Shelby County commission chairman Deidre Malone had a coming-out fundraiser at The Racquet Club Thursday night on behalf of her campaign for county mayor. Meanwhile, current county mayor A C Wharton, campaigning for Memphis mayor, drew 1500 attendees for a “unity prayer breakfast” at the Cannon Center.
The two events had a connection of sorts and, considered together or singly, provided ample fodder for would-be analysts. Wharton was listed as one of the sponsors of Malone’s event but did not appear at it; nor, for that matter, did members of the county mayor’s inner circle.
Malone attracted some of the usual suspects among influential donors (e.g., cell tower magnate Billy Orgel and zoning lobbyist de luxe Homer “Scrappy” Branan) and the core members of her longtime support group (e.g., Calvin Anderson, Greg Duckett, Paula Casey).
But her gathering, while respectably sized, stayed in double digits, and didn’t provide a conclusive answer to the question: Can she raise enough money and support to keep out other name candidates?
[UPDATE: A post-mortem from the Malone campaign indicates that slightly upwards of 100 people did pariticipate in the fundraiser, either by attendance or by dropping off a contribution. And Mayor Wharton did arrive at the event — though after it had formally concluded and most guests had departed.]
Wharton’s event, on the other hand — held on a seriously rainy Saturday morning — was prodigious enough, both in quantity and quality of those attending (a Who’s Who of politically influential types), to stop potential opponents in their tracks. Whether it will or won’t remains to be seen, of course.
Employing one of the oddest analogies yet heard in a local political campaign, Wharton promised to be a “windmill,” generating positive change for the city. But, that metaphor aside, there was noting else in the event suggestive of the quixotic man of La Mancha. Wharton’s event was considered essential enough to draw two declared Democratic gubernatorial candidates — Kim McMillan of Clarksville and Mike McWherter of Jackson — and one probable one, state Senator Jim Kyle of Memphis.
State Senator Jim Kyle of Memphis seems clearly to be preparing a run for governor, joining a growing field of candidates from both parties hoping to succeed Governor Phil Bredesen, who is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third term in 2010.
Kyle, who is the Democrats’ leader in the state Senate and was one of the attendees at the state Democratic Party’s weekend retreat in the resort community of Monteagle, sponsored a Sunday morning prayer breakfast for his partymates. Beforehand he told the Flyer that he would be making an announcement “as soon as the [legislative] session’s over.”
The nature of that announcement seemed clear enough as he expounded on his likely strategy. “I’m going to build a wall around Memphis,” said Kyle, who had previously floated trial balloons for both a gubernatorial race and one for Shelby County mayor. As he clarified his metaphor, it became obvious which way he intended to go.
“I’m going to build a wall around Memphis,” he repeated, “and then work hard on the rest of the state.” Which is a fairly definite way of saying that, with no other Democrats from Shelby County seeking the governorship, he intends to consolidate home-base support as a first step toward running statewide.
Kyle was asked: Is fellow Shelby Countian Bill Gibbons able to build a similar wall? “Nope,” he said firmly, “not with Brad Martin raising money for Bill Haslam.” Martin, a former state representative and Memphis-based entrepreneur, is one of the state’s high-stakes political players; Haslam, an oil-company scion and the mayor of Knoxville, is favored by many observers to win the GOP nomination.
Other already announced gubernatorial candidates attending the Democrats’ weekend retreat were former state House Majority Leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville, state Senator Roy Herron of Dresden, and Nashville businessman Ward Cammack. Not attending was Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, who, along with McMillan, had been in Memphis Saturday morning for the “Unity prayer breakfast” of Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, who has announced for city mayor.