Thursday, October 17, 2002

A C's Druthers

If Tom Jones is cleared, the former aide could be back in the mayor's office.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 17, 2002 at 4:00 AM

I guess it's my background as a defense attorney," said Shelby County mayor A C Wharton in an interview with the Flyer Saturday, "but I'm not ready to write off Tom Jones." Indeed, said Wharton, if current allegations against Jones are dispelled, "I'll be the first to give him an apology and would be ready to offer him a substantial position in county government."

The former public defender and recently inaugurated county chief executive acknowledged that he had badly wanted to employ Jones, a chief adviser to former mayors Bill Morris and Jim Rout, in his own administration and was dissuaded only by the enormity of the public reaction to a controversy over possible credit-card abuses that caused Rout to suspend Jones with only a week to go in the Rout administration.

"I just was unwilling to spend the first year of my administration dealing with this," Wharton said of the controversy over Jones, now under investigation by the district attorney general's office for purported use of his county-issued credit card for private purchases. Jones is also accused of improperly accessing a county fund set aside for liaison with a Chamber of Commerce project.

Meanwhile, Wharton says, he has chosen not to replace Jones in the uniquely authoritative position, which, under Rout, saw Jones occupy multiple positions -- including public-affairs director and deputy executive assistant.

* If Republican nominee Marsha Blackburn, currently a state senator from the Nashville suburban community of Brentwood, wins her 9th District congressional race, she is adamant about one thing (well, one more thing): No gender-specific or gender-neutral title for her. No "congresswoman." No "congressperson."

"I'll be a congressman," she said categorically while attending a picnic in east Shelby County Saturday. "In the state Senate, I haven't been a 'senatress.' I've been a senator."

While serving as a senator, Blackburn won wide recognition as a determined opponent of a state income tax, and that reputation, plus some assiduous campaigning in Shelby County, won her an easy victory over five GOP opponents in the August primary. She finished second in Shelby County, in fact, where she maintains a part-time residence on Highway 64.

Blackburn, who is opposed in the general election by Democrat Tim Barron of Collierville, indicates she may be a mite more flexible than some observers would have believed. Like many Republicans in this depressed stock-market era, she has backed off the word "privatization" in relation to Social Security, though she still calls for "a portion" of an individual's Social Security account to be administered as the individual sees fit.

And, though she wants President Bush's tax-cut package to be made permanent, she acknowledges that unforeseen expenditures of the war on terror could justify a "continuing-resolution" vote that would leave that outcome for future consideration, especially if action against Iraq (which she would support) takes place.

* Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Bredesen isn't conceding that his onetime considerable lead over GOP foe Van Hilleary has "evaporated" (as at least one recent neutral poll indicates), but he acknowledges that some dimunition has occurred, which he credits to his opponent's negative campaigning.

"Van's history is to go hard, hard negative in the last month of a campaign, and that's what he's doing here," said Bredesen after addressing attendees at the monthly Dutch Treat Luncheon Saturday at Willingham's Restaurant at Perkins and American Way.

Former Nashville mayor Bredesen, who has emphasized his nonsupport of a state income tax, "both implicitly and explicitly," said that 4th District congressman Hilleary was attempting to mislead voters by "making the issue about taxes." Bredesen defended a recent TV commercial of his own, criticized by some Democrats, in which he called his opponent by name and defended himself against Hilleary's income-tax charge. "That may violate the canon of political-advertising practice," Bredesen acknowledged, "but I've never been unafraid to violate political canons."

In his presentation to the conservative-oriented luncheon group, Bredesen emphasized what he said was his superiority to Hilleary in three areas: management experience, support of education, and job creation. He reemphasized his opposition to legalized gaming and welcomed the recent Supreme Court decision calling for equalization of teacher salaries in Tennessee as "a good thing."

The ruling would prove beneficial to the state if Tennessee is allowed to make "one move at a time" to implement it and if the state works within the structure of the existing Basic Education Plan to incorporate the funding changes.

* Not all local Democrats approved of last week's vote by 9th District U.S. Representative Harold Ford Jr. for a congressional resolution authorizing use of force by President Bush against Iraq. There was considerable private grumbling, but most of it stayed that way -- private.

For the record, Ford issued a statement doubting administration claims of a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda but endorsing the idea that "America's national security is at stake" and supporting the president's call for national unity.

Off the record, one observer acquainted with Ford noted a distinction between the current congressman and his father, former Rep. Harold Ford Sr., who voted against a similar resolution in 1991, but pointed out, "Harold Sr. wasn't planning to run for the Senate in 2006 in a Republican state."

* George Flinn, who ran unsuccessfully for county mayor as a conservative Republican, has had a change of heart -- sort of. Flinn had an operation last week to implant a pacemaker device. Even in his preparations for the operation, however, the 2002 GOP nominee maintained his partisan connections. When Vice President Dick Cheney who has had a similar operation, visited Memphis recently, Flinn asked him for an opinion. "He told me who should do it, and I did it his way, and, politically, I should be as good as he is," Flinn joked to Saturday's attendees at the Dutch Treat Luncheon.

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