Patterson's Legacy 

Did the late trustee anoint a chosen successor?

Democrat Paul Mattila and Republican Ray Butler have several things in common besides the fact that they both aspire to win the August special general election for the office of Shelby County trustee. Most importantly, each was demonstrably a close associate of longtime trustee Bob Patterson, who died unexpectedly earlier this year.

As governmental liaison and general factotum in Patterson's office, Mattila — who currently serves as interim trustee after being chosen by the majority Democrats on the Shelby County Commission — was constantly in his boss' company over the last several years. Similarly, it was unusual for Patterson to attend a political function without having at his side Butler, a CPA who served as his campaign treasurer and all-purpose adviser.

The two appeared together Monday night at the Madison Avenue bistro Neil's for a debate sponsored by the libertarian/conservative group Defenders of Freedom. Each had something of a claque on hand, and each acquitted himself well. Both were at pains to portray themselves as having been policy confidantes at large, not just role players. Both pledged to maintain the "team" left behind by Patterson.

Late in the debate, an audience member asked a question directed at a crucial point. Who had Patterson intended to be his successor, Mattila or Butler? That gave Democrat Mattila a chance to make a claim that, on several occasions, the former trustee had conferred that designation on himself. Significantly, Mattila contended, looking directly at his opponent, one of those occasions was a lunch at Applebee's between himself, Patterson, and Butler.

The claim took on special resonance when Butler not only made no effort to refute it but said quietly, "That's right." In his own turn, he pointed out that Patterson, for all of his across-the-boards popularity, took special pride in his Republican affiliation. Therefore, argued Butler, he himself could best continue the Patterson tradition.

Mattila got another boost on the point when, after the debate was over, moderator Angelo Cobrasci confided that Patterson had told him last Christmas that "if anything were to happen to him," he — Cobrasci — should do what he could to help Mattila succeed him in office.

A caveat, though: Mattila made a point of saying, "I'm not running as Bob Patterson. I'm running as Paul Mattila." In the final analysis, the race is still between himself and Butler — two no doubt well-prepared and perhaps equally credentialed familiars of the well-regarded man who preceded them.

Barack Obama's final victory last week in his marathon Democratic primary showdown with Hillary Clinton had quick repercussions in Tennessee, one of the states which had landed in Clinton's column back on Super Tuesday (February 4th).

Key state Democrats, including formerly uncommitted governor Phil Bredesen and state party chairman Grey Sasser, gathered in Nashville on Wednesday to proclaim their support of Obama, a day after the Illinois senator's delegate total went over the top following yet another split decision in the final two state primaries. (Obama won Montana; Clinton won South Dakota.)

That unity meeting was followed by another one, held locally on Saturday at the Union Avenue campaign headquarters of 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, an Obama super-delegate, who, along with city councilman Myron Lowery, a Clinton super-delegate, presided over an affirmation of support for Obama by Obama delegates Cherry Davis, Eddie Neal, and Janis Fullilove and Clinton delegates Henry Hooper, Betsy Reed, and David Upton.

• It turns out that Mayhill Fowler, the amateur journalist and blogger (for the Huffington Post) who made waves with recent items about Obama and former president Bill Clinton, has a Memphis background that bears somewhat significantly on her current activities.

Fowler, now a resident of Oakland, California, is the granddaughter of the late Memphis mayor Watkins Overton, who served 14 (discontinuous) years as the city's chief executive, his last term ending in the 1950s. Fowler told Howie Kurtz of The Washington Post last week that her mother and Overton's daughter, the late May Hill Overton Anderson, had banned all talk of politics in her household, believing that it "had destroyed her family."

But, says Fowler on her personal blog (Junehill, Owl and a Green Dog, Too), "now that my mother has passed away, my innate love of politics, suppressed since a grade school adventure, rises again ... ."

Obama and Clinton may wish it hadn't. Fowler's surreptitiously gathered disclosures of an Obama comment about "bitter" small-town voters and Clinton's scourging of a "scumbag" profiler of him in Vanity Fair proved to be huge embarrassments for both men.


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