Redirecting the Mainstream 

A large TEP-fundraiser crowd — including numerous candidates — confirmed the emergence of gays as a political force.

Chatting it up at TEP’s weekend  fundraiser were (l to r): Municipal Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon, candidate for Juvenile Court Judge; Michael McCusker, candidate for Criminal Court Clerk; District 7 County Commission candidate Brandon Echols; and political consultant London Lamar.

Jackson Baker

Chatting it up at TEP’s weekend fundraiser were (l to r): Municipal Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon, candidate for Juvenile Court Judge; Michael McCusker, candidate for Criminal Court Clerk; District 7 County Commission candidate Brandon Echols; and political consultant London Lamar.

It is not to be doubted any longer. The massive success of the Tennessee Equality Project's (TEP) "gumbo contest" fund-raiser, held Sunday evening at Bridges downtown, was one more indication that in Memphis as elsewhere, the LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) community has achieved mainstream status.

Much of this is the result of the organizing efforts and skills of Memphian Jonathan Cole, the nonprofit TEP's chair and president. Much, too, is due to the fact that in recent years the gay rights movement would seem to have made the quantum leap from merely seeking tolerance to establishing itself as an influential force. At least in the Western world, LGBT has achieved a status close to what the late former President Warren G. Harding meant to denote by his coinage of the term "normalcy."

That was made obvious in the crowds that made the TEP event one of the most well-attended public events of the new year. And it was made especially clear by the number of politicians working the arena-sized meeting room at Bridges.

Most of these were Democrats, but there were Republicans as well, and judicial incumbents and candidates, whose formal status is nonpartisan. The TEP's endorsement is a sought-after commodity these days, particularly in this year's Democratic primary contests. Beyond that, well, there are votes to be had.

• One of the attendees at the TEP affair, as at most public political gatherings these days, except explicitly Republican ones or events on behalf of his ballot rivals, was Mike McCusker, a candidate in the Democratic primary for Criminal Court clerk.

This is the second attempt for the office by McCusker, a retired Army major who served in Afghanistan as combat advisor to the Afghan National Army and has been serving as an assistant district attorney general for the last several years. When he tried to file in the Democratic primary four years ago, he was denied the right to do so by a vote of the Shelby County Democratic executive committee.

The reason? After 9/11 prompted his Army service, McCusker — raised in "an Irish-Catholic Democratic family"— had what he describes as "a brief period" of voting Republican, more or less from what he saw then as support for the policy of his Commander-in-Chief. Once he returned from Afghanistan, he reevaluated his politics and, as he says, "returned to my Democratic values."

After he was denied a petition in 2010 to run as a Democrat, McCusker says, local Republicans tried to get him to run for the same office under the GOP label, but he declined. "That wasn't who I was."

The current Republican incumbent, Kevin Key, eventually won the race.

McCusker has some stout opposition in the Democratic primary. Other candidates are City Councilmember Wanda Halbert, City Court Clerk Thomas Long, and Rev. Ralph White.

Key did not file for reelecton, so it's an open seat. The sole Republican candidate and de facto GOP nominee is Richard DeSaussure II, who has served as chief administrator in the clerk's office.

• Among the busiest local politicians last week — not unexpectedly — was Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, who is one of four Democrats seeking the nomination for Shelby County mayor to oppose incumbent Republican Mayor Mark Luttrell. (Luttrell, too, is a de facto nominee, having only the eccentric perennial candidate Ernest Lunati to worry about in the Republican primary.)

Among other things, in the past week, Mulroy has had two fund-raisers, attended every public non-GOP event in sight (political or otherwise), attended and played a major role in two meetings of the county commission, and continued his support of locked-out workers at the local Kellogg plant, to the point of camping overnight outside the plant, along with City Councilman Lee Harris, a fellow lockout opponent.

He also lent paternal aid and support to his son Quinn Mulroy, a White Station High School student whose team earned the right last week in a local mock trial tournament to to go to next month's state finals.

Mulroy also continued, through the public fund-raisers and other means, to raise money for his campaign — somewhere in the neighborhood of $70,000 as of the weekend, he reports. A previous report for the filing period ending January 31st had him at $55,000, and this week he challenged the other three Democratic contenders — former County Commissioner Deidre Malone, Commission Chairman James Harvey, and Rev. Kenneth Whalum — to make public their most recent fund-raising information.

click to enlarge Mulroy telling his “Stop Thief” story at a fund-raiser at Mulan in the Cooper-Young district.
  • Mulroy telling his “Stop Thief” story at a fund-raiser at Mulan in the Cooper-Young district.

And, speaking of funds: Mulroy earned YouTube notoriety two years ago when, in the midst of an interview by WMC-TV's Kontji Anthony in Overton Park, the commissioner was interrupted by a down-and-out panhandler, who persistently demanded two dollars and concluded his impromptu conversation with a threat: "If you don't have two dollars tomorrow, I'm going to kick your ass!"

That sad story had something of a happy ending. The panhandler, tracked down by another Action News 5 reporter later on, was contrite and apologized.

But the two dollar figure seems to be some innate leitmotif in the Mulroy saga. The commissioner was parking his car in a Second Street garage last Thursday when he was approached by a man whom he took to be an attendant asking him for a $10 parking fee. Mulroy fished a twenty out of his wallet and handed it to the man, expecting change.

Instead, the "attendant" took off running, and Mulroy, realizing he'd been had, got out of the car and ran after him. (The commissioner is a regular runner and has almost regained the competitive racing level he maintained before donating a kidney last spring.)

The chase went in and out of alleys and ended up on Main Street, where Mulroy and three helpers — restaurant workers along the way, who happened to see what was going on and joined in — cornered the thief and, after convincing him that his escape route was blocked, persuaded him to return Mulroy's money.

He eventually did, but only after first making the claim that the twenty had somehow gone missing and offering Mulroy — wait for it — two dollars, which he handed over. After the thief finally gave up and returned the twenty, he had a sudden thought and gave voice to it: "Hey, give me my two dollars!"

This story, too, had a happy ending. Everybody was reunited with his original money.

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