Friday, March 29, 2002

Getting Noticed

As Sir Isaac Ford, candidate for county mayor, knows, it ain't necessarily easy.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2002 at 4:00 AM

With all the attention being given to people named Ford of late -- most notably, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who considered a race for the U.S. Senate; his father Harold Ford Sr., whose lucrative contracts pertaining to the state's TennCare program received extensive publicity; and Uncle John Ford, who floated a trial balloon for a congressional race in case his nephew made the Senate run -- other Fords have been left out.

To wit: Sir Isaac Ford, the congressman's youngest sibling, and Ophelia Ford, his aunt. Both are candidates in the forthcoming countywide elections, and neither has received extensive publicity for their political views. Ophelia Ford -- who is opposing her brother Joe Ford for the county commission seat he was recently appointed to by other commission members (and which was formerly held by the late Dr. James Ford, a sibling) has, however, been given in-depth treatment, both in the Flyer and in The Commercial Appeal, for her determination to break into the male-dominated inner sanctum of the political Ford family.

And several prominent local women will hold a reception for Ophelia Ford at the home of lawyer Jocelyn Wurzburg at 4744 Normandy this Thursday night.

No such treatment has yet been received by the 28-year-old Sir Isaac, who remains on the August general election ballot as an independent candidate for Shelby County mayor and whose candidacy, insofar as it has been thought of at all, has been dismissed as enigmatic or inconsequential.

The prevailing theory seems to be that young Ford was a family plant as a hedge against the possibility that Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, since withdrawn, might win the Democratic primary. (Byrd and the Fords have had their problems.) According to that theory, Isaac Ford's candidacy now is little more than a reminder to favored Democratic mayoral candidate AC Wharton that the family is still around and needs to be paid some heed.

Yet another theory is that the Isaac Ford candidacy is little more than a lark -- or at best an attempt by the candidate and brother Jake Ford, his presumptive campaign manager, to reach parity with other members of the family.

Through all this, Isaac Ford has maintained that his candidacy is serious and that he will end up being elected mayor. Concerning the fact that there have been few if any visible signs of that prospect, or even of his being in the race, Ford shrugs. "In politics, you don't want to peak too early." Eventually, he says, "someone as talented and young and charming as myself" will attract the right kind of notice.

Sir Isaac (that is his given name, and he signs himself that way, though the "Sir" is most often dropped among family and friends) hopes to begin getting the appropriate attention with the release of several "position papers," some of which he made over to the Flyer.

One of the papers is a broadside against the prospective victory of Wharton in the Democratic primary. "[I]f the democratic [sic] nominee is not either C.C. Buchanan, C.J. Cochran, or State Rep. Carol Chumney [all primary opponents of Wharton], then the democratic party will not have a viable, credible candidate with liberal views. They will have a democratic puppet controlled by republicans' [sic] money, and their conservative ways."

Ford's own candidacy "stands on more of a socialistic-capitalistic platform, and will encourage quality county development in the inner city and suburbs."

One plank in that platform is a more or less straightforward espousal of city/county consolidation with single-source funding for city and county schools.

Another plank would seem timely in view of the recently accomplished location of the Lewis/Tyson heavyweight championship bout at The Pyramid, with training camps to be located in Tunica. It envisions the conversion of South Third Street into Tennessee's component of a Memphis-to-Mississippi thoroughfare connecting downtown with the casino complexes of Tunica.

"My administration will propose to enhance an economic alliance agreement to benefit both areas," Ford's position paper says.

Another paper addresses the subject of the Shelby County Election Commission, toward whose conduct of the forthcoming elections Ford expresses a suspicion that "the fix is already in." Among other things, he maintains: "Reliable sources have alerted me" to the commission's potential for "foul play with early voting results, and election day results, also tampering with voter registration forms, and utilizing resources to encourage voters in county districts two, and three not to vote." He proposes a federal "watchdog committee" to keep this from happening.

Along with his position papers, Ford included a release announcing a press conference "to define, and describe the infrastructure in candidate Ford's mayoral campaign." The time is specific enough, "12 noon," but the date and venue of the press conference are handled by the initials "T.B.A." -- to be announced.

* Another candidate who would prefer to have greater attention paid his efforts than he has so far received is Dr. George Flinn, who is vying with state Representative Larry Scroggs of Germantown for the Republican nomination for county mayor.

Flinn held a reception at Owen Brennan's Restaurant on Poplar last week that attracted a larger-than-usual crowd at the facility, whose multiroom reception area tends to magnify even small groups into apparent throngs. Flinn's crowd needed no such magnification, though its numbers were provided mainly by faces unfamiliar in political rallies than by the usual rank and file who attend such events.

"That's good. That's what we're going to surprise people with on May 7th," said Flinn, who concedes that Scroggs seems to have a lock on most Republican Party regulars. The physician/businessman, who operates a number of radio stations, says he will kick off his media campaign with several radio and TV spots on the first of April.

Scroggs, meanwhile, kept up a round of appearances on time off from his legislative duties in Nashville, appearing at a forum on consolidation in Collierville last week to elucidate his views.

* It was a good show, hastily advertised, and lacking therefore in some of the audience that should have been its due. But the 2002 version of Memphis' Gridiron Show at the Al Chymia Shrine Temple on Shelby Oaks -- which began and ended with well-produced tributes to post-September 11th New York -- did what some of its more elongated and self-indulgent predecessors failed to do:

This year's version -- titled "Smokey and the Bandits" -- consistently entertained. Less was more, both gagwise and songwise. The same might be said for a list of celebrity attendees that was short here and there -- no Willie Herenton, no Jim Rout, few members of the state legislature or of the city council or of the county commission -- but rich in public figures who happen right now to be cynosures.

Notably, there were Democratic U.S. Senate nominee-designate Bob Clement, the congressman from Nashville; once and future Senate hopeful Harold Ford Jr., the congressman from Memphis; and soon-to-be-emeritus Governor Don Sundquist.

Sundquist, who was notably absent from this month's Lincoln Day Dinner of the Shelby County Republican Party (which he co-founded some decades back), opined that some sort of budget solution might be in the offing in the General Assembly "as soon as the filing deadline" (April 4th for legislative positions) is over with. He did not demur at someone's suggestion that, wherever Tennessee might stand among the states on the scales of income, health care, and education, it had earned the right to be considered Number 50 -- dead last -- where state legislatures are concerned.

The governor nodded. "And the good ones are leaving," he said, noting the continuing exodus of experienced and conscientious lawmakers -- most recently House Finance Committee chairman Matt Kisber of Jackson.

Also present at the Gridiron Show, the proceeds of which go to fund scholarships at area universities, were three candidates for Shelby County mayor -- Democrats Chumney and Wharton and Republican Flinn. ( There was much discussion in the Wharton camp -- both by the candidates and by an aide or two as to whether state Rep. Chumney might have got the better of him in some often sharp exchanges at Whitehaven High School Saturday, during the second of two forums (of a scheduled four) sponsored by the county Democratic Party this election year for its primary candidates.

"One person said I won ... and another said she did," Wharton said. He inclined to the former view himself, but it was apparent that he was reflecting both on the strategy of returning the often aggressive Chumney's fire during debates and on the wisdom of participating in such forums with her at all. (He would likely continue doing both, he acknowledged.)

* Chumney's campaign got some attention recently that she would just as soon have not received. It came in the form of an e-mail sent to members of her personal network by Paula F. Casey, current president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association and a longtime activist for women's issues.

In part, the e-mail reads, "As a cofounder of the Women's Political Caucus in 1983, I want to see a woman in an executive position in this county someday. However, Carol Chumney is NOT the woman," and goes on to argue, among other things, that Chumney adopted opportunistic positions in the legislature and, as one example, had "aligned herself with the right-wing fundamentalists" to oppose right-to-know legislation on behalf of adopted persons seeking information about their parents. (Chumney favored certain restrictions on the discharge of such information.)

Once close friends and allies, Chumney and Casey have been distant since their highly public disagreement in 1994 over the form and function of the state Women's Suffragist Commission, which Casey had initially proposed but which, Casey believed, Chumney attempted to gain control of during legislative establishment of the commission's machinery.

Ultimately, the commission was jointly headed by Casey and state Sen. Thelma Harper of Nashville but not before Casey felt her reputation had been unfairly maligned.

* The campaign manager for lawyer Guthrie Castle, a Democratic primary candidate for the District 5 County Commission seat, charged the Shelby County Election Commission Tuesday with abdication of its legal and moral responsibility in declining to rule on the validity of Castle's complaints regarding opponent Joe Cooper's financial disclosures.

"It's sad that fear of not being elected or appointed comes before the moral authority of this commission," Jeff Sullivan told members moments after his effort to invalidate Cooper's candidacy was ruled beyond the purview of the commission.

Castle's complaint, formally presented by Sullivan, charged that Cooper's most recent financial disclosures evidenced illegally large contributions from individuals and other entities, defiance of disclosure obligations in the case of outstanding debts, inaccurate information, and a variety of other "illegal contributions and illegal loans."

Under advice from its attorney, Philip Kaminsky, the commission ruled that it was now empowered to act on the complaint, which should, Kaminsky said, be taken directly either to the office of the state Election Registry in Nashville, to the office of the district attorney general, or to that of the state attorney general..

A little strong," was Styles' reaction to Sullivan's criticism. Whether directly prompted by the incident or not, Kaminsky entertained a small group after the meeting with a story that went this way: One man brought another into a Texas courtroom and demanded that the accused be punished for stealing two chickens. "Hang him!" said the judge, who was told by a shocked bailiff, "Your honor! You can't do that." Kaminsky hastened to the punch line: "I can't?" said the judge. "Well, I'll let him go then. I can do that."

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