Two women — one an incumbent hoping to remain in office, the other a challenger wishing to gain in office — are increasingly visible as the campaign year wears on.
Deidre Malone, who as the Democratic Party nominee for Shelby County Mayor is contesting the reelection of incumbent County Mayor Mark Luttrell, a Republican, continues to explore legitimate opportunities to confront Luttrell.
Such was the case last Wednesday when the ad hoc group “100 Women for Deidre” held an upbeat testimonial to the Democratic candidate at the XX on South Main.
After paying homage to former City Council member and mayoral candidate Carol Chumney and former School Board member Tomeka Hart as “trailblazers,” Malone named several issues on which she found the incumbent GOP mayor’s actions insufficient.
First, she made an effort to portray Luttrell as inefficient and vulnerable.
“What has he done for Shelby County? I can beat him. We need and deserve a better leader,” Malone said. “He’s a little nervous. I can tell you, because we see him everywhere….He’s a nice guy, but what has he done for our county?”
After asserting that Luttrell had “played politics with the property tax” during the lead-up to the fiscal 2014-15 county budget, Malone took on Luttrell for his willingness to sacrifice what had been county government’s oversight of the local Head Start program. He forsook a $23 million federal grant and let Shelby County Schools have the program, Malone said. “He didn’t care.”
She contrasted what she indicated was resolute if belated action by city government and by Sheriff Bill Oldham to clear up the now scandalous backlog of untested rape kits with what she said had been inaction on Luttrell’s part.,
“There are still about 500 or so [untested kits] left from when Mark was Sheri
ff,” Malone said, contending further, “He had an opportunity in 2003 to apply for funding for testing and didn’t.”
And, though she didn’t dwell on it, Malone reminded her audience of the continuing controversy over the Luttrell administration’s decision in 2011 to cast its lot with the currently distressed Christ Community Health Services, rather than Planned Parenthood, as the county’s partner to administer women’s health services with Title X federal funding
The ebullient challenger even made an effort to convert a political reverse into a triumph, telling her supporters that, though she had not received the endorsement of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, officers for the group made a point of telling her how impressed they were with her interview.
“I looked at them and said, ‘it’s going to be a lot closer than you think, and they looked at me and said, ‘Yeah,;” said Malone.
But the Democratic nominee, mindful of her party’s unexpected reverse in the elections of four years ago, cautioned her listeners, ““If 2010 taught us anything, it taught us that some Democrats are not voting, or they voted for a Republican.”•Meanwhile, one GOP office-holder who did not participate in that Republican sweep but hopes to take part in a 2014 reprise was on the move.
District Attorney General Amy Weirich was a subsequent appointee of Governor Bill Haslam when then District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, her boss, was named state Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security. Having won a part-term in her own right, now she wants a full one, and her campaign rests essentially on the premise that as D.A. she has combined pragmatism and compassion with strict law enforcement.
Weirich, who is opposed by Democratic nominee Joe Brown, the former Criminal Court judge and TV veteran of the eponymous “Joe Brown Show,” took her message to the Frayser Exchange Club at Sara Lee’s Restaurant on North Watkins on Thursday, a Democratic enclave where she found an audience seemingly open-minded to what she had to say.
One of Weirich’s first statements was to remind her listeners of her office’s innovative truancy program in 13 schools and of last month’s awarding, with help from the Hyde Foundation locally, of free bicycles to 344 students who had gone through the academic year with a perfect attendance record.
Preaching a carrot-and-stick doctrine, the incumbent D.A. focused on public services performed by her office that, she said, were about “so much more than government and taxes.”
She boasted her efforts to secure passage of liberalized state legislation on expungement of crimes committed by non-habitual offenders, as well as of a law that responded to a ruling by state Attorney General Robert Cooper limiting direct prosecution of pregnant women who were drug offenders and were in danger of passing on their addiction to newborns.
“Women were bawling, asking us not to dismiss charges. You don’t see that much at 201 Poplar,” Weirich said. Accordingly, she pressed for legislation allowing for “the velvet hammer of prosecution,” post-natally, in the form of sentencing to Shelby County’s Drug Court.
On the drug front, Weirich touted her office’s shut-down of a Frayser “tire shop” that had been functioning more or less as a retail source for controlled substances.
In a question-and-answer period, the D.A. faced a series of questions about the age-old expedient of plea bargaining. Several questioners were skeptical of the process, which results in reduced charges for defendants as the reward for pleading guilty to a lesser offense to avoid the bother and expense of a public trial.
Weirich noted the twin problems of a caseload backup and limited space for incarceration. The process of arranging trials, scheduling dockets, and finding available judges to hear cases, involved “a lot of moving parts,” she said. Claiming a “need to focus resources,” Weirich said, “There is no way to get everybody a trial tomorrow….We dismiss more charges than we get convictions for.”
Asked about “victimless crimes” like vagrancy, the D.A. was quick to concur that such offenses belonged to a class of relatively low-priority cases that were “cleared off the docket the next day.” Also in this category were most instances of people driving with revoked licenses.
On that issue, as well as expungements, Weirich said her office was prepared to move defendants through the process expeditiously . “Don’t pay a lawyer to do it,” she said