Friday, July 16, 2004

High Jinks, Low Jinks

Serious purpose coexisted with some tongue-in-cheek matters in politics this week.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 16, 2004 at 4:00 AM

U.S. representative Harold Ford Jr. made a surprise return appearance on Saturday to a venue -- a meeting of the Germantown Democrats at the Germantown Public Library -- where he drew some barbs on a previous visit, and, to judge by a sampling of reaction, recouped a bit of the good will he may have lost at that earlier meeting.

Back in March, when Ford was the regularly scheduled speaker, he had come in for severe questioning of some of his positions which a few vocal members regarded as too easy-going on the person and on policies of President Bush, especially where the Iraq war was concerned.

On Saturday, state senator Roscoe Dixon, a candidate for the office of General Sessions clerk, was the main speaker, but Ford was on hand and ended up delivering extensive remarks of his own.

The congressman was at pains to assuage some of the prior criticism he'd gotten from club members. He began by noting the abundant disclosures of the last several weeks (notably, a finding of the 9/11 Commission) that no WMD of any consequence existed in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion last year, and, further, that there was no reliable evidence of a connection between deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the terrorist activities of al-Qaeda.

Had all of this been known in October 2002, when members of Congress were asked to endorse a War Powers Resolution authorizing Bush to take military action in Iraq, "he would not have had my vote," Ford said.

Moreover, Bush had "done nothing" since to ensure that the country would be able to withstand another crisis like that of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"As strong and powerful as we are, we are despised around the world," Ford added, concerning the results of the president's "go-it-alone" war policy.

Looking ahead to this fall's presidential election, the congressman opined, "Some people question whether Tennessee will be a battleground. I think we will." He told the club members he had reported as much to the Democrats' newly designated vice presidential candidate, North Carolina senator John Edwards, in a conversation last week.

That brought Ford, a national co-chair for the presidential campaign of Massachusetts senator John Kerry, the Democrats' nominee-designate, around to the cosmetics of the campaign: "[Former President] Bill Clinton had the look. John Edwards has the look ... [pause] ... John Kerry's working on the look." Everybody laughed, even local Kerry campaign coordinator Kerry Fulmer, the presidential candidate's cousin.

n One of the reasons given by Representative Ford Saturday for having avoided direct criticism of President Bush on his previous appearance before the Germantown Democrats was that, as he pointed out, he had had the sometimes painful experience of growing up in an extended political family that had attracted frequent attention, often on personal grounds.

There's certainly no disputing that the larger Ford clan -- including the current congressman's father, former U.S. representative Harold Ford Sr., and state senator John Ford, as well as assorted aunts, uncles, siblings, and nephews -- have drawn more than their share of attention over the years -- some fair, some unfair, some inadvertent, some all too advertent.

A specimen of the latter occurred last Friday night during a wrestling match at the Coliseum, when the congressman's two brothers, Jake and Isaac, joined Senator Ford and another uncle, Shelby County commissioner Joe Ford, in the ring in an act of mock retribution against Jerry Lawler, a longtime local wrestling eminence and an unsuccessful candidate for mayor against Mayor Herenton, Joe Ford, and others in 1999.

At some point, after Lawler had gone through the motions of publicly taunting Commissioner Ford as having been an obstacle to his election, the aforementioned Fords entered the ring -- ostensibly to intercede in a "beating" being administered by Lawler and a tag-team partner against another wrestler.

Although the performance by the office-holding Fords was largely pro forma, that by the younger Fords -- Jake Ford, especially, who went after Lawler with a belt -- was in greater earnest.

Prominence given the event by local wrestling promoters, as well as tongue-in-cheek statements about it by Commissioner Ford ("I was asked to come there, and it was all in fun," he told WMC-TV, Action News 5), made the prearranged nature of the "brawl" clear.

Reportedly, the event was staged as a trial run for a possible wrestling career by Jake Ford, who would neither confirm nor deny but wanted to know who said so. Answer: various sources, close to the family and/or the promoters.

n Former Georgia senator Max Cleland is the scheduled keynote speaker at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner of the Shelby County Democrats at the Central Avenue Holiday Inn this Friday night. Other guests and honorees will include Tennessee lieutenant governor John Wilder and state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, as well as the state's Democratic constitutional officers, said state representative Kathryn Bowers, the local party chairman.

Reception is at 5:30 p.m., with dinner to follow at 7 p.m. Ticket price for the fund-raising affair is $125 a head.

Cleland figured in a recent party rally that had its bizarre side. Back in May, lawyer T. Robert Hill of Jackson held a Kerry-for-President rally at which Shelby County mayor A C Wharton was the billed speaker. Wharton was otherwise pledged to be at a Shelby County forum on development that night, however, and Hill made an impromptu substitution at the rally.

He called up Cleland in Georgia and, without putting the former senator on speakerphone or hooking him into his hand-held microphone, asked various questions and relayed the boilerplate "answers" to the rally attendees.

That was a first for most of those present, and it prompted some wags present to imagine and act out privately similar exchanges with various eminences, living and dead.

You had to be there.

n Word is that former Memphis city attorney Robert Spence is getting considerable support from some highly placed movers and shakers to run for the city school board this fall against District 1 at-large incumbent Wanda Halbert.

Spence is regarded in some establishment quarters as a long-distance prospect for higher offices -- like mayor, should incumbent Willie Herenton decide against another race, or Congress, in the event that Rep. Ford vacates his seat, as expected, to make a U.S. Senate race in 2006.

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