To start at the top, Sheriff Mark Luttrell was always going to annihilate the disheveled sad sack Ernest Lunati for county mayor on the Republican side, and it had become obvious that incumbent interim mayor Joe Ford would win over county commissioner Deidre Malone, who never quite got the public recognition she needed.
The totals were: Republicans —
Mark Lutrell, 28,538; Ernest Lunati, 828.
Democrats - Joe Ford, 20,284; Deidre Malone, 12, 879; Otis Jackson Jr., 2,164.
Similarly, the two winners in the Sheriff’s race — Democrat Randy Wade, until recently trhe district director for 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, and Republican Bill Oldham, current chief deputy — were expected to win, and they did not disappoint.
The totals were:
Republicans — Bill Oldham, 13,841; Dale Lane, 7, 976; Bobby Simmons, 5,879; and James E. Coleman, 939.
Democrats — Randy Wade, 22,557; Reginald French, 6,757; Larry Hill, 2,726; and Bennie L. Cobb, 1,810.
The surprises in these top-of-ticket races and some of the down-ballot outcomes as well was just how one-sided they were.
Everyone knew, for example, that Memphis City Schools chief auditor Melvin Burgess, son of a well-remembered police director, would be a strong contender for the District 2, Position 3 county commission seat, but most observers expected community organizer Reginald Milton and RN/Democratic activist Norma Lester to be contenders. They weren’t.
The totals in that Democratic primary race:
Melvin Burgess, 4,520; Reginald Milton, 1,605; Norma Lester, 1,059; Tina Dickerson, 499; Frecddie L. Thomas, 368; and Eric Dunn, 285.
OTHER KEY RACES:
Probate Court Clerk:
Democrats -- Sondra Becton, 10,929; Peggy J. Dobbins, 5,366; Annita Sawyer-Hamilton; Clay Perry, 3,549; Danny W. Kail, 3, 120; Karen Tyler, 2,782.
Republicans -- Paul Boyd (unopposed), 22,408.
Becton, a career employee in the Probate clerk's office, had made several runs at the top job, losing by a whisker four years ago. Like Burgess, she was known to be a contender, but her margin of victory, especially without much financial underpinning, was a surprise.
Equally surprising was the lower-than-expected showing of Kail, who ran a vigorous race and had significant endorsements.
Juvenile Court Clerk:
Democrats -- Shep Wilbun, 25,075; Charles R. Marshall, 4,954; Sylvester BradleyJr., 2,508.
Republicans --Joy Touliatos (unopposed), 23,185.
Wilbun, the former incumbent who lost his clerkship eight years ago to Steve Stamson amid charges of malfeasance that never resulted in an indictment, profited both from significant name recognition and a widespread impression that he had been ill-served in 2002.
Democrats -- Coleman Thompson, 15,088; Carlton W. Orange, 9,138; Lady J. Swift, 4,835.Like Becton, Coleman had been a narrow loser four years ago, and his name recognition allowed him to fend off a surprisingly stout-looking challenge from newcomer Orange. Incumbent Leatherwood got a free run in his primary despite having challenged 7th District congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, a GOP mainstay, two years ago.
Republicans -- Tom Leatherwood (unopposed).
Criminal Court Clerk:
Democrats -- Ricky W. Dixon, 12, 783; Carmichael Johnson Sr., 8,822; Steven Webster, 6,833. Republicans -- Jimmy Moore, 24 , 598.
Dixon is the brother of the imprisoned Roscoe Dixon, a well-liked former state senator who was nabbed in the Tennessee Waltz sting of 2005, and the younger Dixon profited somewhat from a vicarious sympathy vote. Incumbent Moore's totals, like those of Luttrell in the mayor's race, indicate that Democrats will have to go some in the August general election, despite their (slight) numerical predominance in voter registration.
On the other side of the calculator, GOP nominee for Sheriff Oldham had totals way behind those of his Democratic counterpart, Wade. To stress the point: There is a rough equivalence to the parties in Shelby County, all other factors being equal.
Looking ahead, the real variable in the August head-on clash between Democrats and Republicans in contested county races will be whether or not a Herenton-Cohen showdown develops for real in the 9th congressional district. It it does, the Democrats will have a built-in edge over their GOP rivals in all potentially close races.
Democrats --Regina Morrison Newman, 19,936; M. LaTroy williams, 10,055.
Republicans -- David Lenoir, 15,922; John H. Willingham, 11,569.
Incumbent Regina Morrison Newman performed impressively, as expected, against a well-financed (and self-financed) opponent. The up-and-coming Lenoir was able to turn back a challenge from perennial Old Warrior Willingham.COMMISSION RACES. Incumbent Republican Mike Ritz (8,370 votes) in District 1, Position 1, was unopposed, as was former longtime incumbent Democrat Walter Bailey (7,530 votes) in District 2, 1. Ritz will be serving a second term; Bailey was term-limited out four years ago and is returning to the commission.
A characteristic of the commission races is that all of them were one-party affairs, with the exception of District 5, centered on East and Southeast Memphis, which remains something of a swing district on the 13-member body.
District 1, Position 2:
This Republican district was won handily by Heidi Shafer, with 6,338 votes to Dr. Albert L. Maduska's 2,708. Shafer, who gained prominence a decade ago as the leader of a petition drive against the FedEx Forum deal, has been serving as the special assistant to the incumbent in this district, George Flinn, who is making a bid for Congress in the 8th congressional district.
Shafer's party connections were too much for newcomer Maduska to overcome.
District 1, Position 3:Mike Carpenter (7,644 votes), an independent-minded Republican incumbent, demonstrated significant strength by overcoming challenger Joe Baier (2,154 votes), who billed himself as "a True Conservative Republican" and was the vicar for dissident Republicans angry with Carpenter for his deviations from the party line on key votes.
District 2, Position 2:
Incumbent Democrat Henri Brooks easily turned back a challenge from David Vincierelli, 7,036 to 1,237.
District 2, Position 3:
District 3, Position 1:
Democratic incumbent James Harvey fought off a challenge from educator James O. Catchings Sr., 6,282 to 4,584.
District 3, Position 2:
Incumbent Sidney Chism, a prominent Democratic Party broker, had no problem with Andrew Jerome (Rome) Withers of the well-known photography clan. Vote totals were 7,909 to 3,009.
District 3, Position 3:
Demonstrating the continuing power of the Ford name in politics, newcomer Justin Ford, son of the interim mayor, turned out edith Ann Moore, who had been the appointed incumbent for the last several months. Vote was 7,342 to 3,822.
District 4, Position 1:
Outgoing Probate Court clerk Chris Thomas (7,631) won a bare majority over two GOP challengers, John Pellicciotti (4,871), who had served as the appointed incumbent in Position 3, and Jim Bomprezzi (2,298).
District 4, Position 2:
Incumbent Republican Wyatt Bunker, with 7,804 votes, outpointed challengers John Wikerson (2,999) and Ron Fittes (2,968).
District 4, Position 3:
In what some thought would be a serious contested battle, Terry Roland, a hero to Republicans for his 2007 near-miss challenge to Democratic state senator Ophelia Ford, almost doubled the vote of George Chism, 9,544 to 4,837.
Jennings Bernard keeps trying, but he hasn't won one yet, and he was hard put against incumbent Democrat Steve Mulroy, a lion to party progressives. Mulroy had 1,668 to ernard's 640 votes. Republican Rolando Toyos had 924 votes in an unopposed race.
The keynote speaker for the event, held Friday night at Clark Tower, was New York congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns, whose evocation of traditional party positions and item-by-item exploration of the landmark 2010 health-care bill were less meaningful perhaps than a single, locally directed statement.
After assuming the dais and priming the pump with a series of well-received jokes to the assembled Shelby County Democrats, Towns had turned serious: “I want to thank you for sending Steve Cohen to the United States Congress,” he said. “He’s somebody I enjoy working with. He’s very committed and dedicated, and what we need today more than ever is committed and dedicated elected officials.”
Towns had made more elaborate statements about his support for Cohen in the course of an interview prior to his speech.
Asked if he had taken part in the congressman’s reelection effort two years ago, Towns said, “I didn’t take a position two years ago on it. But I’ve had the opportunity to work with him. I’ve seen his voting record on many issues. I’ve seen his commitment and his work for his constituents, and I would be delighted to come in and assist him in any way I could.”
Rep. Towns said he had not coordinated his statements with Cohen and had not yet been involved in any concrete conversations about helping the reelection efforts of the Memphis congressman, who is opposed in the August Democratic primary by former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton.
Cohen was not present at the dinner, which was attended by numerous elected officials and candidates in the 2010 election cycle and had a decent turnout from the rank and file as well.
McWherter promised that his father, former Governor Ned McWherter, planned to take an active role in campaigning and that Shelby Countians would get used to seeing much of both of them. “I’m going to be a bad penny down here,” he jested. As usual, candidate McWherter stressed jobs and education as his two chief concerns.
Before the dinner, McWherter had discussed his election prospects in an interview, pointing out that he had at least one clear advantage over the three Republicans — Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Knoxville — now vying for the GOP nomination.
“I can go ahead and talk about my platform and my plans to create jobs for Tennesseans,” McWherter said. Meanwhile, the three Republican candidates were hampered by the intensity of their mutual rivalry.
He was asked about news reports of a gubernatorial forum held the night before in Murfreesboro, one in which Wamp, asked about ways of curtailing DUI violations, was quoted as saying that people like “my friend Mike, who sells beer” could help.
“I don’t view disagreement as being insulting. I view it as being the discourse that helps make our government work.”
McWherter said he intended to “lean on” the guidance of Governor Phil Bredesen on matters like that of how to make the new health-care bill, which carries with it a mandate for more health spending by the states, work in Tennessee.
In his speech to the banquet, McWherter would introduce Rabidoux as having to run against “the meanest woman in Congress,” 7th District incumbent Marsha Blackburn.
The Democratic hopeful, a professor of political science at Austin Peay University, responded, “If Marsha Blackburn were just mean alone, that would be something, but she’s mean and uninformed and, as far as I can see, extremely dangerous and divisive and polarizing.”
Even by party-primary standards — with turnout percentages that traditionally are lower than those for general elections — this year’s figures are dismal, almost rivaling the meager turnout associated with special elections.
Nor is the outlook good for more elevated levels of voting on Election Day itself — Tuesday, May 4. One way or another, the primary elections of 2010 may well turn out to have been affected by acts of God.
One problem stems from the same rains and violent weather which wreaked havoc on this year’s Beale St. Musicfest, curtailing the shows’ duration and preventing various headliners from even getting here.
Even if optimistic forecasts prevail and Tuesday turns out to be warm and sunny, unhindered by the continuing stormfront that was first predicted, there has been such extensive flood damage in parts of Shelby County that the very act of getting to certain polling sites could be difficult or even prohibitive.
There was a report on Sunday that Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins have been consulting with the elections officials of various counties about legal strategies for postponing voting. The same rambunctious elements that caused flooding in much of Shelby County resulted in even direr complications elsewhere in the state — especially when accompanied by tornadic activity.
To say the least, optimism about this week’s weather is not widespread.
Who, then, will brave the elements — and the apathy — to go vote? The hardier party cadres will, of course, as will the partisans of the better organized candidates — though, as in any low-turnout election, those candidates who have name recognition going in will be disproportionately favored.
That’s a factor that could be unusually significant in selected races — the Democratic primary for mayor, for example.
Interim mayor Joe Ford not only has the incumbency to benefit him but whatever network resources and name identification revolve around his family name. His chief opponent, county commissioner Deidre Malone, is relatively more dependent on attracting new voters to the polls.
But it isn’t just the parties or the established organizations that may get out such vote enjoy an edge in getting out the vote this week.
There’s also a religious element at work. The political involvement of black churches has long been a factor in local elections. Hence the obligatory appearances by candidates, especially Democratic candidates, at Sunday worship services in African-American neighborhoods.
What is different this year is that there may be more of an equivalent movement associated with white churches — especially the evangelical or fundamental ones.
At those candidate forums at which he has appeared, Dale Lane, who commands the Sheriff’s Department’s SWAT team, has never failed to proclaim his religious faith — as at a League of Women Voters’ forum last month, when he asserted in his opening statement, “The most important thing in my life is my relationship with Christ. That relationship provides the foundation for every decision I make.”
One secular-minded voter was heard to say as she departed that event, “Well, I know I know who I’m not going to vote for.”
But such a reaction may be unfair to Lane, a respected law-enforcement officer who has never suggested that he would in any way impose his religious beliefs on anyone nor allow them to countermand the requirements of the law. On the surface at least, his profession of faith is nothing more than that.
But the constituency to whom such statements appeal may be less — or more — nuanced in its reaction to the political moment.
At a forum for District 4 county commission candidates in Collierville last month, one at which numerous other Republican candidates for office were invited to speak, restaurateur Tony Sarwar, the host for the event, quoted scripture to the point that the Lord rejoices “when He sees his brothers united.”
Every candidate who spoke was then asked to declare his or her stand on the issues of abortion and prayer in the schools. Neither matter is ever likely to surface in relation to any of the public offices being sought — but those two issues are clearly still hot-button controversies in the minds of many voters.
“I know sometimes politics and religious don’t go together,” Sarwar had said by way or prefacing the evening. But manifestly they do for many — and in a low-turnout election voters' perceptions of candidates’ religious identities or of where they stand on abortion, prayer, gay rights, and other social issues could well impact the result, especially in close races.
Given the unusual set of variables affecting this year’s vote, any number of candidates could be — either literally or metaphorically — saying their prayers as they face the verdict of the voters on Tuesday.