Saturday, December 14, 2002

LOTT LOSES TRACTION, HANGS IN THERE

LOTT LOSES TRACTION, HANGS IN THERE

Posted By on Sat, Dec 14, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Despite gathering disaffection on the part of both political opponents and erstwhile political supporters, U.S. Senate Majority Leader-designate Trent Lott of Mississippi held a press conference on home-state turf Friday on which he apologized for controversial remarks for the third time in a week but vowed not to call it quits as his party's leader in the Senate.

Shelby County’s two African-American mayors split the difference on how Lott should respond to the growing flap over his remarks extolling Strom Thurmond‘s 1948 “Dixiecrat” presidential campaign.

“He’s a disgrace to the Senate, and he should resign from his leadership role,” insisted Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton at his annual Christmas party at The Peabody Thursday night.

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton had a different take. “It would be misleading for Lott to resign. It would be a way of pretending that racism had been purged from the nation’s political affairs. It would be symbolic in a wrong sense,” said Wharton, who argued that it would be better for Lott to remain in power and publicly redeem himself through his actions..

And Memphis lawyer John Ryder, a GOP national committeeman, called upon Lott to resign. "He'll have to go," Ryder said. No matter how fine a man or dedicated Republican he may have been, he cannot represent our party in a leadership role. The kind of thing he said and will continue to represent to people is a taint upon the Republican Party and its legitimate objectives."

Lott’s positon has grown increasingly precarious since his off-the-cuff remarks at retiring South Carolina Senator Thurmond’s 100th birthday celebration in Washington earlier this week. The Mississippi senator suggested that if Thurmond had been elected in 1948, when the South Carolinian ran for president on an unabashedly segregationist platform, “we wouldn’t have all these problems today.” The storm over those remarks has built steadily since, with President Bush himself calling them “offensive” and increasing numbers of senators and congressman from both parties calling on Lott to step down as GOP leader.

And a more local controversy involving racial sensibilities continued to simmer, as Shelby County Commission chairman Walter Bailey suggested that the grave of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Thomas should be transplanted, with Forrest Park, where the general’s remains currently lie underneath a statue commemorating him, undergoing a conversion to other uses, sans any reference to Forrest or the Confederate cause.

“His remains were in Elmwood Cemetery before they were moved to their current location, and they should go right back to where they first lay in peace,” Bailey said. The commission chairman dismissed Forrest’s recognized military brilliance as a reason for a continued public commemoration of him. “You can go to Berlin, and you won’t see any memorials to Rommel or to Hitler,” he said.

In a reference to yet another brewing controversy -- one without racial significance, however Ð Memphis schools superintendent Johnnie B. Watson reported getting “overwhelming favorable reaction” to his highly publicized letter this week complaining of “harassment” from school board member Sara Lewis.

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