Don't look now, but the 2018 Shelby County mayor's race has formally begun. Shelby County Commission chairman Terry Roland has scheduled a "campaign kick-off event" for Saturday morning, from 8 to 10:30 a.m. at the Old Timers Restaurant in Millington.
Roland has been advertising his intent to run for county mayor for some time and, with this early announcement, clearly hopes to steal a march on the other known serious Republican entry, County Trustee David Lenoir. Roland says he hopes to unite the urban, rural, and suburban areas of Shelby County in common cause and to spur the county's economic growth through aggressive use, a la metropolitan Nashville, of TIFF financing.
• "[FedEx Founder] Fred Smith treats packages better than Delta Airlines treats their passengers," said Ninth District congressman Steve Cohen last Wednesday in a luncheon address to the Memphis Economic Club. Cohen thereby launched a dual complaint 1) at the failure of Congress to establish comfortable seating standards for air travel, and 2) at Delta, for closing down its Memphis hub and drastically cutting flights from Memphis International Airport.
The congressman was none too charitable, either, with President Obama, handing the president the following grades on an alliterative trio of issues Cohen has considered urgent: A on Cuba; C-minus on commutations; and D-minus on cannabis.
Cohen was kinder to himself, ticking off a list of things he's accomplished, then mimicking Donald Trump's voice to boast "lots of wins this year, and some of them were YUGE!"
It is beginning to seem clear that, for the very first time since his initial successful congressional race in 2006, Cohen is actually going to get a pass this year. No serious challenger is in sight after the dropout, several weeks ago, of state Senator Lee Harris. M. LaTroy Williams, a perennial, has filed, as has Cohen. Justin Ford, a member of the well-known political clan and a Shelby County commissioner, picked up a petition in January, but there has been no obvious follow-through since.
Meanwhile, the 8th Congressional District Republican primary field contracted a bit, with the withdrawal last week of Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar, who keeps running into closed lanes and traffic jams as he looks for a route upward and outward in his political career.
Since his narrow 2012 victory over former Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel in a special primary election to fill a seat vacated by Commissioner Mike Carpenter, pharmaceutical executive Basar has run into one roadblock after another in the process of inheriting Carpenter's mantle as a Republican distrusted and regarded as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) by some other GOP members.
Basar was thwarted by fellow Republicans in two attempts to gain the commission chairmanship and votes with some consistency with commission Democrats. He has floated notions of running for Memphis mayor and Shelby County mayor and late last year had talked of opposing Cohen in the 9th District before the 8th District race opened up with the announcement of incumbent Stephen Fincher that he would not seek reelection.
Like several others, Basar declared his interest in the 8th District seat, but later determined that the road was overcrowded with better-funded opponents, five of them from Shelby County, where 55 percent of the district's voters reside. Hence, his exit.
The next Shelby Countian who may be edged to the shoulder could be County Register Tom Leatherwood, once something of a GOP militant in the state Senate but in recent years seemingly content with a low-profile reputation as a competent and none-too-partisan administrator of his county office.
With some logic, however, Leatherwood seems to believe that he has enough wherewithal and residual support from outer-county conservatives to hold his own and perhaps sneak through to victory in the 8th District's multi-candidate battle royale.
Another candidate with similar hopes of prevailing in the end, despite not being regarded just now as a favorite, is Memphis radiologist/businessman George Flinn, a former county commissioner and frequent candidate who commands serious attention because of his oft-demonstrated ability to lavishly self-fund.
But most of the tout talk going on in local political circles concerns three other Shelby Countians — County Mayor Mark Luttrell, state Senator Brian Kelsey, and former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff.
Luttrell became an instant favorite upon his entry into the race last month, mainly on the strength of his electoral track record, dominant governmental position, and preexistent political network in Shelby County. But he also has good connections in other parts of the district — Crockett County, where he was born and raised; Madison County, where he attended college at Union University, and Tipton County, where several of his near relations are prominent. And he has strong ties to the Sheriffs' Association network through his stint as Shelby County sheriff.
Before Luttrell's entry, Kustoff, who has scored well in his fund-raising efforts, seemed to be having good luck cornering the support of influential Shelby County Republicans, who value his work in numerous GOP campaigns, including his direction of the 2000 statewide effort of then presidential candidate George W. Bush. A good many local GOP activists appear to be holding fast for Kustoff against the magnetic draw of Luttrell.
And there's Kelsey, an ambitious politician with a well-deserved reputation as a legislative wave-maker, especially among movement conservatives. In addition to his political base in Shelby County, Kelsey has support from Jackson GOP power broker Jimmy Wallace, who paved the way for Fincher's campaign in 2010. And, though Kelsey's maverick ways may have earned him as many detractors as allies in Nashville, he was the recent beneficiary of a big-ticket fund-raiser in the state's capital, hosted by six fellow state senators across the GOP spectrum.
The superfluity (if you will) of candidates from Shelby County could be a threat to any and all of them, of course. Jackson businessman Brad Greer entered the race with this salvo: "I am concerned that rural West Tennessee will not be adequately represented by the Memphis/Shelby County lifelong politicians who have jumped into this race."
Greer won a straw poll of Republican candidates at the recent Madison County GOP Lincoln Day dinner. There's a possible parallel to the 7th District GOP congressional primary of 2002, when Kustoff, then-city Councilman Brent Taylor, and then-county Commissioner Mark Norris split the county's vote, allowing Nashville-area candidate Marsha Blackburn to claim a relatively easy win.
This month, the Shelby County Commission seems to be on trek ... er, on track to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a famous cult TV show. That would be Star Trek, the subject of an anniversary celebration from 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 9th, at Laurelwood Booksellers.
According to a press release from the event's moderator, assistant University of Memphis Law School dean and former Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, activities on that occasion will include "a trivia contest, a panel discussion featuring the Commercial Appeal's John Beifuss, and the screening of an episode."
The county commission could get into the act with the passage of a resolution declaring April 9th "Star Trek Day in Shelby County." Such a resolution, recognizing the show as "'pioneering television, using the metaphors of science fiction to explore social issues,' as well as for its groundbreaking racially diverse cast" will be presented by Commissioner Reginald Milton, a self-professed Trekkie himself, at a committee session of the commission on Wednesday.
If all goes well and the resolution gets committee approval, it will be beamed up on the agenda and formally approved during the commission's regularly scheduled public meeting next Monday. The resolution goes beyond this year and would mark April 9th as a date for annual observance of "Star Trek Day" in Shelby County. The first such observance was declared by the commission on April 9, 2014, which happened to be the last day as a member of the commission for Mulroy, an Ur-Trekkie and the sponsor of the resolution that year.