It begins to appear that, insofar as Memphis mayor A C Wharton has a serious challenge to his reelection, it might come primarily from former city councilman Ed Ford Sr., who held a well-attended joint rally with councilman son Ed Ford Jr. at the duo's Elvis Presley Boulevard headquarters on Saturday.
The senior Ford, who vowed to "cut off the A C," had backup not only from his son, who also seeks reelection to his 6th District council seat (which had previously been held by his father), but from such other Ford family members as nephew Justin Ford, a Shelby County commissioner, and niece Kemba Ford, currently a candidate for the open 7th District council seat. It would be a genuine boost for mayoral candidate Ford if the still-active Ford-family political clan, once famous for being able to manage voter turnout, should marshal its efforts on his behalf.
Arguably just as telling Saturday was the presence of Shelley Seeberg, local administrator for AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) and Memphis Police Association vice president Mike Williams, both of whom proclaimed support for the senior Ford on behalf of their unions.
The city's public employee unions, currently engaged in litigation against the city to recover wages and benefits lost in the budget settlement for the 2011-12 fiscal year, are clearly and publicly disenchanted with the current city administration. Ford, who has an AFL-CIO endorsement, would appear to be the clear beneficiary of that discontent.
The other major challenger to Wharton, who remains highly favored to be reelected, is Shelby County commissioner James Harvey.
• Despite opposition from District 4 (suburban) members Wyatt Bunker, Chris Thomas, and Terry Roland, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools was handily ratified by the Shelby County Commission at a special meeting Monday — leaving only the Memphis City Council to complete the cycle.
After a mediation process presided over by U.S. district judge Hardy Mays, the MOU was agreed upon last week by legal representatives of all the contending parties with an interest in the merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools. Mays had earlier mandated an MCS-SCS merger, more or less along the lines provided for in the Norris-Todd bill, passed earlier this year by the legislature.
The commission also approved a framework of seven single-member districts for an all-county school board and arranged an interview date, September 7th, for applicants interested in filling those seven slots on an interim basis, beginning October 1st. Consistent with the Mays ruling, elections for the positions will be held in August 2012, pending completion of the merger on September 1, 2013.
All votes were unanimous except for absentees and the opposition of Commissioners Bunker, Thomas, and Roland. The three suburban commissioners repeated their previous objections to the entire merger process — essentially, as Bunker put it, that a functioning system, Shelby County Schools, was being shut down prematurely and forced into unwanted union with a problematic city system, that, in Roland's words, the people of District 4 "don't want this," and that, as Thomas predicted, adverse educational change would be the consequence.
After hearing further protests from the dissenting commissioners, the commission majority agreed to be flexible on ground rules for the candidate interviews — for example, removing from a list of questions for the candidates inquiries about party affiliation or prior attitudes toward school merger. As various members of the commission majority pointed out, however, questions of that sort are likely to be asked anyhow, just not listed.
A further stipulation was that those candidates who had submitted themselves to examination in March, when the commission was considering making appointment to a provisional 25-member board, would not need to repeat the entire interview process, though they would be subject to questions by commissioners.
• As one of the featured speakers at the annual "Master Meal," sponsored by the East Shelby Republican Club and held last week at the Great Hall in Germantown, state Senate majority leader Mark Norris of Collierville expressed satisfaction that the Norris-Todd bill, moved in the General Assembly by himself and state representative Curry Todd, also of Collierville, was essentially upheld by Judge Mays as the linchpin of the ongoing school merger process.
Said Norris: "It's too bad that it took a federal court to explain the role of state government in education, isn't it? Should that have been necessary? How many people at the time took swipes at the legislature for getting involved with education in Shelby County? They didn't know the role that state government plays in providing public education in this state."
Other speakers at the event, which is a kind of summer counterpart to the Shelby GOP's annual Lincoln Day celebration, were Justin Joy, Shelby County Republican chairman, and Chris Devaney of Nashville, chairman of the state Republican Party.
Joy noted that the only two countywide elective offices not currently held by Republicans — general sessions court clerk and assessor, now held by the beleaguered Otis Jackson and Cheyenne Johnson, respectively — were on the 2012 ballot and challenged his audience of party adepts to help capture them. A third office, that of district attorney general, is currently held by Amy Weirich, who will seek reelection as a Republican.
In his remarks, Devaney put forth three goals for 2012: to reelect U.S. senator Bob Corker; to elect enough Republicans to the General Assembly to make it "walkout-proof" (a reference to the situation this year in Wisconsin, where a Democratic boycott was aimed at denying a legislative quorum); and "to send Barack Obama back home — to Chicago or Hawaii or wherever he's from."
Club president Arnold Weiner released the results of a presidential straw poll of attendees: Texas governor Rick Perry, 61; former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, 12; Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Georgia entrepreneur Herman Cain, 6 each; Ron Paul, 5, and other candidates, including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, trailing with scattered votes.
Recipients of special recognition from the club were veteran club member Bob Pitman, now suffering from the after-effects of a stroke (his award was received by wife Toni and son Alan), and John Willingham, the venerable sage and frequent candidate, who, in his role as barbecue maven, had catered the event.
• Steve Cohen, rural congressman? Could be, according to the current 9th District U.S. representative, who was commenting on informal reports making the rounds concerning possible redistricting in Tennessee.
Cohen cited an article in the Nashville Tennessean concerning a rumored plan by the state's majority Republicans to carve Davidson County, currently the base of the 5th congressional district, held by Democrat Jim Cooper, into three districts. And he said he had heard reports that his own 9th District, though still based in Memphis, would be extended eastward into Fayette and Hardeman counties to accommodate the eastward shift of Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn's 7th congressional district.
"I could handle that district, but I'd prefer to keep the Memphis district intact," said Cohen, who said the party-line ratios and black-white percentages would be similar in the rumored reconfiguration to what they are in the currently proportioned 9th District. Current Memphis City Schools board member and local Urban League head Tomeka Hart has said she will oppose Cohen in the Democratic primary but has thus far shown little evidence of campaigning.
For the record, Republican sources in the legislature, which will make the final determination on district lines, deny that the plan reported by The Tennessean is in the works. The rumored plan, first publicized by a blogger, was the occasion for a visit to the newspaper's offices by Nashville mayor Karl Dean and Cooper, both concerned about the prospect of dividing the current 5th District.
Cohen, who in recent weeks has kept a busy schedule, presiding over a series of constituent forums and seminars on federal programs, has just returned from a trip to the Congo and Rwanda on behalf of CARE, Inc., a group that concerns itself with survivors of cataclysms. The congressman said that, despite the massacre of some 800,000 Rwandans that occurred in 1994, that country appears considerably more advanced and prosperous than does the Congo.