Tuesday, December 11, 2001



Posted By on Tue, Dec 11, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Okay, okay, it begins to look like Shelby County’s version of the old (1975-vintage) Saturday Night Live running joke which featured ever more outrageous weekly updates on the condition of a Generalissimo Francisco Franco who lay in his sickbed and took forever to die. Our local version has to do with the county Republican Party’s never-ending struggle to find a mainstream candidate willing to run for Shelby County mayor. Ready for the newest name?: Clair VanderSchaaf! So at first you smiled, then as you thought about it, it got more and more serious, right? Join the club. The long-term Shelby County Commissioner, who is somewhere around the age of 60 but looks maybe 15 years younger (check out that new spiked hairdo of his), has name recognition, for one thing. And never mind if part of it has to do with some madcap interludes (we all remember that endlessly run Chanel 24 video of VanderSchaaf standing by a roadside while a sheriff’s deputy checked him for intoxication). VanderSchaaf, a mega-developer, has had his serious moments, too. And owns the kind of charm that makes it difficult to stay mad at him. Just ask his ex-wife, Memphis city council member Pat VanderSchaaf, a consistent supporter. (And vice versa, thank you.) Don’t necessarily ask outgoing county mayor Jim Rout, though, who’s had X number of policy run-ins with VanderSchaaf. And especially don’t ask the mainstream GOP faction which is supporting former deputy Juvenile Court clerk Steve Stamson against incumbent Democrat Shep Wilbun next year. There are a lot of Republicans in Shelby County who hold it against VanderSchaaf bigtime that he voted with the commission’s Democrats at the tag end of 2000 to elect fellow developer Tom Moss (instead of lawyer David Lillard) to fill a commission vacancy. Immediately thereafter Moss joined with the Democrats to put Wilbun over to fill another vacancy, that for Juvenile Court clerk. VanderSchaaf himself voted with the rest of the Republicans for Stamson, who finished one vote short. Stamson’s supporters were not mollified by the gesture, and Lillard’s backers-- many of whom were the same people as Stamson’s-- were even less pleased. Hence, the current candidacy of Joyce Avery in the GOP primary to oppose VanderSchaaf for reelection to his commission seat. Of course, if he runs for mayor, he won’t be defending the commission seat. And, perversely enough, he might even have the support of some of the folks who have a mad on at him now but who are such true-blue Republicans that they’d be grateful to VanderSchaaf for making the party look at least nominally competitive against whichever candidate -- Harold Byrd, A C Wharton, or Carol Chumney emerges from the Democratic primary. “The numbers are there,” insists VanderSchaaf, who gives himself until the end of the year to make a decision about running. He knows, presumably, that there is a streak in humankind that warms to the regenerated self in public affairs. Call if The Henry IV Syndrome, after the redoubtable English monarch who transformed himself from the wastrel Prince Hal, who -- as Shakespeare demonstrated dramatically -- chose to "redeem time when men least think I will." Meanwhile, two other Republicans, State Representative Larry Scroggs of Germantown and Memphis radiologist/radio magnate George Flinn haven’t formally renounced a mayor’s race. So for a little while anyway, the GOP can pretend it has an embarrassment of riches and not merely an embarrassment as the party which called itself the county’s majority party after an electoral landslide in 1994 tries to decide if it’s even up to competing with the Democrats in the demographically altered 21st Century.

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