Sunday, June 1, 2003



Posted By on Sun, Jun 1, 2003 at 4:00 AM

That congressional rematch next year between Memphis lawyer David Kustoff and 7th District GOP incumbent Marsha Blackburn? Fahgidaboutit! Kustoff turned up at a Blackburn fundraiser at The Rendezvous Friday night, stayed long enough to do some shmoozing, and let it be known that (a) he would not be a candidate for the 7th District seat next year, as he had previously indicated he might; and (b) he would instead support Blackburn, his successful opponent in last year’s crowded Republican primary. The only political campaign Kustoff is going to be involved in for the next several months is the one being waged for the District 5 Memphis city council seat by his law partner, Jim Strickland, who happens to be a Democrat -- a former chairman of the local Democratic Party, in fact. That last circumstance has several of Kustoff’s partymates concerned -- although current Republican chairman Kemp Conrad, who is aggressively overseeing a GOP endorsement process in this year’s city elections, says he can understand it. “They’re partners,” Conrad noted of Kustoff and Strickland. He is somewhat less acquiescent about the support Strickland is getting from two other well-known Republicans, District Attorney General Bill Gibbons and lawyer Alan Crone. Crone preceded Conrad as local GOP chairman (as Kustoff had preceded Crone in that role.) “Alan’s an old friend of Strickland’s. They were in each other’s weddings, I think. And Jim went to bat for Gibbons when he ran and withstood some criticism from Democrats for it. But stillÉ” The rest of that sentence was a blank he assumed his auditor would have no trouble filling in. Conrad is optimistic all the same that the GOP can win in District 5 with its endorsee, George Flinn, the physician/businessman who as the Republican nominee lost the county mayor’s race last year to Democrat A C Wharton. Flinn had some major trouble last year with disaffection from local Republicans who had been partial to his defeated primary opponent, then State Rep. Larry Scroggs. They had a hard time forgiving Flinn, a novice politician, for the harsh attacks on Scroggs (and later on Wharton) orchestrated by his highly paid out-of-state advisers. “But George is going to run a different kind of campaign this year,” Conrad insisted Friday night. “He’s going to be a uniter. The Democrats can be dividers.” Indeed, Shelby County Democrats are going to have a hard time avoiding intra-party strife in the de facto primary that will precede what everyone expects to be a runoff. Flinn should occupy one place in that runoff, goes the theory, while the other will be taken by either Strickland or State Rep. Carol Chumney, also a Democrat, with another Democrat, frequent candidate Joe Cooper, expected to play something of a spoiler’s role. The local Democrats have for the last several months been experiencing something of a Hatfield-McCoy feud -- one which peaked in the bitterly contested recent contest for the party chairmanship between State Rep. Kathryn Bowers, the winner, and Gale Jones Carson, the defeated incumbent chairman. Strickland has always been identified with the faction supporting Carson, while Chumney, who generally dances to her own tune, is being promoted by the faction which backed Bowers. In a loose sense, the Carson faction is close to such figures as Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton (whom Carson serves as press secretary) and Bartlett banker and former mayoral candidate Harold Byrd, who is a close ally of Strickland,his erstwhile campaign chairman. The aggregate which supported Bowers -- and which, for the most part, also supports Chumney -- is linked to Democratic legislators and to members of the local Ford organization -- though there is no evidence that either U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. or his father, former congressman Harold Ford Sr., are taking sides in the showdown. But showdown it is -- so serious that Carson continues to keep her distance from Bowers et al. and contends that prior commitments will keep her from attending a party fete on Saturday organized by the Bowers supporters. One report had it that she would be huddling instead with members of her own support group. Under those circumstances, either Strickland or Chumney might face a difficult challenge in maintaining unity among Democrats for a runoff campaign. Perhaps such party falloff would be marginal, but even a slight margin could be enough to decide the outcome in the politically balanced 5th District, which comprises hunks of Midtown and East Memphis. Conrad and the party organization he heads will be active in two other council races. One is that for District 1, in which the GOP endorsee -- and challenger to incumbent E.C. Jones, a Democrat -- will almost certainly be retiring county school board member Wyatt Bunker, a Republican and social conservative. The other is for the “SuperDistrict” 9, Position 1 seat currently held by longtime incumbent Pat VanderSchaaf, a nominal Republican who will likely hold forth against a large candidate field. The GOP endorsee is virtually sure to be businessman Scott McCormick.


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