By the time this article is published, the District 7 Memphis School Board runoff election will be over. The victorious candidate will serve on the board beginning January 2005 through the next four years. By the end of early voting, December 2nd, the Election Commission reported 996 votes. There are 66,054 eligible voters in the district.
The campaign between incumbent candidate Hubon "Dutch" Sandridge and challenger Tomeka Hart has included allegations of voter fraud, campaign-literature violations, and old-fashioned mudslinging. Even taking into account all of these, the decision comes down to voter mentality, said former board candidate Rico Rivers.
"Voters will tell you they're voting one way, but in the booth, they vote for someone else," he said. That was the case in 2000, when Rivers unsuccessfully challenged Sandridge for the District 7 position. "People have a tendency to vote the way they always have or the way a [family member] tells them to, especially older voters."
Throughout the race, Hart challenged Sandridge's record within the community, calling for voters to select a candidate who would be responsive, accessible, and amicable. Sandridge countered with charges that Hart's campaign was financed by white businessmen intent on unseating him to further their own agendas.
Financial-disclosure statements, due a week before the election or 45 days afterward, do in fact show a contribution from real estate developer Henry Turley. But there is also a contribution from Ruby Wharton, wife of Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, along with contributions from other somewhat lesser-known Memphians. A day before the election, Sandridge had not submitted his statements to the Election Commission. Officials said there is no enforced penalty for late filing.
Whoever wins the district seat will have to contend with the unmet needs of children in the area. A special report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation this week found that almost one in three Memphis children live in poverty. The report also found that almost two out of three urban children live in families that spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing.
In other school-system news, the defamation lawsuit against the school board was dropped by plumbing contractor Willie Nelson. Nelson's company was chosen as the subcontractor by general contractor Inman-Beers for work at Germanshire Elementary School.
"We firmly believe that Mr. Nelson's case was devoid of any merit whatsoever," said a written statement by MCS board attorney Percy Harvey. "If the plaintiffs had not capitulated, we are confident that the court would have granted a motion to dismiss, thereby exposing them to possible sanctions. Nevertheless, we are pleased that this case is over and that our clients are vindicated."
Nelson filed the suit after board members and a consultant said Nelson's plumbing work might have been the cause for the school's sinking. The suit had asked for $100 million in damages. •