Friday, September 29, 2000

Democrats Firm up Local Fundraiser

Both Gore and Lieberman appear set for a a late October event in Memphis.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Operatives of the national Gore-Lieberman campaign will return to Memphis next week to put the final touches on what is shaping up as a mammoth local fund-raiser involving both Democratic candidates. The affair, involving a multi-tiered ticket range, is provisionally set for October 24th and would feature a Mud Island rhythm-and-blues concert. All these details are subject to change; the one thing that won’t is the new determination by officials of Tennessee Democratic Victory 2000 (co-sponsors with the Democratic National Committee of the forthcoming fund-raiser) to make Tennessee an active battleground in the presidential-campaign wars. Until recently both major parties had seemed reluctant to commit resources to the state-- each side preferring to fight verbal wars against each other and to cite competitive polls. That began to change when GOP standard-bearer George W. Bush showed up in Nashville last week for a major fund-raiser and series of photo-ops-- an appearance that may have drawn Gore into what had been thought of up to that point as a limited venture in Memphis involving only vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. Still lacking are in-state political ads boosting the two candidates. Republican state chairman Chip Saltsman likened the absence of ads to a “game of chicken,” saying, “If Gore goes up with TV ads first, he admits he has a problem.” For his part, Roy Herron, chairman of the statewide Gore-Lieberman effort, responded that his side didn’t plan on “firing the first shot” in Tennessee. What both sides may remember during a campaign still rated as neck-and-neck is that the Clinton-Gore ticket barely won Tennessee in 1996-- on the strength of an all-out showing in Shelby County. That local effort was led by former U.S. Representative Harold Ford Sr., who was intent on seeing to the election of his son and namesake as his successor. Harold Ford Jr., who has since become a national figure, didn’t even draw an opponent in his reelection battle this year, and Ford Sr., now a high-priced consultant, may have superintended his last political battle with last year’s disastrous loss of brother Joe Ford to Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton. That makes the statewide Democratic effort more crucial than ever, and the Memphis situation decidedly iffier. That’s one reason why local Democrats reacted with disproportionate panic when Shelby County Commissioner Shep Wilbun, an African-American, recently threatened a party-splitting independent run for the relatively minor job of county register. Wilbun was eventually brought in line, and unity-minded Shelby County Democrats are looking to next month’s projected Gore-Lieberman event as a decisive act in both the local and the national campaigns. You can write Jackson Baker at

Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Lieberman's Coming!

Local Democrats Hope His Mid-October Visit Kindles Enthusiasm and Money

Posted By on Tue, Sep 12, 2000 at 4:00 AM

The decision by Vice President Al Gore to tap Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate has, by all accounts, paid instant and enduring dividends in the presidential preference polls. It is likely, too, that the senator will net for the ticket some financial dividends at assorted fund-raisers-- like one which is now tentatively scheduled for Memphis in mid-October. The genesis of a fund-raiser here involving Senator Lieberman probably had its origins in a conversation last week between State Senator Steve Cohen and Memphis mega-developer and yellow-dog Democrat Henry Turley. They found themselves wondering out loud whether Senator Lieberman might (a) make himself available for a Memphis fund-raiser and (b) whether his presence would help energize potential Democratic cadres--especially those in Memphis' Jewish community-- who might otherwise have tuned out politics this year. One thing led to another, and some of the Gore 2000 campaign's ranking officers-- notably chief finance officer Johnny Hayes, longtime Gore friend Jim Gilliland, and state Gore-Lieberman director Roy Herron-- came to Memphis Monday for a planning session at Bosco's which drew some 50 Memphis Gore supporters. "There was a lot of enthusiasm, and everybody was there," said Pace Cooper, one of the main ultimate planners of the luncheon, along with U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. The "everybody" included Mayor Willie Herenton as well as the congressman and his father, Harold Ford Sr., Shelby County party chairman David Cocke, and virtually every other stripe of local Democrat. The upshot is that, of the $2 1/2 million, which Tennessee is charged with raising for the Gore-Lieberman campaign, the Memphis supporters have obliged themselves to raise 20 percent or $500,000. And Lieberman's forthcoming fundraiser-- to be held "in a private home," says Cooper-- is being counted on to provide a substantial hunk of that half-million. Cooper's family is related by marriage to the Lieberman family, and Pace Cooper's father-- the late hotelier, philanthropist, and Democratic eminence Irby Cooper-- sponsored a fundraiser for Lieberman at the East Memphis Hilton (the Coopers' local flagship hotel) back in 1994. Pace Cooper allowed himself the wistful thought that his father would have been thrilled to see his friend Joe Lieberman rise to his present role in American political history, and when local Democrats gather with the senator next month, the spirit of Irby Cooper is sure to be invoked, one way or another. Turnabout is fair play-- or something. Shelby County's Democrats will be opening up a headquarters in Eastgate Shopping Center this week-- roughly at the same time that Shelby County's Republicans, who have been at Eastgate, will be departing from that location to inaugurate their new headquarters at Park Place Mall. Jackson Baker can be contacted at

Friday, September 8, 2000

Challenge Pending on Dems' Nomination of Freeman

Wilbun, runnerup in register vote, cites two add-on members, residence factor

Posted By on Fri, Sep 8, 2000 at 4:00 AM

The Shelby County Democrats no sooner got themselves a nominee for county register Thursday night -- veteran party activist John Freeman-- than they got a challenge to their nomination from disgruntled supporters of two other candidates: county commissioner Shep Wilbun and former University of Memphis basketball coach Larry Finch. The upshot is that Freeman's 18-15 victory over Wilbun in a second-round runoff vote of the party's executive committee at the IBEW union headquarters on Madison will have to be adjudicated at 6 p.m. Friday at the same venue. Two issues are up for discussion by the 13-member steering committee: whether a pair of new members added to the 34-member executive committee just before the vote distorted the outcome and whether Freeman, who voted for himself Thursday night, is a valid member of the executive committee because of a change of address. The two new executive committee members -- one of them a cousin of the member who nominated Freeman from the floor, Sheriff's deputy Jerry Fanion-- were voted in earlier to fill existing vacancies on the executive committee by ward and precinct chairman in the relevant districts. (Chairman David Cocke said later that every member of the executive committee had been notified in advance of the two bi-elections and that no one protested the outcome of the selection until after the register vote was completed. "Even so," Cocke said, "the steering committee will carefully review any protest of the process.") The residence issue stems from the fact that Freeman moved last spring from the downtown Waterford Plaza address he'd been renting for economic reasons; he had, however, maintained an interest in the condominium property by tendering an offer to purchase it --an offer that fell through only last week. Wilbun had led Freeman in the initial round of executive committee voting Thursday night Ñ with Freeman one vote back and former University of Memphis basketball coach Finch two votes back. A couple of veteran observers of Democratic politics credited Freeman's win less to the add-on committee members than to what they regarded as the likely behind-the-scenes efforts of former U.S. Representative Harold Ford Sr., Freeman's onetime boss. "I think the word Harold passed was that people should vote their preferences on the first ballot but to vote for Freeman on the second," said one. That interpretation was consistent with Wilbun's charge that committee member Roscoe Dixon had worked on Freeman's behalf after the narrow first-round loss of Finch, whom State Senator Dixon had earlier supported. Dixon, a sometime surrogate for the Ford clan, denied the charge. Freeman's victory was ironic in that he was the only one of four candidates voted on-- the others being Wilbun, Finch, and chief General Sessions Court administrator Ed Stanton-- who had not been on a provisional list approved by the Shelby Democrats' special elections committee. The nomination by Fanion, a fellow cadre in the Ford family's political wars, qualified him for the competition. For all of Wilbun's ill feeling about the outcome afterward, several committee members and observers predicted that he might decide to drop his challenge by the time of Friday night's meeting. "This sort of thing sends a signal of disunity," said one. "I don't think Shep really wants to come off as a sore loser."

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