The Mystery Man of the Trustee's Race 

Anyone who owns a set of wheels and can afford the ever-rising cost of gasoline can drive around Shelby County these days and encounter almost everywhere, especially in predominantly African-American areas, an impressive number of portable billboards and other signs touting the candidacy for county Trustee of one M. LaTroy Williams.

In some of these broadsides Williams is identified as "the real Democrat," a claim that he attempts to buttress with an elaborate and cramped-looking full-color campaign flier that bears the imprimatur of something called "the Memphis and Shelby County Democratic Club."

That no such Democratic Party organization exists has been established by numerous sources, ranging from aggrieved principals of Shelby County Democratic Party itself (whose party primary Williams skipped) to the blog offerings of Thaddeus Matthews, who proudly boasts a quarter century of dedicated enmity to Williams.

Among the signatures listed on candidate Williams' mystery flier are one, "Minerva Jonican [sic]," which has been disowned by the real Minerva Johnican, a well-known former office-holder with a lengthy pedigree in Shelby County Democratic politics, and two more, "J. Chism" and "N.H. Ford," unknown personages whose names are clearly meant to suggest Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism, a longtime force in Democratic Party affairs, and N.J. Ford, the late funeral-home owner and patriarch of an entire line of politically prominent Fords.

So far as is known, no member of the political Ford clan is supporting Williams' bid for office. As for Chism, he pointedly asked Williams to leave the South Memphis grounds of the commissioner's well-attended annual political picnic two weekends ago when the candidate, who appears on the August 7th general election ballot as an independent, got involved in altercations with other attendees.

Chism, in fact, is an active supporter of Paul Mattila, the Democratic Party nominee and current interim Trustee whose appointment by the commission to succeed the late Bob Patterson was shepherded by Commissioner Chism himself.

Mattila's foremost opponent is Republican nominee Ray Butler, a CPA who, like Mattila himself, was a longtime intimate of Patterson's. As a white Democrat with numerous Republican associates (many acquired during his long service as an aide to Patterson), Mattila would have to be favored in a simple one-on-one contest with Butler. What makes the race problematic for him is the presence in it of Williams, with his direct appeal for a share of Shelby County's sizeable and traditionally Democratic black vote.

An interesting and ironic sidelight to sometime businessman Williams' effort is the fact that a now-defunct company of his, First Supreme Trust Company, Inc. owes some $67,000 in back taxes to the very Trustee's office which Williams hopes to direct. This well-documented fact is reminiscent of a previous candidate's run for the Trusteeship, that of then state Senator John Ford in 1990. Back then Ford, now serving time on one felony charge and undergoing trial for another, was the presiding official of N.J. Ford & Sons Funeral Home, which owed substantial sums to both the Trustee's office and the city Treasurer.

Under the circumstances, inquiring minds want to know just exactly how all those billboards, signs, and fliers advertising Williams got paid for. They may not get to know, even though the next financial-disclosure deadline for countywide candidates is July 10. An employee of the Shelby County Election Commission explains that disclosures are unnecessary if a candidate for office does not appoint a treasurer, something that the law requires if campaign funds are raised - as they normally are - from third-party sources.

The only assumption consistent with legality is that Williams' campaign is self-financed - a circumstance that fairly cries out for some sort of verification.

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