Foul Play 

The 9th District Congressional debate sponsored Monday night by the Downtown Merchants Association was marked, as The Commercial Appeal's Halimah Abdullah put it, with "plenty of gusts from unexpected directions." So what else is new? This political season, especially here in Tennessee, the level of negative campaigning has gone over-the-top "nukular," as George W. Bush likes to say.

We find that a depressing development. But those who run for public office these days know full well that this is how the game is now played, however unfortunate the rule changes are. If a political candidate cannot stand the heat of opponents lambasting their past behaviors and present foibles, he or she needs to consider getting into another line of work.

But a line is crossed when this demonstrable incivility extends itself to reporters trying to do their jobs in as fair and equable fashion as possible. Just such a line was crossed Monday night, when, in the aftermath of this particular debate, Flyer political editor Jackson Baker was verbally accosted by 9th District Independent candidate Jake Ford. The particulars of this event are referred to elsewhere in this issue.

However distasteful his debate remarks about his two opponents may have appeared to those opponents and to many members of the audience, Jake Ford was well within his rights to hurl verbal abuse in their direction within the debate context. When he later decided to extend that approach to a reporter -- from whatever news organization -- simply trying to do his job properly, he was completely out of line. Period.

Ford owes Baker a public apology, immediately, if not sooner.

The Kroc Center

City attorney Sara Hall is right to say the city should get fair-market value for land at the Mid-South Fairgrounds if a deal is struck with backers of the Kroc Center.

The $48-million recreation complex and social center would be a welcome addition to the underused fairgrounds property. Money from the family of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, along with local private-funding sources, would pay for the center, which was discussed this week at the Memphis City Council.

But there's a principle here that shouldn't give way to expedience in a rush to make a deal: The Salvation Army, which is the recipient of the Kroc grant, is a church. If the city wants to sell city property to this or any other church, it should receive market value. Some Memphians may be tempted to say that the property should be given away for a nominal amount because the end justifies the means. Hall is right on the law and right on principle to object.

The Salvation Army and other Memphis churches can be important partners with the city. But we're not ready to turn over public responsibilities or public property to churches without full disclosure and market pricing. Other Christian churches and colleges have their eyes on public land, and Hall has drawn the line properly.

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