Democrats: Of Hot Dogs and Dog Catchers
THE BEST WESTERN, DOWNTOWN-- The buffet table is loaded with gourmet treats, boasting everything from saucy orange hot wings to fresh homemade salsa. Men and women in tee-shirts sporting the names of their favorite 2006 Democratic candidates make B-lines from the front door to the smorgasbord, loading their plates to overflowing.
A tuxedoed man who looks like a shorter, not-so-grey version of Mayor Willie Herrenton sings Marvin Gaye, and women clap their hands to the beat. There's jubilance in the air at the 2006 Democratic party's post-election shindig.. But not everyone's on top of the world.
Gail Mathes, the Democratic candidate for the Shelby County district attorney position, wears a smile, but as more and more early voting results come in and incumbent Bill Gibbons shows a dramatic lead, she begins to look a little weary.
After hearing of an early victory speech given by Gibbons, Mathes says she hopes she is at least able to wake Gibbons up "to being more active on the job." If so, she says her losing to Gibbons would be worth it.
"We would not be in the [crime] situation we're in if he had worked as hard for his entire term as he has in the last seven months," says Mathes, referring to Gibbons' recent public relations blitz that's placed him at more crime-related press conferences.
Partygoer Perrin Shappley expresses regret for Mathes not leading the race, but admits that it's hard to beat an incumbent.
"[Mathes] just doesn't have the name recognition," says Shappley. "She's definitely capable of handling the position. I think she'll be back."
Shappley is even more upset at Steve Cohen's lead in the congressional race. Before the official results are announced, he contends that Cohen doesn't stand a chance against candidate Nikki Tinker.
"Steve Cohen couldn't win a dog catcher's race," says Shappley.
Another Tinker fan, Rick Middlebrook, says he "thought she would do better." Middlebrook also expresses regret regarding the sheriff's race. He says he is pulling for Democrat Reginald French over incumbent Mark Lutrell.
Downstairs from the buffet, men in crisp, pressed dress shirts gather around a TV near the bar, anxiously awaiting the final results. Upon hearing of Cohen's victory, Jonathan Dyson makes a comment about "too many cooks in the kitchen" in the District 9 congressional race. Yet he seems pleased at the results.
"It doesn't come down to religion or the fact that he's white," says Dyson, who is African American. "It comes down to the years of experience he's brought into this race."
His pal Michael Cunningham agrees: "Cohen's a veteran. He's done good things for the state of Tennessee."
Though the ballot is large this year, Cunningham says this year's election is much like any other year.
"Politics in Memphis is somewhat predictable," says Cunningham. "There's been no big surprises."
No big surprises may explain why people at the buffet upstairs are still gnawing on hot wings and sipping champagne as the clock strikes 11 p.m.
-- Bianca Phillips
Republicans: What's the Matter With Kansas? (cont'd)
GOP HQ, EASTGATE SHOPPING
CENTER -- There are roughly 50 people there at 8:00. Many are over 40, and
many are white. There is a large spread of food, as well as ice
cream, sodas, and wine. Most people sit in folding chairs and chat
while watching a projector screen that shows developments in the
results as they are posted online. At the beginning, there are only
about 1.1% of precincts reporting.
By 8:30, there are about 75 people present, including several younger
Gubernatorial candidate Bob Corker
remains comfortably ahead (56%, trailed by Ed Bryant at 27.3%),
and the mood seems positive. The only negativity comes from
a couple of people telling the person manning the computer to slow
down in his scrolling through the results so that they can read it
all. People clap and cheer for many of the candidates as the
results appear on the screen -- this happens significantly
regarding Bill Gibbons, Joyce Avery, Bob Patterson, Curtis Person,
Jimmy Moore, Bill Key, Steve Stamson, Debbie Stamson, Ed Bryant, and
There are no dramatic moments -- no hushed people staring at the
screen gritting their teeth in anticipation, no close races (One man says,
"The question is not if A.C. wins, it's by how much.")
That said, there's always a
little tension in
politics, and there are a couple of complaints about how long it is
taking for all of the results to come in (one woman parallels the
duration to the amount of time everyone is spending in lines at the
poll-booths this season.) But as results become clearer throughout the
night, people seem more comfortable and laid-back; chatter becomes
progressively louder, congratulatory speeches begin, and the radio
turns on to play generic classic rock.
District Attorney General Bill Gibbons comes in around 9:30 when it is basically sure he has
won, shakes a couple of hands, and gives a speech thanking sign-posters,
poll-workers, fundraisers and voters. It is the height of the evening
in terms of attendance -- about 80 people.
Here's the meat of what Gibbons
says: "The vast majority of this community agrees with the
tough, aggressive stance we're taking, and we're going to stick with
it. We have the staying power and the determination to stick with it
and go at the violent gang members and the drug traffickers in our
neighborhoods and on our streets ... politically, I want to talk to
you as my fellow Republicans, and I think the message is clear from
this - [party chairman] Bill Giannini and I have talked about this a lot -- we are a
Democratic County now. I think all of us realize that.
"And in order to survive as a political party in this
county, we have got to be willing
to reach out and reach other right-thinking Democrats and bring them
along with us. And we made a real effort in this campaign to do that,
and when I look at precincts like Hickory Hill and Whitehaven and I'm
getting half the vote, that tells me that our effort worked in getting
some right-thinking Democrats to come over and help us ... I hope that
this serves as an example to other Republican candidates who are
running county-wide in the future because that's what we've got to
do. ... We've got a lot of work to do this fall -- it's not over, but
thank you very much for all your help."
Gibbons also comments on his opponents: "For whatever reason, I don't
know, the state Democratic party and a faction of the local Democratic
party -- not the entire local Democratic party but a faction --
decided to target me for whatever reason. And they got John Kerry to
make a robo-call for my opponent, and you may know that Bill Clinton
made a robo-call for my opponent. And, you know, they made that
decision. There is a pretty vicious mail piece that went out this
week, but the voters didn't buy all that ... and I'm just glad the
voters could see through that last-minute effort and see it the way it
Gibbons invites everyone to a celebratory party afterward at Fox and
Hound on Sanderlin, and soon leaves with his core people to go there.
Around 10:30, Sheriff Luttrell shows up. Here's what he says in his
speech: "We've prevailed in a lot of the cases, so we have a lot to
look forward to as a party. There's still al lot to be done ... I
think one of the things as Republicans that we have to do is we have
to really reach out. We've really got to reach out because if we don't
reach out, I think we're going to be marginalized even more.
"And when I say 'reach out,' I'm
not talking about compromising anything. I'm
talking about getting out there and convincing people that the message
that we have is the right message."
To which one woman
yells "AMEN!" and people applaud.
Not everyone agrees. By 11 p.m., when there are only about 30 people remaining, one of the late-stayers, who gives his name as Jerry Betz, confides he'll be moving in the next year -- probably to Kansas -- because he thinks Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton and Governor Phil Bredesen, both Democrats, are destroying Memphis and Shelby County.
-- Shea O'Rourke