In one of those surprise developments which appear sensible and inevitable once they are thought about, Memphis State Sen. Ford has become the Ford political clan's congressional candidate-designate in the increasingly likely event that Rep. Ford actively seeks the Democratic nominate for the Senate seat being vacated by incumbent Republican Fred Thompson.
Sources close to key members of the Ford family and aware of their recent deliberations say that Rep. Ford has cast the die and will make the Senate race, although much preliminary work -- polls, organizational efforts, establishment of fundraising machinery, etc. -- remains to be done.
Rep. Ford and the Ford clan in general ultimately concluded that he would never face a better opportunity for seeking higher office than now, when the full bloom of his national media celebrity is upon him and an open seat is available; nor would as formidable a candidate in family ranks as Uncle John Ford necessarily be available several years down the line.
For all his eccentricies and frequent brushes with notoriety (ncluding frequent paternity suits, public marital disputes, and brushes with the law on weapons charges and other matters), the senator is a respected player in Nashville, where he chairs the Senate General Welfare, Health and Human Resources Committee and is a key member of the Finance and State and Local Government committees as well.
Rep. Ford, just back from a fact-finder in Afghanistan, spent Friday and Saturday calling influential Democrats and sounding them out about his making a race for the Senate this year. One of those called was Mayor Willie Herenton, who reportedly said he would be willing to support the most celebrated current member of a political family, the Fords of Memphis, with whom he has had a running feud.
Speculation on other possible Democratic candidates to succeed Republican Senator Fred Thompson continued at a lively pace, with most of it centering on other members of the state's Democratic congressional delegation.
Of these, the notoriously cautious John Tanner of the 8th District was considered a viable candidate but unlikely to take the gamble of a Senate race. Bart Gordon of the 6th District had not committed himself, while the 5th District's Bob Clement, who represents Nashville, is in the position of having possibbly cried wolf too many times on statewide races, so far exclusively in aborted gubernatorial runs. The Clement camp, however, was putting out firm and decisive-sounding signals about a race.
The names of Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, who recently withdrew from the Shelby County Mayor's race, and State Senator Steve Cohen have received some play, but Cohen indicated it was unlikely he would attempt another statewide race (he run unsuccessfully for governor in 1994).
A dark horse candidate is Memphis entrepreneur John Lowery, who is hoping to put his business (Revelation Corporation) on a sound enough, self-sustaining basis in the next month so that he could consider running.
"If none of the congressmen end up doing it, I'm in," Lowery said on Friday.
As it happens, an ex-congressman has expressed some interest as well -- former U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, now a consultant living in Nashville, who lost the 1994 special election that saw Thompson first elected to the Senate.
Another potential candidate mulling over a race is Jim Hall, the Chattanogan who was a key aide to former Governor Ned McWherter and headed the National Transportation Safety Board under former President Clinton.
And former Shelby County Republican chairman Phillip Langsdon may be right behind him.
Norris, who planned to be introducing Bryant to Republican members of the Senate in Nashville on Monday, advised other Shelby Countians interested in running for Bryant's seat to "keep their powder dry" so as not to split the county's vote in the newly reapportioned 7th.
Dr. Langson, meanwhile, a facial plastic surgeon who served two terms as county GOP chairman duroing the '90s, said in a press release that he would be making a decision on running "in the next few days."
Two other Shelby Countians have designs on the seat -- Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor, who has already announced as a G.O.P. candidate, and Memphis lawyer David Kustoff, who has said he plans to.
At least two potential Republican candidates for the seat hail from the Nashville area. They are State Senator Marsha Blackburn and radio talk show host Steve Gill, both of Williamson County.
I think A Cs advisers have been keeping the wraps on him or giving him bad advice, Herenton said while attending Sundays NBA game at The Pyramid between the Memphis Grizzles and Seattle Supersonics. He said he still had no plans to endorse a candidate for Shelby County Mayor but might end up doing so between the May 7th countywide primaries and the August general election.
Despite considerable prodding from the media, Wharton -- who served as chairman of two Herenton election campaigns -- has contented himself so far with saying he approved the Memphis mayors recent appointment of a task force on consolidation and would wait on its results before commenting. Meanwhile, Wharton has said, he would welcome functional consolidation of certain joint services.
Virtually every local public figure -- even those, like Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy, who oppose consolidation per se -- has come out for some degree of functional consolidation of services.
Of the remaining candidates for county mayor considered major, State Representative Chumney has endorsed a form of consolidation quite similar to that of Herenton himself and has pledged to push for both it and a form of school funding similar to the Memphis mayors call for separate city and county districts linked via a single-source funding method.
Among Republican candidates, State Representative Larry Scroggs has said he doubts both the desirability of consolidation and the accuracy of projections that it would reduce governmental costs, while radiologist/media mogul George Flinn has not yet been heard from.
Herenton continued to simmer over what he regarded as a snub administered by suburban mayors who, during last weeks annual meeting of the Tennessee Municipal League in Nashville, scheduled a dinner for Shelby legislators concurrent with Herentons own legislative dinner.
Seemingly angered by Goldsworthys recent suggestion that he was advocating city/county consolidation as a means, ultimately, of extending his own power, Herenton nevertheless made some purposely cryptic statements that some might consider consistent with the Germantown mayors interpretation..
I think this current county mayor election should be the last one we have, Herenton said, pointedly making a connection between the likelihood of his being reelected Memphis mayor in 2003 and the timetable he has proposed for consolidation -- which calls for a countywide referendum on the subject in 2004 or 2005 and elections for a metropolitan mayor and council in 2006.
Without elaborating, Herenton said with a sly grin that this set of concurrent facts should lead to the right analysis.