“This is a democracy, and he’s a candidate, and he had every right to take part in the debate,” Halbert said about Mongo Saturday at the opening of her campaign headquarters at 919 South Highland. The District 4 councilwoman noted also, “He’s my constituent!” Halbert, who sat next to Hodges during the debate, said she had enjoyed meeting the perennial candidate and well-known street character and thought there was “more to him” than his madcap reputation.
She said she was inclined to be impressed by Hodges, who shortly after the debate journeyed to South Africa and later discussed that trip with KWAM radio host and blogger Thaddeus Matthews.
Hodges’ presence in the debate may have been one of the factors that nettled Wharton, who had threatened to back out of last Thursday night ’s debate on that morning, when, as he said, he learned of the full debater list from a WMC-TV newscast.
In a hand-delivered letter that morning to station officials, Wharton said, “…I accepted this invitation based on the good-faith assurance from Mr. [Joe} Birch that this debate would include only ‘serous candidates.’ I learned of the final list of the participating candidates scheduled for tonight’s debate while watching WMC-TV’s newscast this morning. Please be advised that I am considering withdrawal from this debate....”
Ultimately, Wharton did attend the debate, though he pointedly avoided contact with Mongo beforehand. Speaking to reporters at Frayser Park on Saturday, where he took part in an event related to the prevention of infant mortality, Wharton said Channel 5 had changed the rules overnighht about candidate participation.
“I’m a lawyer, and when you set the rules to a game, you follow them: ‘You must have filed, you must have an office, you must have campaigned.’ All those things. It’s not any particular rules. It’s just that the rule of law is the rule of law. That’s offensive to me. Two pages of rules, and then throw them all out the window.”
Wharton said that, as a result of his experience, he was “reassessing” his potential participation in all future debates and would insist on being “consulted and given an opportunity to have some input into the rules.” He said he needed to be serving the citizens “instead of jibber-jabbering in some loose form called a debate.”
This is the portion of Wharton’s remarks Halbert characterized as “strange.” She said, “The rules were exactly as indicated to us beforehand. There was no change.”
Uniquely for a candidate, Halbert owns the South Highland building she is using as a headquarters. “It’s in our family,” she said, adding that various family members had used it as a residence.
“Let’s see what bill comes to the floor. If it’s a bill that comes up that is a better health-care program than exists today and is something that has an opportunity for more health- care centers and more family docs and can eliminate pre-existing conditions and get wellness programs and all those things, it would be better than what we have today, and I could support it.”
As he has before, Cohen stressed his preference: “I’d rather — I want a public option, I’ve strongly lobbied for a public option.” But he said he wouldn’t vote to kill a bill without a public-option provision that had the other characteristics he’d cited. “If you did that, there are a lot of bills that you might not have voted for that weren’t perfect. The perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good.”
The county mayor made the statements after appearing at a press conference at Frayser Park on behalf of National Infant Mortality Awareness Month.
Responding to a question about whether he had threatened to back out of the Channel 5 debate because of the involvement of Robert “Prince Mongo,” Wharton denied that was the reason for his reported recalcitrance.
“It was not about Prince Mongo. It’s just that we were told there would be one set of rules, and we were told the next morning there would be another set of rules. I didn’t single out anybody. I never, never, never, never referred to Mr. Hodges at all.”
Elaborating on his discontent, Wharton said of the Channel 5 debate format, “We were not consulted. If I wanted to come on their TV station, I would respect them. I’d say, ‘What are your rules?’ And we’d work out some rules. I’m not going to let any TV station come to me and say, ‘You come at my time and follow my rules and shut up.’ I’m not going to do that. That is just absolutely out of the norm.”
Wharton said, “They walked up to me and handed me a piece of paper and said, ‘You shall be here on August 27th.’ It just turned out that we were able to rearrange some things.”
Then, he said, the station arbitrarily changed its own rules. Asked which ones, he went on: “I’m a lawyer, and when you set the rules to a game, you follow them: ‘You must have filed, you must have an office, you must have campaigned.’ All those things. It’s not any particular rules. It’s just that the rule of law is the rule of law. That’s offensive to me. Two pages of rules, and then throw them all out the window.”
The county mayor and presumed frontrunner in the Memphis mayor’s race, set for October 15th, said. “There will be no future debates unless we’re involved — consulted and given an opportunity to have some input into the rules. That’s the way it’s done.”
The time involved in preparing and appearing in a debate was also an issue, Wharton said. “If I accepted every invitation, I wouldn’t have time to campaign. I wouldn’t have time to run the office.” Noting that he had just announced the receipt of several federal and state grants to fund county projects, he said, “I think I can better serve the people of Shelby County by doing that instead of jibber-jabbering in some loose form called a debate.”
Contacted about Wharton’s allegations, WMC-TV assistant news director Tammy Phillips, who oversaw the debate details, denied Wharton’s account of how their communications had gone, and she said there were no breaches of the rules for participation. The relevant paragraph reads as follows:
All candidates who have filed to run for Memphis Mayor with the Shelby County Election Commission and can demonstrate evidence of a campaign will be invited. (“Evidence of a Campaign” is defined as follows: the candidate has made a public announcement of his or her intention to run; the candidate has campaign headquarters; and the candidate has made public campaign appearances.)
Phillips said the only relevant change on the morrow of the debate was the admission of Hodges into the proceedings. She had indicated previously that Hodges and his attorney Leslie Ballin had threatened to hold up the debate via an injunction if the well-known street character and perennial candidate was not included, maintaining that Hodges met all the relevant criteria, including two “campaign” appearances on local radio.
It was after Wharton was informed on Thursday morning, August 27, that Hodges would be participating in the coming evening’s debate, said Phillips, that she received a hand-delivered communication from the county mayor threatening to withdraw.
The first two paragraphs of that letter read as follows:
As you are aware, I recently received a hand-delivered invitation from Joe Birch to participate in tonight’s mayoral debate to be televised at 7 p.m. on your station. I accepted this invitation based on the good-faith assurance from Mr. Birch that this debate would include only ‘serous candidates.’
I learned of the final list of the participating candidates scheduled for tonight’s debate while watching WMC-TV’s newscast this morning. Please be advised that I am considering withdrawal from this debate....
Ultimately Wharton unbent from his discontent and participated in the debate, although several media reports noted his detour upon entering Opera Memphis, where the debate was held, to avoid encountering Hodges, who was in the lobby.
Also knocking at the door of civic leadership was Vuong Vaughn Vo, for those voters attracted by alliteration. . And as a gift to those for whom repetition does the trick, there are both Kenneth T. Baroff and Kenneth Baroff, unless — as appears likely — the two Baroffs are actually the same man, named twice in the list of approved candidates by accident.
And yes, of course, the list includes the name of John Willingham . Can there be an election in Shelby County without the participation of the perennial mayoral candidate, who has at least one victory to his credit, having served as a Shelby County commissioner from 2002 to 2006? Evidently not.
There are some other well-known names in the list — including all nine of the candidates who took part in last week’s first televised mayoral debate on WMC-TV, Action News 5: power lawyer Charles Carpenter, former councilwoman Carol Chumney, councilwoman Wanda Halbert, street clown Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges, professional wrestler and commentator Jerry Lawler, Memphis mayor pro tem Myron Lowery, Memphis school board members Sharon Webb and Kenneth Whalum Jr., and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton.
Other well-known people in the list are city councilman Joe Brown, former councilman E.C. Jones, and restaurateur Thomas "Silky" Sullivan.
The complete list of successfully filed mayoral candidates, listed alphabetically, is:
Kenneth T. Baroff
Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges
Harrel C. Moore
Mary T. Shelby-Wright
Thomas "Silky" Sullivan.
Vuong Vaughn Vo
Kenneth Whalum Jr
A C Wharton
Withdrawal deadline is 12 noon, Thursday, September 10th. We'll see how many of the above stick it out.
Duncan and Alexander met on Monday with the others at two local venues — the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, where STEM education (for science, technology, engineering, and math) was the subject, and the Soulsville Charter School on McLemore, where the future of charter schools formed the core of a wide-ranging discussion of education.
. Both stops were part of what Duncan has billed as his “Listening and Learning Tour.”
Summing up after the Soulsville conversation, Duncan told the media, “Because of the leadership of the president and the support of the Congress, we’ve got unprecedented discretion and resources. We’ve been able to see dramatic changes around the country in the past seven months, whether it’s 47 states coming together to think about common standards or a number of states, including Tennessee, removing restrictions on innovations, like charter laws.”
Calling himself a “huge fan” of Alexander’s, whose tenure as governor a generation ago was characterized by an a focus on educational change, Duncan, said, “We’d love to see the city and state compete vigorously for funding. We’re looking for dramatic change, not incremental change.” He said more than $10 billion would shortly be available under such sources as “Race to the Top, Teacher Incentive Funds, and Investment in Innovation funds.”
During the discussion at Soulsville, Alexander had recalled the Master Teacher program introduced under his administration as governor 25 years ago to reward innovative teachers and suggested that a local version of it might well qualify for Teacher Incentive Funds.