As his Republican rival, Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, was knocking on doors in Germantown Monday, 3rd District congressman Zach Wamp, virtually simultaneously, was the beneficiary of a big-ticket meet and greet elsewhere in the elite Memphis suburb. He met with reporters beforehand, surrounded by two celebrity well-wishers from the world of country music, John Rich and Larry Gatlin. (Rich announced he would later be playng a set at the Hard Rock Café, and Wamp promised to join him.)
Wamp expressed optimism about his campaign, contending that he would be the beneficiary of a “conservative crest” that was happening in Tennessee as well as in Florida, where ultra-conservative candidate Marco Rubio has apparently surged ahead of Governor Charlie Crist in the ongoing Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.
“He may be the only one who doesn’t realize that so far. But a lot of other people know it, they talk about it everywhere we go. And so I respect him as lieutenant governor. That’s exactly where he’ll be on August 6.”
Wamp was asked about solutions for Memphis’ financially beleagured Med and reminded that he had tentatively agreed a month ago to a sign a letter from the Shelby County Commission backing the principle that a federal dollar generated by the Med should be a dollar routed by the state exclusively to the Med.
Expressing a mite of caution about that commitment, Wamp said he’d have to see the letter (which hasn’t been sent to gubernagtorial candidates yet and won’t be until April 1) but agreed “the principle is right.” He said the main order of business would be to work with the state’s congressional delegation to convince Arkansas and Missiippi to contribute their fair share to the Med’s upkeep.
That was also the approach of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kim McMillan, the former state House majority leader from Clarksville who met with a group of Democrats in Collierville on Monday.
Just as Wamp expressed no fear of his rivals for the Republican nomination, McMillan was ebulliently confident of her ability to hold her own in the primary against Jackson businessman Mike McWherter and against whoever she had to face in the general election, if nominated..
McMillan expressed a belief that her experience and “passion and desire to improve things for Tennessee” will ultimately weight the election results in her favor, despite the fact that she is low person on the fundraising totem pole, having reported only $100,000 on hand in her January financial disclosure.
“I’ve always been the last woman standing,” she said, agreeing with a reporter’s jest to that effect.
Oh, worry not. Equal time will shortly be provided in this space for the likes of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kim McMillan and Republican Zach Wamp, both of whom also made their presence felt in Shelby County on Monday. But in the meantime observe the door-to-doort efforts of Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, a Republican who, on the fundraising scale, anyhow, is the undisputed leader of the pack.
Haslam, who contends he goes door-to-door three times a week in various parts of the state, worked the Oakleigh section of Germantown on Monday. And — guess what? — he discovered homeowners who, just like the rest of us, could only have avoided seeing his ubiquitous TV commercials (which cost him just under a million) by becoming hermits or Luddites.
Like we said, observe:
At 79, Howard Richardson is a patriarch of both the labor movement and the Democratic Party in Shelby County, and political gatherings at his house, in the residential area between the Defense Depot and Interstate 240 South, are generously well attended.
Such was the case Friday night, March 12, when Richardson played host to a meet-and-greet/fundraiser for Corey Maclin, considered the leading Democratic candidate for Shelby County Clerk. Richardson’s event for Maclin counterpointed nicely with a similar one for prospective opponent Wayne Mashburn, the favored Republican candidate for county clerk, held the evening before at the Variety Club on Sycamore in East Memphis.
Taken as a pair, the two events — one Democratic and primarily African-American, the other Republican and predominantly white — symbolized much about a forthcoming election that may be destined to become a watershed.
It isn’t exactly a case of an Old Order — the white GOP preeminence in county government — under challenge from a demographic new order, though superficially it would appear to be that kind of circumstance. But this is not 1991 — a year in which whites and blacks segmented cleanly to decide the balance of power in Memphis itself.
And give some credit to the much-abused former mayor Willie Herenton, the African-American victor in that election of nearly two decades ago, for maintaining a semblance of racial balance in the overall administration of Memphis government. Greater Shelby County, a diffuse and ethnically checkered territory, is even less capable of domination by a single racial entity.
That being said, the division between white and Republican on one side and black and Democratic on the other is all but complete in the developing ballots of the two parties. It is in the rhetoric of the two occasions, as well as in some concrete instances, that a broader sense of citizenship got its due.
Paul Boyd, a young county employee and Republican activist, was on hand at the Variety Club — certain to be the GOP nominee for Probate Court clerk, since neither Chris Thomas, the incumbent, who seeks a county commission seat, nor anybody else on his side of the political line chose to run for the job. Undeniably, that says something about Republicans’ estimation of their overall chances in the county election.
On the Democratic side, no fewer than six candidates are seeking the same job of Probate clerk, and the tireless Danny Kail, a former labor official and county human resources director and a white, was on hand, as he always is on any Democratic or bipartisan public occasion, to plead his case.
Kail may, in fact, get his party’s nomination, creating an anomaly of sorts — white Democrat versus black Republican for Probate Court clerk. Maybe but not necessarily., Kail’s opposition includes Clay Perry and Sondra Becton, both active Democrats with name recognition and networks, as well as Peggy Dobbins, Annita Sawyer-Hamilton, and Karen Tyler.
In the arithmetic of county general elections, any white Democrat, especially an incumbent, has a serious advantage.
Of the two Republicans vying for the right to oppose Newman, David Lenoir, an up-and-coming sort, is making the rounds and dutifully checked in at Mashburn’s Variety Club event. His primary rival, John Willingham, an unusual mix of elder statesman and perennial candidate, wasn’t there but had been at an earlier event in the week, the Monday luncheon of the Shelby County Republican Women, where, in a stage whisper to the people at his table, he reviewed the credentials of the various GOP candidates who spoke there.
(Sample Willingham observation: About interim county commissioner John Pellicciotti, running for the District 4, Position 1 seat against Jim Bomprezzi and the aforementioned Thomas, Willingham observed, “He looks like a movie star.” When Thomas, who does modeling and has a role in a forthcoming indie film, came on to speak, Willingham observed, “He is a movie star.”}
The other races on the ballot seem destined to feature black Democrats versus white Republicans (though African-American newcomer Michael Porter is challenging Kevin Key, son of retiring incumbent Bill Key, in the GOP primary for criminal court clerk). And there is a sense in which the two occasions of the weekend — Mashburn’s and Maclin’s — defined the somewhat nuanced way in which the two sides now diverge.
Noting that his grandfather had been a county clerk in Haywood County for almost four decades and his father had served as Shelby County Clerk for more than a decade, and that Rout, a cousin, had served two terms as county mayor, Mashburn declared, “It’s in the blood. I want to serve.” He then went on to recount his business successes. Tradition, plus private-sector experience: two sure-fire ingredients of a successful Republican candidacy.
At Richardson’s house an evening later, Maclin would recite some business accomplishments as well, and he outlined at great length his plans for the clerk’s office — ranging from extended Saturday hours and other customer services to the creation of a single cash window, set aside from the others, so as to keep incoming receipts straight and minimize the potential for abuse or corruption.
Maclin’s speech was free of racial implications. Not so that of his chief campaign adviser, Bret Thompson, who made the concluding remarks at Richardson’s house. But Thompson brought the subject up to caution against campaigning only within ethnic enclaves.
Contending that no African-American holder of countywide office — “except for A C Wharton” — had ever won reelection, Thompson insisted that pursuit of crossover votes should be the guiding principle of Maclin’s or any other African-American candidate’s campaign.
To think otherwise is to lose, Thompson said. And he may have been on to something that would apply equally well to Mashburn and the predominantly white slate of candidates on the Republican side.
More than likely, questions of race and party will figure large this election year, but there is still a rough balance that will require that successful candidates show some degree of finesse and appeal to inclusiveness.
This is certainly the case with respect to this year’s two marquee races locally. One is that for mayor, which will ultimately match one of three name black Democrats, Joe Ford, Deidre Malone, or Otis Jackson, against Sheriff Mark Luttrell, a Republican of proven crossover ability.
The other race is that for the 9th District congressional seat, an affair matching two notable Democrats. To acknowledge that former mayor Herenton was more racially even-handed in office than his current reputation would indicate is only fair. To observe that he is conspicuously less inclusive in his manner and rhetoric these days than incumbent congressman Steve Cohen is, however, unavoidable.
Want to have coffee with Cheri and others and talk over how to solve some real problems? Saturday is the day to do it. Here’s a press release on the subject.
"MEMPHIS, TN —Today Coffee Party USA, a new grassroots effort that has captured the attention of the nation, announced it will hold a community event at OTHERLANDS COFFEE BAR, 641 COOPER ST. AT 2:30 PM as part of National Coffee House Day on March 13, 2010.
"In the midst of growing frustration with the political climate of the country, the grassroots movement Coffee Party USA has declared March 13, 2010, National Coffee House Day, during which Americans across the country will meet at coffee houses and around kitchen tables to facilitate informative and civil dialogue about a myriad of issues. This diverse and non-partisan organization has drawn members from all walks of life who wish to regain their civic pride and have a strong desire to contribute to the political discourse that is the basis of our democracy.
"The Coffee Party movement gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government, and welcomes everyone to the table. 'We are purely grassroots movement, independent of any party, corporation, or lobbying organization. That is our strength and we plan to use it to facilitate a collaborative process that would encourage people to come together as a community, checking party affiliation at the door,' said Annabel Park, the founder of Coffee Party USA. As voters and grassroots volunteers, they intend to use new media and social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.
"On March 13, 2010, National Coffee House Day, Coffee Party USA plans to take the next steps towards creating a movement that will reignite the passion for civil discourse and participatory democracy that has been absent from the political arena for some time. 'We want a society in which democracy is treated as sacrosanct. The Coffee Party is a call to action. Our Founding Fathers and Mothers gave us an enduring gift — Democracy — and we must use it to meet the challenges that we face as a nation,' Park says."
Reminded that, on his accession to his party’s chairmanship in early 2009 he had been treated as persona non grata by an ultra-conservative fringe of the GOP, Steele was asked how he viewed the intensely negative reaction some New York Democrats had bestowed on former Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr. during Ford’s recent trial run as a U.S. Senate candidate from New York.
Steele and Ford, who abandoned his projected Senate bid from New York last week, have long been acquainted and recently appeared together at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as part of a Black History Month observance.
The RNC chairman responded as follows:
“I’m a huge fan and friend of Harold ford. I’ve known Harold for over 10 years, from his days back in Washington. I have a great deal of respect for him. He and I would call each other from time to time on the campaign in 2006 with us both running for the Senate, and, after we both lost, I remember telling him, I said, ‘Look, we had this all wrong. You should have run for the Senate from Maryland, and I should have run from Tennessee. We’d both be in the United States Senate right now.’
“And I think his efforts to consider running for the U.S. Senate from new York really exposed a lot, and caused some consternation among the, you know, the establishment of the Democratic party. But Harold is his own man, and he’s going to find the time and the way when he’s, you know, really prepared to jump into this thing if he wants to be in office again to do it. And when he does, I think the people of New York will pay a great deal more attention to him than his party did.”
Steele was also asked to respond to the controversy that rose up this past week over a power-point presentation delivered in February by RNC finance director Rob Bickhart to top donors and fundraisers at a party retreat in Boca Grande, Florida.
The presentation, also elaborated as a 72-page document, was leaked to Politico.com, which published its essentials, including a cartoon likeness of President Obama as The Joker and similar unflattering caricatures of other leading Democrats and a stated emphasis on inspiring “fear”of Democrats among likely voters and donors.
Acknowledging that the presentation had met with a largely negative public reaction — “rightly so” —Steele dissociated himself from it as something “given to ten people in a private meeting” and renounced it as “not the kind of presentation that I want to see made at the RNC.”
Steele said, “I don’t’ need to scare, we don’t need to scare anybody into contributing to the RNC. I’ve sent the word out, ‘Don’t even think you’re gong to get away with that kind of behavior.’
Promising that the matter would be dealt with “internally” at the RNC, Steele said, “I was not happy to see it. I have been the victim of that kind of stupidity. Some of my friends have…And we saw it last year in the presidential race. It’s just not what people want to see.”
What the Wisconsin city will pay is roughly $10,000, says Mulroy, who further explains that the original range had been “from $10,000 to $15,000” but that the deal had been simplified when the passenger cars belonging to the legendary Fairgrounds ride had been decoupled from the sale.
Those cars were re-consigned to Carolina Crossroads, the amusement park company which had tentatively bought the entire Pippin complex at auction from the City of Memphis but had failed to come up with a viable use for the ride and had subsequently negotiated with Mulroy to return to his local group’s keeping the partly dismantled Pippin complex.
Taking the cars out of the deal ”was a way of simplifying things,” said Mulroy, who acted as de facto executive officer of Save Libertyland!, Inc., the group founded in 2007 to forestall the abandonment of the Pippin, along with the rest of the once thriving Fairgrounds amusement-park complex.
Commissioner Mulroy, a University of Memphis law professor, maintains he — or someone else locally — had to take functional control of Save Libertyland!, Inc. for strictly legal reasons, in that other original members had moved out of state.
“But we’ll have a meeting at some point of all the original members of the group and together we’ll decide what to do with the proceeds of the sale,” said Mulroy.
Green Bay's council vote on Monday night of this week was by a 7-4 margin. The Wisconsin city intends to spend as much as $3 million refurbishing the Pippin with new materials but in accordance with the original design.
“Did you hear that Freudian slip?” she asked a passerby, giving the adjective more of an English “oo” sound than the usual Germanic “oy.”
Asked to elaborate, she maintained that David Williams, president/CEO of Leadership Memphis and the moderator of the luncheon, had introduced interim Shelby County mayor Joe Ford by the wrong name.
And not just any wrong name. Williams, she insisted, had called Ford by the first name of “Justin.” And the problem with that — hence, her invocation of the great Viennese psychoanalyst and meister of unconscious motives — was that Justin Ford, son of the interim mayor, is her opponent in the May 4th Democratic primary, as he had been last December when the two were among the contestants for an appointment to fill a commission vacancy in District 3, Position 3.
In other words, Justin Ford had just gotten a free plug before a large blue-ribbon audience which was as deep in media types as it was in the politically influential. Or so Commissioner Moore was convinced.
A quest for corroboration of the alleged verbal slip yielded nothing until Memphis School Board member Tomeka Hart was asked if she had heard anything unusual in the way that county mayor Joe Ford was introduced.
“Yes!” Hart answered. “He was called Joseph, and I had never heard Joe called Joseph before.”
The late Dr. Freud being unavailable, the situation required a tiebreak of some other kind. Luckily, I had recorded the event and, playing it back at my leisure, heard this from impresario Williams as he had spoken from the dais: “…I’m going to introduce three people, and they’re going to come up in successive order, beginning with Mayor A C Wharton, mayor of the City of Memphis, followed by Joseph Ford, mayor of Shelby County, followed by Carol Coletta, the president and CEO of CEOs for Cities….”
Aha! So “Joseph” it was, not “Justin.” And if there was a Freudian element to the way the interim county mayor was introduced, it may have lain in Williams’ sense that, having omitted the honorific “Mayor” on the front end of Ford’s name, he could compensate by giving the formal version of the mayor’s first name.
Or not. Who knows? In any case, it would seem fairly clear that emcee Williams was fair-minded and not playing favorites in the District 3, Position 3 county commission race.
But it may say something for Commissioner Moore’s vigilance -- in a Freudian way or not -- that she heard what she heard.
from visit of state Democratic chairman Chip Forrester to Memphis, Friday, February 26
In Video Two, Forrester plays Bad News Bear and Good News Bear to his partymates.
First, the bad news<:
“This is the most important election cycle in our lives, ladies and gentlemen ….If we do not take back the state House – and we are two down – then we have three, and possibly four Democratic seats that Barack Obama counts on in Washington at risk in 2011 when Republicans control redistricting. John Tanner’s [8th District] seat, that Roy Herron is running for, it’s gone, ladies and gentlemen. The 6th congressional district seat, that Bart Gordon has and we’re looking for a candidate, that’s gone. And Lincoln Davis’ seat [4th District] is gone. And it is possible to draw the line so that Jim Cooper [5th district] is gone. We’ll have one United States congressman, in the 9th congressional district, and that’ll be it.”
Next, the good news:
“Today, I feel better about it than ever before…The metric of politics in 2010 is in our favor. In 2008 there were eight [state House] Republicans who were elected. Those eight today, in 2010, are at their most vulnerable, in this election cycle. This is our best chance to take back those Republican seats. We only have four at risk. They’ve got to protect eight, and we’ve got to protect four. That gives us a distinct advantage. And with the work that [Democratic caucus chair] Mike Turner, along with House chair [Gary] Odom and Speaker [Jimmy] Naifeh in recruiting good candidates, we’re gonna take back the state House.”
VIDEO ONE: Chip Forrester Comments to Memphis Democrats on Kyle withdrawal, Chicago politics, and Ned Ray McWherter.
VIDEO TWO: Forrester warns his party members they could lose down to one (count 'em, 1) Democratic congressional seat in Tennessee. Alternatively, how the Dems could triumph in 2010. (Pick one.)
The main entrée at the regular monthly RWOP luncheon consisted of presentations by two candidates — George Flinn of Memphis and Ron Kirkland of Jackson, both MD’s, both boasting business expertise as well, both trying to supplant farmer and gospel singer Stephen Fincher of Crockett County, the early frontrunner for the Republican nomination in Tennessee’s 8th congressional district.
Both doctors oppose the current health-care plan being offered by President Obama and the congressional Democrats. Both condemned “frivolous” lawsuits as a major cause of high health-care costs.
Both think, as Flinn, who now serves as a Shelby County commissioner, put it, that “we’re on the wrong road, and we’re gong to have to change this road, or all we’ll have left is the change in our pockets.” Both wish, as Kirkland put it, to “heal” America.
Further, both described themselves, in almost identical language, as pro-life, pro-gun, pro-traditional marriage.
Each is going to have a hard time distinguishing himself from the other—since their differences are almost entirely rhetorical and presentational. And, even there, their styles are similar, with each striving for folksiness and punchlines.
Kirkland may have gained a modest edge on the latter score Wednesday with his quip, “Somewhere there’s a Mister Pelosi.” On the other hand, that reference to Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ majority leader in the House of Representatives might have been riskily ambivalent before a mainly female audience. A third Republican candidate, long-shot Charlotte Bergman of Memphis, an African-American challenger in the 9th congressional district, clearly resonated with RWOP members on the gender front.
On the financial ledger, Flinn — a patent-holding radiologist who also maintains a broadcast empire — is known to have deep pockets and can literally spend as much as he wants to on the 8th Distract race. But Kirkland is no slouch, either, touting the $365,000 he raised in the first month of his candidacy — a figure roughly comparable to what Fincher had raised last year in his first month of candidacy.
After their formal presentations, and after lunch, Flinn and Kirkland held forth in a Q and A session. (Bergman, whose talking points had been standard-issue conservative, had left after lunch and did not take part.)
Early in his formal remarks, Flinn had jested, “Two doctors will never give you the same opinion.” But the fact was, the opinions and prescriptions offered by the two physician candidates on Wednesday — were reasonably similar. That could change as each develops a treatment plan for the campaign.
Both those circumstances were in Tennessee. Ford has now said no in New York and without wasting more than a few weeks in doing so. He had indicated March as the time that he would give an answer to New York Democrats — both those who wanted him to run and those who didn’t, and there were many in both camps.
On March 1 Ford gave his answer, as reported in the New York Times.
All in all, Ford had spent not quite two months in the bubble. Soon after the New Year he had indicated his interest in challenging incumbent Democrat Kirsten E. Gillibrand for the seat once held by Hillary Clinton, and that announcement had come not quite ten months after he had apparently considered running for governor of Tennessee — ruling that race out only in March of last year.
Ford was backed by numerous influential New Yorkers, Democratic and otherwise — his most prominent supporter in the political world being New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent. He also had some key donors lined up, many from Wall Street and other financial sectors.
But the onetime Memphis congressman also had met with serious resistance — much of it coming from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and other members of the Democratic establishment in New York and Washington.
As interest mounted concerning his intentions, Ford embarked on a “listening tour” of the Empire State. Simultaneously, numerous articles appeared in both the New York and national media questioning Ford’s apparent turnabouts — from the conservative to the liberal — on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. (A case in point was the boisterous reception given Ford — verbally abusive and even including an exploding paper bomb — at a meeting of the Stonewall Democrats in New York. SEE THE VIDEO.)
In recent weeks also, Ford had come under challenge as a probable recipient of a lucrative bonus in his role as a vice chairman of the Merrill Lynch division of Bank of America. This was a situation first publicly noted in a Flyer article of February 2009.
Rumored to be salaried in the neighborhood of $3 million annually for his work as a rainmaker, Ford was thought to have received a bonus in an equivalent range at the end of 2007, when Merrill Lynch, whose absorption by BOA was significantly financed by the taxpayers, paid its executives the add-on stipends.
Subsequently New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo questioned the bonuses and has sued to have the list of payouts made public.
Ford’s involvement with Merrill Lynch/BOA was one of the factors, along with his marriage to native New Yorker Emily Threlkeld, that apparently had led him to think of himself as a New York resident. Ford, who maintained multiple addresses, in New York, D.C. and Tennessee, had not yet paid New York State income taxes, but his spokesman indicated recently that Ford intended to complete a state tax filing this year.
Ford will apparently resume his relationship with MSNBC and NBC as a political analyst. In a sense, he had never left that job. He appeared on “Meet the Press” as an analyst only two Sundays ago, discussing political events at large-- including his own interest in the New York Senate race.
Ford, who serves as national chairman of the right/centrist Democratic Leadership Council, also offered an explanation for his decision not to run in an op-ed piece for the Times, which had covered his shadow campaign in great depth.
After several paragraphs in which he outlined the case for his running -- a need for "change" being central to that possibility -- Ford got to the meat of his decision not to run:
"...I’ve examined this race in every possible way, and I keep returning to the same fundamental conclusion: If I run, the likely result would be a brutal and highly negative Democratic primary — a primary where the winner emerges weakened and the Republican strengthened.
I refuse to do anything that would help Republicans win a Senate seat in New York, and give the Senate majority to the Republicans.
I realize this announcement will surprise many people who assumed I was running. I reached this decision only in the last few days — as I considered what a primary campaign, even with the victory I saw as fully achievable, would have done to the Democratic Party.
I am a Democrat. But I am an independent Democrat. I am not going to stop speaking out on behalf of policies that I think are right — regardless of ideology, party or political expediency. I plan to continue taking this message across our state and across our nation.
UPDATE: Deidre Malone declares for County Mayor at Chism picnic.