Friday, June 21, 2002



Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Oh, Henry!

The media favorite is still playing catch-up with Van Hilleary in the GOP primary.


The two Republican candidates for governor have different attitudes toward the media.

Fourth District U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary, fairly universally perceived to be the front-runner, is more than somewhat wary of the fourth estate. As the congressman, who has been relying predominantly on public events and news releases, sees it, he's been burned by nonstop and unfair criticism in the press. In some quarters, Hilleary thinks he's been subject to ridicule while his opponent, former state Rep. Jim Henry of Kingston, has become something of a media darling.

There's something to Hilleary's notion. Henry is at ease with reporters and seeks them out in his continuing effort to play catch-up. "Free media" is one of the basic strategies used by underfunded candidacies. But in a conversation at his new East Memphis headquarters last week, Henry vowed to outspend his opponent on media advertising the rest of the way until August 1st, and, although he won't be required to file a financial disclosure until July 25th, he claims that he has out-raised Hilleary "since the first of the year."

Henry's advertising strategy includes 100 new billboards which went up on Tennessee thoroughfares this past Monday. All of them bear the candidate's likeness and the slogan "Ready for the Job." (That replaces the earlier one, "Smart, Qualified, and Electable," which, said Henry, was "just us having some fun.")

The former House Republican leader, who had close working relations with former Governor Lamar Alexander, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, says that he "would welcome" the support of current Governor Don Sundquist, who has hinted that he might endorse Henry but hasn't done so yet. (The governor has endorsed Alexander in his Senate primary race against 7th District congressman Ed Bryant.)

Henry cited a recent electronic poll done by a Knoxville TV station showing him standing at 21 percent against Hilleary's 41 percent and maintained that those numbers put him "on course." He acknowledged that the poll was unscientific and acknowledged further that news reports over the year or so of his candidacy have tended to recycle at intervals the same theory that he was about to make a major move and threaten Hilleary's lead. It hasn't happened yet, but Henry says the new media blitz will make it happen.

On the burning issue of the day a revenue solution for Tennessee's budget crisis Henry continues to insist that he's for "tax reform." Although that term is increasingly used in political circles as a synonym for support of an income tax, Henry says he isn't recommending one. "I'm not at all sure that would be a solution to our revenue problems. It's more of a 'fairness' issue than anything else." But he won't close the door on that option, as both Hilleary and Democratic front-runner Phil Bredesen, the former mayor of Nashville, have. Both are "demagoguing," and their pledges to "manage" the state out of its fiscal dilemma run "counter to belief," says Henry, who maintains that the difference between the two is that "people expect Bredesen to know better."

What Henry is proposing is a constitutional convention to redesign the state's tax structure (this to be undertaken after some stopgap legislation in the meantime). "We can't just ram something down the people's throat," he said. "We've got to give them a voice." But one thing was certain and undeniable, he averred: "The state needs new revenue. There's no way out of that."

· Carol Chumney, runner-up in last month's Democratic primary for Shelby County mayor, has left the law firm of Glankler, Brown, where she had been for the last several years. Chumney has established her own private practice in White Station Tower, where she says she will maintain a general practice but will specialize in the areas of personal injuries, workers' compensation, divorce, criminal defense, child custody, adoption, and employment law.

· U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. will serve as moderator for a "Congressional Roundtable" featuring AmeriCorps volunteers and former President Bill Clinton on Thursday in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington.

The meeting, sure to be a high-profile one, is being held in conjunction with National Service Day and is sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the organization of conservative-to-moderate Democrats which served as a launching pad for the presidential bid by Clinton, who had been one of the group's presidents.

Ford is now an active member of the DLC and of its related organizations, including the New Democratic Coalition in the House of Representatives. The Memphis congressman serves on the executive council of the NDC.

Watching the Rear

Both candidates for mayor have to secure their lines of support.


One part of conventional wisdom has it that Democrat A C Wharton is a shoo-in for Shelby County mayor because of (a) his likeability; (b) his expertise; and (c) perhaps most importantly, his demographic edge.

A counter argument goes that Republican nominee George Flinn could end up the winner on the strength of his personal resources coupled with the huge GOP primary vote expected in two major state-ballot races -- that for U.S. senator involving Lamar Alexander and Ed Bryant and the 7th District congressional contest in which three of the five candidates have local bases.

Both of these either/or scenarios may have to be revised in accordance with circumstances that could undermine the candidates' expected party support.

In Wharton's case, the problem has a famous surname: Ford. Sir Isaac Ford, the youngest son of former 9th District congressman Harold Ford Sr. and the brother of the current congressman, is making his maiden race for public office as an independent candidate in the mayor's race, and, while no one -- perhaps not even young Ford -- can imagine him as the winner, many are wondering if he can upset Wharton's apple cart.

Flinn's concern is the tenuous state of Republican unity. Not only are some longtime Republicans close to his recent primary opponent, state Rep. Larry Scroggs, still aggrieved at what they see as having been unfair attacks upon their man, but the party's nominal leader, incumbent Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, seems to have his own reservations about Flinn.

Several Republican regulars report recent conversations in which either Rout or another member of his family has expressed sympathy for Wharton's mayoral ambitions. Asked about this on Tuesday, the mayor merely repeated what he has said for public consumption -- that he is "heavily involved" with four other races and will "play no active role" in the mayor's race.

For the record, the beneficiaries of Rout's support (and fund-raising help) are GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Henry, senatorial candidate Alexander, 7th District congressional candidate David Kustoff, and Republican sheriff's nominee Mark Luttrell.

Several members of the Republican Party's moderate faction have talked out loud lately about forming a consensus with like-minded Democrats to endorse, or at least openly support, a tandem of Wharton and Luttrell.

Rout, however, says, "I am a Republican and plan to support the ticket." That statement echoes the one which is being urged upon other party members these days by local party chairman Alan Crone, who personally has no reservations about rendering stout and specific public support for Flinn by name. "I'm excited by George's vision," says Crone, who has cited the candidate's pledge of "accountability" as one of the reasons for that excitement.

But the same word had proved troubling to Rout, who wondered if Flinn had intended it as an ex post facto rebuke to the Republican incumbent's own administration, which has been targeted in some quarters for the county's current $1.3 billion in public debt. Flinn sat down with the mayor last week and attempted to reassure him on that score, and virtually the first words out of the Republican nominee's mouth at a subsequent Chamber of Commerce-sponsored mayoral forum were expressions of support for Rout's conduct in office.

At the same forum, Sir Isaac Ford made what was for most observers his debut in the race. In one sense, Ford formed a triad with two other candidates whom no one gives a chance -- newcomer Johnny Kelly and Libertarian Bruce Young -- while most eyes and ears were on Flinn and Wharton, both of whom, stressing education and fiscal solvency, held their own.

In another sense, though, Ford clearly set himself apart from his fellow also-rans. Some of his points seemed hazy or were set forth in rambling fashion -- maybe a good thing for this audience, since the position papers released so far by the self-declared "hip-hop" candidate contain some strikingly radical ideas. (Notable among them is a proposal to spend "billions" on reparations for slavery.)

But the young candidate obviously possesses an attitude -- compounded of self-belief, confidence, and personal assertiveness -- that runs through his highly political family and, in its fully developed form, can even be called charisma. Right now, though, most people, even Ford-family familiars, see Sir Isaac more as a case of pointless chutzpah.

But maybe, some are beginning to wonder, there's method to the madness. Despite the overt support being given Wharton's candidacy by the Fords and their allies, might not Sir Isaac's candidacy be something of a hedge? Or a reminder to Wharton about who his long-term friends are?

In any case, the name Ford commands considerable loyalty among Memphis' inner-city Democrats (a non-relative named Barry Ford upset a party regular for a position on the Democratic executive committee some years back), and all by itself could drain away enough votes from Wharton to give him serious worries.

For this reason, several Wharton supporters have begun to urge the former congressman and his son, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., to erase all doubt by making themselves both visible and vocal for the Democratic nominee.

It remains to be seen. Indeed, as we look ahead to the traditionally volatile month of July, much still remains to be seen in the case of both major mayoral candidates.

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