The Towns Factor 

The plot thickens in the 9th Congressional District.

In a surprise (but unanimous) decision, the Shelby County Election Commission last Thursday approved the petition of state representative Joe Towns Jr. as a candidate in the Democratic primary for the 9th Congressional District.

It should be remembered, however, that Towns' name was on the 9th District primary ballot in 2006, but his minimal to nonexistent campaigning earned him an insignificant vote total.

Moreover, Towns is also on the ballot — unopposed — for his District 84 seat. That circumstance might enable him to undertake some serious campaigning for the congressional seat. It could also lead to a complacency that results in little campaigning of any kind.

Adherents of current 9th District representative Steve Cohen, who had been looking at a de facto one-to-one Democratic primary race between the incumbent and challenger Nikki Tinker, will surely welcome Towns' presence in the race.

Towns was not originally included by the election commission in its original semi-official qualifying list because of apparent discrepancies in the address listed by one of Towns' 25 signatories.

Those discrepancies were resolved last week, however — both in the office of state election coordinator Brook Thompson and by the Shelby County Election Commission staff and commission attorney Monice Tate, who reported in favor of Towns' eligibility.

The commission's three Democrats and two Republicans concurred and, as of last Thursday, which was the last day for withdrawals, finalized the 9th District Democratic ballot for August 7th as consisting of Cohen, Tinker, Towns, James Gregory, and Isaac Richmond. Three independents — Jake Ford, Mary "Taylor Shelby" Wright, and Dewey Clark — are also on the November general election ballot.

No Republicans filed in what has become an overwhelmingly Democratic district, a fact that could loom important in the general election, especially if the nominee is Cohen, a liberal's liberal who paradoxically has often drawn votes from conservatives and Republicans.

• When conservative blogger Mick Wright last week withdrew from the Republican primary race in state House of Representatives District 95, he thereby aborted a possible showdown with incumbent Curry Todd, against whom Wright has alleged a variety of derelictions — most recently a waffling on ethics legislation.

As has been well documented, bloggers have significantly influenced the course of national elections in recent years, and several counterparts on the local scene have played a like role in local politics. As of yet, however, there have been few, if any, electoral contests of the sort that Todd-Wright would have been. In an age, however, in which presidential candidacies can be financed by small contributions from the grass roots, just such an electoral test between practitioners of the old and the new in politics would seem inevitable.

• The effort on the City Council to relax residency restrictions for Memphis police employees goes on, but, despite the acquisition of important allies, notably Mayor Willie Herenton, it appears stalemated along black/white — or, more specifically, inner city vs. suburban rim — lines.

When the council's public safety committee met on Tuesday morning, Herenton turned up to offer his verbal support for the measure. Even so, the committee split 3-3, with committee chairman Reid Hedgepeth and members Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland voting for and members Babara Swearengen Holt-Ware, Harold Collins, and Joe Brown voting against.

"This is not rocket science," said an exasperated Hedgepeth afterward. "We've got the mayor, the police director [Larry Godwin], and the Memphis Police Association all for it." Win, lose, or draw, the proposal is slated to go before the full council at its May 6th meeting.

• During a later meeting of the council's audit committee, which is chaired by Bill Boyd, a member of the Memphis and Shelby County Port Commission reviewed the financing years ago of Presidents Island and commented to Boyd, a veteran of former mayor Dick Hackett's administration, "That was before your time."

Boyd, who owns up to his 70th birthday, said, "I do remember that." He went on, jokingly: "In fact, I lobbied Senator [Kenneth] McKellar on that" — referring to a once-powerful patriarch of the Senate who served until 1953.

Strickland then asked Boyd, "When you worked for Mr. Crump, how did he handle the situation?" Not to be out-jested, Boyd made a gesture of deferral to mayoral aide Pete Aviotti, who was standing nearby: "Well, this was Mr. Crump's personal assistant."

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From the Archives

  • Homecoming: How National Icons and Local Figures Spent Martin Luther King Week in Memphis

    From such iconic figures as Harry Belafonte, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, actor Danny Glover, and U.S. Representatives John Lewis and John Conyers, came an abundance of rhetoric aimed at the residual guardians of privilege. And senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain were on hand to pay their respects.
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