought up. In defending his approach, Gray acknowledged that Cohen had fairly represented blacks in the state Senate but insisted that his preference for an African-American candidate would be paralleled by Cohen in an election featuring a Jewish candidate: "If Steve Cohen voted, he'd vote for the Jew."

Apprised of this, Cohen, who is Jewish, expressed disappointment at Gray's interjection of a religious element and pointed out that he had supported John Kerry, a Catholic, over Joe Lieberman, a Jew, in the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries.

For the record, a poll of attendees at the forum favored candidates Ed Stanton, Ron Redwing, and Marvell Mitchell.

3) Bailey and Bailey vs. Whomever: Though the Shelby County Democratic Party was unable, for deadline reasons, to decertify former longtime Republican activist J.W. Gibson as a County Commission candidate for District 2, Position 1 on its May 2nd primary ballot, the party's steering committee did formally deny Gibson's status as a "bona fide" Democrat after a vigorous debate of the party's executive committee last week.

A plot within the plot, as it were: Various partisans of outgoing term-limited Commissioner Walter Bailey -- notably, the incumbent's lawyer son Jay Bailey, who spoke vigorously against Gibson at last week's meeting -- are pushing for a "victory" for Walter Bailey, whose name remains on the ballot. The theory: If the incumbent finishes ahead, the party committee will then be able to substitute its own choice, presumably the younger Bailey.

Offsetting this prospect was a growing support in the party ranks for a third candidate, Darrick Harris, who acquitted himself well in a forum for Democratic commission candidates last week. Jested Harris about the party loyalty issue: "My voting record looks sort of like my fourth-grade report card: It's got D's all over it."

Mayor Sammons? One of the visitors to the Election Commission on filing-deadline day last week was City Council member Jack Sammons, who engaged in animated and friendly conversation with another interloper, local Republican eminence John Ryder. It was Ryder who -- on behalf of former county mayor Jim Rout and the GOP establishment -- recruited John Bobango for a successful 1995 run against then-incumbent Sammons, who had opposed Rout in 1994.

Sammons, Ryder, and Bobango were all best buds by 1999, when Bobango stepped aside, and Sammons, who later became finance chair for the local Republican Party, regained his seat.

Now Sammons is eyeing a further political step. He acknowledged that he was seriously considering a run for Memphis mayor in 2007, thereby becoming the first of several rumored mayoral candidates to make such an overt declaration.

Preview of Possible, er, Coming Attraction

"That's Western technology, sir. A eugenicist like yourself should be on top of that!" That was me, talking to James Hart, would-be Republican candidate for Congress in the 8th District (though the Republican Party itself has taken steps to strip him of the party label on the ballot).

Having arrived at the Coletta's restaurant in Cordova, site of Hart's "debate" last week with John Farmer, another Republican primary candidate, I discovered to my chagrin that my trusty Olympus recorder had slipped out of my jacket pocket during an impromptu afternoon nap at home. And, though I scribbled notes furiously during the Hart-Farmer encounter, I make every effort to ensure the verbatim accuracy of all quotes and therefore asked Hart, who had his own pocket recorder and had further furnished a compliant audience member with a video-cam, if he would mind downloading a recording from either and sending it to me from his Paris, Tennessee, address.

That was when Hart, who claims racial supremacy for Europeans and their descendants and campaigns on the issue, confessed he had just bought both contraptions and didn't know from downloading or anything else technical. And that was when I made my crack.

"That's like when that fellow said 'Sieg Heil!'" admonished Hart -- his reference being to Farmer's disgusted retort to one of his more perfervid denunciations of "inferior" races.

(Two interested observers, General Sessions judge Betty Thomas Moore and her husband Alvin Moore, both African Americans, had discreetly -- and understandably -- left the restaurant in the middle of Hart's impassioned declaration that blacks possessed "lower I.Q.'s and smaller brains.")

In any case, Hart did make a tape recording while playing the video and sent me a copy. The result is pretty muddy, and I'm making my way through it. I'll be happy to write a fuller account of the proceedings later if that seems needful. Or maybe this is 'nuff said.

Meanwhile, Farmer's reaction is not unique. I can attest to the fact that virtually every self-professed conservative I know, conventional or otherwise, has made a point of communicating to me disgust with Hart's out-and-out racist views, which include his advocacy of "eugenic abortion."

Indeed, with Hart in the race, the term "centrist" may need to be re-defined.

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