Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Usually pols wind down over the holidays; this year, theyÕre turning up the heat.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 14, 2004 at 4:00 AM

YULE TIDES First the Blast, Then the Bombshell? : One of the major social events of each December is the bash thrown by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton. Ever since 1991, when such an affair preceded HerentonÕs inauguration to his first term, the cityÕs glitterati and movers and shakers have gathered in the Continental Room of The Peabody to sample the generously available edibles, potables, and quotables (which is to say, each other).

At a suitable point in the evening, there is always an exhortatory address by Hizzoner, followed by a dance band and some congenial hoofing by the more energetic. A good time is had by all.

This year there were some variations on all that.

To begin with, there was but one member of the City Council on hand Ð count Ôem, one: first-termer Scott McCormick. No Barbara Swearengen Holt, no Rickey Peete, no Myron Lowery Ð to name but three of the council members who have generally been considered close to Herenton. Unsurprising, of course, was the absence of Carol Chumney, the councilwoman who would be mayor. Chumney had her own party a couple of weeks ago at the Central Avenue Holiday Inn, with many of the same prominent lobbyists and zoning lawyers present. She indicated she would also not be attending the Christmas dinner that was held this past weekend for other council members at FolkÕs Folly.

Pete Aviotti, the mayorÕs special assistant and the impresario of this annual Christmas party, jested Ð a propos a circumstance reported in a recent Flyer Ð that he had encountered Chumney at another gathering a few evenings ago and volunteered to bring her a glass of wine. ÒIÕm going to have a Sprite,Ó he quoted her as saying, somewhat solemnly. (The Flyer story had contained a he said/she said anecdote wherein the two had divergent memories concerning ChumneyÕs consumption of wine at a prior event and whether Aviotti had been solicitous, teasing, or even gallant, as he recalls, or simply intimidating, in her own account.

Though attendance overall seemed conspicuously down from past years, there were some expected attendees at the Herenton party, like Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton and his former right-hand man, Bobby Lanier, who left office during the flap over former aide Tom JonesÕ retirement benefits, but allowed as how he was now busy at work on WhartonÕs reelection campaign. There were some surprise guests, too Ð like Joyce Kelly, the mayorÕs erstwhile fiancŽe.

One of the mayorÕs longtime backers from the business community mused out loud about reports that Herenton may be a person of interest in one or more federal investigatons currently under way. ÒHe may have done some things wrong,Ó the man said, Òbut I donÕt care. HeÕs been good for the city.Ó

Present at the party was longtime Herenton intimate Reginald French, who has himself been involved in an ongoing federal investigaton -- one involving alleged political corruption involving city construction contracts in Atlanta, a case in which French testified after apparently wearing a wire for the prosecution. It is uncertain how much of an an overlap there might be between that case and anything involving Memphis city government Ð though speculation on the point has been rampant.

His spirits Ð and his mayoral access -- seemingly undampened by that circumstance, an ebullient French said at the mayorÕs party that Herenton would have a ÒbombshellÓ to unload at his forthcoming New YearÕs Day prayer breakfast. ÒItÕs going to be hot! ItÕll make last yearÕs look tame,Ó said French, referring to HerentonÕs full-decibel blast at city council members, one that engendered yearlong tensions at City Hall and involved, among other things, claims of divine sanction for the mayor.

There was something of a buzz among party-goers as to just what the bombshell might be: The consensus was that it involved a Herenton plan for an extensive reorganization of city government Ð with a restructuring of Memphis Light Gas & Water at the heart of that plan.

The mayor himself was keeping his own counsel. When, as is customary at these Christmas-party affairs, Aviotti introduced him midway in proceedings and he took the dais, Herenton was unwontedly restrained. He said little that was exhortatory, little, indeed, of any sort that could be remembered later on, except for his half-hearted urging of partygoers to Get Down on the dance floor. Immediately thereafter, the bank started up, and a somewhat desultory line dance got under way.

Doubling Up: Too much success can, as they say, breed discontent. Or an embarrassment of riches. Or simple variety. Or whatever. In the wake of the GOPÕs national election triumph, Republican women in Shelby County are experiencing one or more of these outcomes, big-time.

Many members of Shelby County Republican Women, a long-established organization in these parts, learned of the formation of an alternative group only last week, when, as they prepared for their own annual Christmas party, they received invitations to a competitive party given by the new organizaton, Republican Women With Purpose.

ÒTheirs is more expensive,Ó said Jean Drumright, chairman of this yearÕs SCRW Christmas party, referring to purportedly higher dues and other membership fees charged by RWP. They must be the rich Republicans!Ó

ÒI hate it that theyÕre taking it personally,Ó said Barbara Trautman of Germantown, president of the new club, which has a combination Òannouncement meetingÓ and Christmas party of its own this week at the home of longtime GOP eminence Maida Pearson Smith in Germantown.

As Trautman explained it, the new club Ð which arose out of campaign efforts on behalf of the Bush campaign Ð will be more convenient for Republican women in the Germantown/Collierville area. ÒThey wanted their own club in their own neighborhood area,Ó Truman said. RWP (let us be the first to use the acronym) will meet at Ridgeway Country Club on Poplar Avenue in Germantown, a point considerably further east than SCRWÕs traditional meeting venue at the Racquet Club on Sanderlin in the White Station area of Memphis.

There is some overlap, however, as one of the mainstays of the new club is parliamentarian Annabel Woodall of East Memphis, a longtime SCRW member.

Like SCRW, RWP is in conformity with rules of the state and national federations of Republican women, and one of those rules Ð perhaps inconvenient for those Republican women caught in the middle, geographically or otherwise -- is that full membership, including the right to hold office, can be had in only one club sanctioned by the governing federations, although members of one Republican womenÕs club can be ÒassociatesÓ of another.

In other words, Shelby County women wishing to join a Republican womenÕs club may have to choose.

ÒIÕve tried to reassure them. We can work together,Ó insists Trautman. ÒThereÕs room for all of us. I mean, Nashville has three clubs, and Dallas has 16!Ó

Both clubs had the GOP brass out this week. Guest of honor at SCRWÕs Christmas Party, held Monday at Devonshire Gardens (ironically, a short stoneÕs throw from Ridgeway Country Club, the RWPÕs bailiwick), was the outgoing state Republican chairman, State Representative Beth Halteman Harwell of Nashville.

Harwell, who intends to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2006, inaugurated a new slate of SCRW officers, headed by Jeanette Watkins of Germantown.

Scheduled to do the equivalent honors at RWPÕs meeting was 7th District U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, that groupÕs guest of honor. Blackburn is another possible Senate candidate in 2006.

Among those attending both parties were former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, yet another 2006 Senate hopeful, and his wife Cyndi.

Harwell In: That Senate race Ð for the seat being vacated by Majority Leader Bill Frist, who most likely will run for president in 2008 Ð numbers three definite contenders on the Republican side, as of now. Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker is already in, and Bryant is certain to follow. Simultaneous with Harwell's trip to Memphis on Monday, Bob Davis of Nashville was being installed as her successor in the GOP chairmanship. That allowed Harwell to make it definite, she confirmed Tuesday: ÒI absolutely intend to be a candidate for the Senate seat.Ó

Elkington vs. Person? Ranking state Republicans are putting the screws on two GOP state senators Ð Curtis Person of Memphis and Tim Burchett of Knoxville Ð who have indicated they will break ranks with their fellow Republicans -- who now hold a majority of one in the senate Ð and vote for octogenarian John Wilder of Somerville to continue in his role as Senate speaker and Lt. Governor.

The state GOPÕs governing board voted Saturday to permit Republican officials to endorse future opponents for Person and Burchett. (Beale Street impresario John Elkington said at Mayor HerentonÕs Christmas party that he had been lobbied by key Republicans to consider a race against Person in 2006.)

Seeing Red and Buying Blue: Democrats in Shelby County Ð like, presumably, those elsewhere -- are now circulating email lists of retail corporations who gave prodigiously to either Republicans or Democrats. ÒBlue ChristmasÓ the campaign is called, and ÒBuy BlueÓ is the watchword.

There is a boycott aspect to the campaign, of course, since the message is also clear: DonÕt buy ÒRed.Ó Clearly, Republicans with access to the list (http://www.buyblue.org/bluexmas.html) can just reverse the recommended priorities.

The ÒRedÓ and ÒBlueÓ lists are amazingly itemized, but here is a sample of the corporate donors, along with their party of choice by percentage donated:

ÒRedÓ (Republican): Circuit City, 96 percent to Republicans; K-Mart, 86 percent; WalMart, 80 percent; Home Depot, 94 percent; Outback Steakhouse, 96 percent; Tricon Global Restaurants (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell), 87 percent; Holiday Inn, 73 percent; Exxon/Mobil, 88 percent; Russell Stovers Chocolates, 100 percent; Hallmark Cards, 92 percent.

ÒBlueÓ (Democratic): Barnes & Noble, 98 percent to Democrats; BorderÕs, 100 percent; Calvin Klein, 100 percent; Footlockers, 100 percent; E & J Gallo Winery, 90 percent; Sonic Corporation, 100 percent; LoewÕs Hotels, 99 percent; Hyatt Hotels, 87 percent; StarbuckÕs, 100 percent; Price Club/Costco, 98 percent; Estee Lauder Companies, 91 percent.

Wurzburg Chosen: Elected new president of the Public Issues Forum at a Christmas party/reorganizational meeting of the progressive discussion group last weekend was attorney Jocelyn Wurzburg.



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