Friday, September 30, 2005

Triple Jeopardy

Fields' action on behalf of GOP complainant Roland provokes an ouster move by local Dems.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Exit Fields? Pity the Shelby County Democrats, if you will. They just barely managed a show of unity two months ago after the election of a new chairman (compromise candidate Matt Kuhn) amid a three-way power struggle. And in a special election two weeks ago, they held on to John Ford's old state Senate seat by the squeaker margin of 13 votes for Ford's sister Ophelia.

Now they have new worries. Richard Fields, an influential Democrat who won a seat on the party's executive committee back in July, is in danger of losing it this month. The reason? Lawyer Fields has had the temerity to provide pro bono representation to Republican Terry Roland in Roland's ongoing legal challenge to Ophelia Ford's victory, which was formally certified Monday by the county Election Commission along 3-2 party lines.

In doing so, Fields may have transgressed against party bylaws. Or so maintains fellow committeeman Del Gill who has filed a resolution forcing a vote on whether to expel Fields at next week's regular monthly meeting of the executive committee.

Gill's resolution, which chairman Kuhn has agreed to put on the next week's regular agenda of the executive committee, would present Fields with three choices:

1) He can "repudiate his support" of Roland and "dissociate his legal representation."

2) He can voluntarily resign from the committee and remain a "bona fide Democrat."

3) He can face a committee vote to remove him, which, if successful, would cause the term "none bona fide Democrat" to be attached to his name.

Gill's co-signers on the resolution include William Larsha, Derrick Harris, and party vice chair Cherry Davis. More importantly, a brief survey of opinion indicates that he may have at least the tacit support of a broad array of Democrats, cutting across the usual party dividing lines.

The local party bylaw, Article III, cited by Gill could be subject to some legal parsing, however. While it prohibits, on pain of expulsion, "supporting candidates running against Democrats in General Elections," either financially or otherwise, it makes no specific reference to legal representation.

Enter Loeffel. A month or two back, Debbie Stamson, an assistant and protégé to retiring Shelby County clerk Jayne Creson, was attending a meeting of the Shelby County Commission and wondered out loud if commission member Marilyn Loeffel still harbored ambitions of running for Creson's job next year.

At the time, the commissioner, though not a signatory to the anti-term-limits suit pressed by three of her colleagues, must surely have been wondering if the courts would permit her to run again, if she chose to, in her Cordova district. So far they hadn't, and, when asked, Loeffel confirmed that she had an undiminished interest in running for the clerk's position.

That was despite the fact that Stamson had just held a well-attended monster fund-raiser at the Germantown home of supporter Wayne Mashburn, son of semi-legendary former clerk "Sonny" Mashburn.

Loeffel was undeterred by that show of force. The commissioner, who was first elected in 1998 on a tide of socially conservative votes, remains confident that that army will rise again to support her in what shapes up as a hotly competitive Republican primary campaign against Stamson, whose husband Steve will simultaneously be running for reelection as Juvenile Court clerk.

In her official announcement of candidacy Monday, Loeffel made brief reference to her two terms as a part-time commissioner and said: "I've chosen to ask Shelby County residents for the opportunity to serve them in a full-time capacity."

Meanwhile, sometime radio talk-show host and former City Court clerk candidate Janis Fullilove looms as a potential Democratic opponent for either Loeffel or Stamson.

Enter Thaddeus. Another entry in next year's political sweepstakes is broadcaster/blogger Thaddeus Matthews, the scourge of numerous politicians, including all members of the Ford family and, from time to time, Mayor Willie Herenton.

Matthews announced last week that he would seek the District 3 County Commission seat now held by the outgoing Michael Hooks, who has the misfortune of being both term-limited and indicted in the Tennessee Waltz extortion scandal.• Gibbons fund-raiser: District Attorney General Bill Gibbons filled the upstairs room at the downtown Rendezvous restaurant Tuesday night for a fund-raiser/reception that drew many of Gibbons' fellow luminaries in addition to a large crowd of other supporters.

Among those attending in support of Gibbons' 2006 reelection effort were both Memphis mayor Herenton and Shelby County mayor A C Wharton. Reaffirming his previously announced endorsement of Gibbons, the often-controversial Herenton joked, "I hope I do him more good than harm." • It only hurts when he laughs: At a fund-raiser here last week at the home of city councilman Jack Sammons, Governor Phil Bredesen kept a smiling and relaxed demeanor despite the presence across the street of demonstrators protesting his paring of the TennCare rolls, a move he has defended as necessary for budgetary reasons.

"Inviting me is one way to get demonstrators to show up at the end of your driveway," joked the governor, who said he had spoken with several of the protesters and urged the attendees at the fund-raiser to do so. "These are good people," he said.• Focus on lobbyists: The governor's appearance in Memphis came at the end of a day in which the members of his recently appointed Citizens Advisory Panel on Ethics held the last of several statewide meetings at the University of Memphis' Fogelman Center.

Presided over by former state attorney general Mike Cody and former state senator Ben Atchley of Knoxville, the meeting was attended by several local legislators, including state senators Steve Cohen of Memphis and Roy Herron of Dresden and state representatives Paul Stanley and Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Dolores Grisham of Covington.

Cohen called for ratcheting up the current "cup-of-coffee" law to eliminate all lobbyist-funded favors for members of the General Assembly -- a point that was seconded by Stanley and Kelsey. Asked how much legislation was initiated by lobbyists rather than members of the Assembly, Cohen answered bluntly, "Almost all of it."

Grisham, who said she and two other relatively short-term Republican legislators shared the services of a single staffer, called the absence of adequate staffing for legislators "unacceptable." It meant, she said, that increasingly legislators are forced to use lobbyists as sources of advice on legislation. "The good ones will give you both sides," she said.

Current lobbyist and former legislator Rufus Jones of Memphis got the day's best laugh when asked what the duties of a lobbyist were.

"The first thing you've got to do is get a client," Jones said. "You can go up there and lobby all day long, but if you don't have a client, you're in trouble!"

The panel is scheduled to report its recommendations to Bredesen this week.• Taking the bitter with the sweet: Two Tennesseans hopeful of advancing themselves politically faced criticism last week.

Ninth District congressman Harold Ford Jr., who aspires to the U.S. Senate, was named "worst black congressman" by the "CBC Monitor," a group that performed an analysis of the voting records of members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Ford was assigned a 5 percent satisfactory rate on nine selected "bright line" issues, including his vote for the stringent bankruptcy bill passed by Congress this past spring.

Tennessee senator Bill Frist faces insider-trading inquiries from both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission concerning his sale of Hospital Corporation of America stock just before it took a nosedive on the stock market.

HCA was founded by Frist's extended Nashville family, but Frist has said he had "no information about HCA or its performance that was not publicly available," and supporters maintain that his action was related to a need to avoid potential conflicts of interest prior to his presidential run.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

POLITICS

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2005 at 4:00 AM

TRIPLE JEOPARDY

Exit Fields? Pity the Shelby County Democrats, if you will.
            They just barely managed a show of unity two months ago after the election of a new chairman, compromise candidate Matt Kuhn,  amid a three-way power struggle,  and in a special election two weeks ago, they held on to John Ford’s old state Senate seat by the squeaker margin of 13 votes for Ford’s sister Ophelia

            Now they have new worries. Richard Fields, an influential Democrat who won a seat on the party’s executive committee back in July, is in danger of losing it this month. The reason? Lawyer Fields has had the temerity to provide pro bono representation to Republican Terry Roland in Roland’s ongoing legal challenge to Ophelia Ford’s victory, which was formally certified Monday by the county Election Commission along 3-2 party lines.

            In doing so, Fields may have transgressed against party bylaws. Or so maintains fellow committeeman Del Gill who has filed a resolution forcing a vote on whether to expel Fields at next week’s regular monthly meeting of the executive committee.

            Gill’s resolution, which chairman Kuhn has agreed to put on the next week’s regular agenda of the executive committee, would present Fields with three choices:

(1) He can “repudiate his support” of Roland and “dissociate his legal representation.”

            (2) He can voluntarily resign from the committee and remain a “bona fide Democrat.”

            (3) He can face a committee vote to remove him, which, if successful, would cause the term “none bona fide Democrat” to be attached to his name.
            Gill’s cosigners on the resolution include William Larsha, Derrick Harris, and party vice chair Cherry Davis. More importantly, a brief survey of opinion indicates that he may have at least  the tacit support of a broad array of Democrats, cutting across the usual party dividing lines.
            The local  party bylaw, Article III, cited by Gill could be subject to some legal parsing, however. While it prohibits, on pain of expulsion, “supporting candidates running against Democrats in General Elections,” either financially or otherwise, it makes no specific reference to legal representation.

 Enter Loeffel  . A month or two back Debbie Stamson, an assistant and protégé to retiring  Shelby County clerk Jayne Creson, was attending a meeting of the Shelby County Commission and wondered out loud if commission member Marilyn Loeffel still harbored ambitions of running for Creson’s job next year.

At the time, the commissioner, though not a signatory to the anti-term limits suit pressed by three of her colleagues, must surely have been wondering if the courts would permit her to run again, if she chose to, in her Cordova district. So far they hadn’t, and, when asked, Loeffel confirmed that she had an undiminished interest in running for the clerk’s position.

That was despite the fact that  Stamson had just held a well-attended  monster fundraiser at the Germantown home of supporter Wayne Mashburn, son of a semi-legendary former clerk, “Sonny” Mashburn

Loeffel was undeterred by that show of force. The  commissioner, who was first elected in 1998 on a tide of socially conservative votes, remains confident that that army will rise again to support her in what shapes up as a hotly competitive Republican primary campaign against Stamson, whose husband Steve will simultaneously be running for reelection as Juvenile Court clerk..

In her official announcement of candidacy Monday, Loeffel made brief reference to her two terms as a part-time commissioner and said, “I’ve chosen to ask Shelby County residents for the opportunity to serve them in a full time capacity.”

            Meanwhile, sometime radio talk-host and former City Court clerk candidate Janis Fullilove looms as a potential Democratic opponent for either Loeffel or Stamson.

 Enter Thaddeus. Another entry in next year’s political sweepstakes is broadcaster/blogger Thaddeus Matthews, the scourge of numerous politicians, including all members of the Ford family and, from time to time, Mayor Willie Herenton,

Matthews announced last week that he would seek the District 3 county commission seat now held by the outgoing Michael Hooks, who has the misfortune of being both term-limited and indicted in the Tennessee Waltz extortion scandal.

 Gibbons fundraiser. District Attorney General Bill Gibbons filled the upstairs room at the downtown Rendezvous restaurant Tuesday night for a fundraiser/reception that drew many of Gibbons’ fellow luminaries in addition to a large crowd of other supporters.
            Among those attending in support of Gibbons’ 2006 reelection effort were both Memphis mayor Herenton and Shelby County mayor A C Wharton. Reaffirming his previously announced endorsement of Gibbons, the often controversial Herenton joked, “I hope I do him more good than harm.”

 It only hurts when he laughs. At a fundraiser here last week at the home of city councilman Jack Sammons, Governor Phil Bredesen kept a smiling and relaxed demeanor despite the presence across the street of demonstrators protesting his paring of the TennCare rolls, a move he has defended as necessary for budgetary reasons.
             “Inviting me is one way to get demonstrators to show up at the end of your driveway,” joked the governor, who said he had spoken with several of the protesters and urged the attendees at the fundraiser to do so. “These are good people,” he said.

 Focus on lobbyists. The governor’s appearance in Memphis came at the end of a day in which the members of his recently appointed Citizens Advisory Panel on Ethics held the last of several statewide meetings at the university’s Fogelman Center.
             Presided over by former state Attorney General Mike Cody and former state Senator Ben Atchley of Knoxville, the meeting was attended by  several local legislators, including state Senators Steve Cohen of Memphis and Roy Herron of Dresden, and state Representatives Paul Stanley and Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Dolores Grisham of Covington.
            Cohen called for ratcheting up the current "cup-of-coffee" law to the end of eliminating  all lobbyist-funded favors for members of the General Assembly -- a point that was seconded by Stanley and Kelsey.
            Asked how much legislation was currently initiated by lobbyists rather than members of the Assembly, Cohen answered bluntly, "Almost all of it."
             Grisham, who said she and two other relatively short-term Republican legislators shared the services of a single staffer, called the absence of adequate staffing for legislators "unacceptable." It meant, she said, that increasingly legislators are forced to use lobbyists as sources of advice on legislation. "The good ones will give you both sides," she said.
            Current lobbyist and former legislator Rufus Jones of Memphis got the day’s best laugh when asked what the duties of a lobbyist were.
            "The first thing you've got to do is get a client," Jones said. "You can go up there and lobby all day long, but if you don't have a client, you're in trouble!"
            The panel is scheduled to report its recommendations to Governor Bredesen this week.

 Taking the bitter with the sweet. Two Tennesseans hopeful of advancing themselves politically faced criticism last week.
            9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr., who aspires to the U.S. Senate, was named “worst black congressman” by the “CBC Monitor,” a group which performed an analysis of the voting records of members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The group is apparently affiliated with the “Black Commentator,” a Web site which has consistently found fault with Rep. Ford, who coincidentally addressed the Black Caucus’s annual legislative meeting in Washington last week.

Ford was assigned a 5 percent satisfactory rate on nine selected “bright line” issues, including his vote for the stringent  bankruptcy bill passed by Congress this past spring.
            U.S. Senator Bill Frist, a presidential hopeful whose vacated seat Ford and others will be seeking next year, faces insider-trading inquiries from both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission concerning his sale of Hospital Corporation of America stock just before the stock of HCA, founded by Frist’s extended Nashville family, took a nosedive on the stock market.
            Frist has said he had “no information about HCA or its performance that was not publicly available” and supporters maintain that his action was related to a need to avoid potential conflicts of interest prior to his presidential run.
           

 

 

 

 

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Crossroads Politics

Roland's stunning showing indicates political flux -- in more directions than one.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Republicans could be forgiven for indulging in some bittersweet rejoicing last week. It had been back-and-forth for most of the evening, but when the final vote was totaled last Thursday night in the District 29 state Senate special election, Democrat Ophelia Ford was ahead by only 13 votes -- count 'em, 13.

Final unofficial totals, including early voting and absentee ballots and all 60 precincts were 4,333 votes for Ford and 4,320 for Republican Terry Roland, the Millington service-station owner who had carried his unlikely underdog challenge to the very brink of success. (Perennial nuisance candidate Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges, running as an independent, polled 89 votes, leading some to wonder if he had influenced the outcome and, if so, in whose direction.)

Understandably, Roland refused to concede, telling a group of supporters at his Millington headquarters on election night, "We're still in the race," and promising to "turn things over to the people who know how to handle things like this" -- presumably a team of political and legal advisers.

A spokesman for the Roland campaign would subsequently promise to contest the outcome, saying, "We're going to bring in a shitload of attorneys" from Tennessee and Washington. And, sure enough, as of this week, Roland's gathering battery of lawyers and political advisers was actively pursuing a challenge through various appeals to state and local election officials.

Much statewide attention had been focused on the Ford-Roland race for the light it might shed on a variety of looming political subjects: the state of the Ford-family campaign apparatus; the possible shift of power in the General Assembly, where Republicans had hoped to build on their current 18-15 majority in the Senate; the signals the outcome might send for races to come, including that of Senator-elect Ford's nephew, U.S. representative Harold Ford, Jr., now a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Long considered a stronghold for the Ford family and for Democratic candidates in general, District 29, which hugs the Mississippi riverfront for almost the length of Shelby County, has a largely African-American population, but Roland's Republican team had put forth intense efforts, not just in his own Millington bailiwick, but, to some measurable effect, in the inner city itself.

But even as Republicans were taking heart at one of their number's showing in a predominantly Democratic district, other figures in the party were doing their best to move the GOP in an opposite direction.

There were two cases in point: one local, one statewide.

First, there was a pending change of the guard in state House District 97, soon to be vacated by incumbent Tre Hargett. Former House Republican leader Hargett ignited a storm last month by first accepting a job as chief lobbyist in Nashville for the Pfizer pharmaceutical firm, then rejecting it -- under pressure from Pfizer itself, some theorize -- when the "revolving-door" job offer became an issue in the legislature's still-festering ethics controversy.

Hargett would ultimately be offered a higher-paying job by his long-standing employer, Rural/Metro Ambulance Services, but he had meanwhile quit his leadership post and declared he would leave the legislature. Though some still believe that Hargett will reconsider and run for reelection next year, the main issue seems to be whether he will serve out his current term or resign his House seat outright, forcing the appointment of an interim successor.

If the latter turns out to be the case, both Shelby County GOP chairman Bill Giannini and other local Republicans have indicated their preference that the County Commission select a fill-in and not one of the several Republicans interested in running for the seat next year. ("I don't want to create a state representative," Giannini said bluntly this week.)

Several Republicans have signaled their intent to run for the seat, including three prominent middle-of-the-roaders -- Bartlett alderman Mike Morris, teacher/activist Jim Coley, and Shelby County school board member Anne Edmiston. Other candidates may be coming, and at least one who's already there has prompted some concern in the GOP mainstream.

That would be Austin Farley, the "Political Cesspool" broadcaster whose radio shows, like his Web site, focus on efforts, in Farley's words, "to preserve our Southern heritage and its symbols." Among other things, Farley has been a vigorous defender of the status quo in the simmering controversy over three Confederate-themed parks in downtown Memphis.

There are no runoffs in legislative races, and the more crowded the field gets, the better the chances for someone like Farley, whose hard-core constituency could give him a plurality.

Conventional wisdom, of course, holds that District 97, in the heart of Bartlett, is Republican for time to come, about as "red" on the political color chart as it's possible to be, the center of gravity for SUVs sporting the letter W. About as staunchly Republican a place, in other words, as Senate District 29 -- which just elected a candidate named Ford by 13 votes -- is staunchly Democratic.

And there's the rub. Last week's nip-and-tuck affair in District 29 is a lesson that cuts both ways, especially in special elections. If a bona fide Bubba like Terry Roland can do as well as he did in John Ford's bailiwick, then why, Democrats are beginning to ask themselves, shouldn't a Democrat be able to pull something off in Tre Hargett's?

District 97 was, after all, represented for decades by Democrats -- first Harold Byrd of the Bank of Bartlett Byrds, then his brother Dan. And there were mainstream Democrats discussing seriously last week the option of trying to talk Dan Byrd out of political retirement.

The issue of Republican identity is at stake on the statewide level, too -- notably in next year's governor's race, where Democratic incumbent Phil Bredesen's onetime aura of invincibility has been tarnished enough by the his budget-minded paring of the TennCare rolls that statewide Republicans have begun to dream of mounting a credible challenge.

Senate Republican leader Ron Ramsey of Blountville is one prospect, as is former legislator Jim Henry of Kingston, a well-liked centrist who ran for governor in the 2002 GOP primary. Most Republican hopes, though, have been vested in state representative Beth Harwell of Nashville, the former state Republican chair.

But just as the specter of Farley bedevils the mainstream Republicans of Bartlett, so, on the statewide scene, does that of one Carl "Two Feathers" Whitaker, an arch-conservative gubernatorial candidate and pillar of the Minuteman movement that has made an issue of thwarting illegal immigration from Mexico.

Whitaker claims Native American ancestry but also, as he light-heartedly told a recent meeting of the socially conservative Defenders of Freedom organization, has "some white" in him. Too much so, grumble some alarmed Republicans, mindful of several recent e-mails from Whitaker to his network of supporters alerting them to sex crimes allegedly committed by illegal aliens in Tennessee.

Though Whitaker is considered a long shot in the governor's race, to say the least, the very fact of his candidacy makes him a potential Republican nominee by default and intensifies the pressure on Harwell or some other mainstream GOP figure to declare.

The fear in Republican ranks is that anything resembling a race-based appeal could nullify the GOP's developing approach to traditional Democratic voters -- specifically to the middle-class, religiously conservative blacks so recently courted by Terry Roland and targeted for long-term outreach by Shelby County Republican chairman Giannini.

Complicating the picture is the fact that the GOP right is capable of making its own pitch to voters in the center of the political spectrum.

Republican crossover appeals have been based, locally as nationally, more on "values" issues than on economic ones, but a rough form of populism has lately begun to rear itself in the ranks of the Defenders of Freedom, a local group which occupies the rightward edge of local Republicanism and stresses religious and patriotic themes.

E-mailing his local network this week, DOF founder Angelo Cobrasci announced a memorial service for a man who, he said, had died after losing his TennCare prescription-drug benefits "as a result of these draconian cuts by Governor Phil Bredesen." And he wondered: "How many more?"

For that matter, when Whitaker himself addressed a meeting of the DOF a few weeks ago, he began his speech with solicitous-sounding reflections on the TennCare crisis.

Which is to say, the crossover lanes potentially run in more than one direction, for Republicans as well as for Democrats, and the two-way traffic could generate as many potential hazards as benefits.

POLITICS: FIRST WEEKEND UPDATE

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2005 at 4:00 AM

BOOST FROM BREDESEN

“This project is going forward,” said Governor Phil Bredesen to tumultuous applause Thursday night. The subject was a proposal for state funding to begin the process of transplanting the law school of the University of Memphis to a downtown location, upgrading it in the process.

The audience which heard this happy news, at a fundraising event for Bredesen at the East Memphis residence of city councilman Jack Sammons, included many representatives of the University of Memphis, who hatched the relocation project earlier this year in an effort to shore up the school’s long-term accreditation.

The American Bar Association had put the university on notice that its present law school facilities on Central Avenue were considered inadequate.

The move, into the landmark Post Office building on Front St., which would be extensively renovated for the purpose, would ultimately cost some $41 million, said Law School dean Jim Smoot, one of several university officials to have lobbied the governor on the point.

“I think this is what you call a full-court press,” said the governor about the university group’s efforts.

Bredesen kept a smiling and relaxed demeanor despite the presence across the street of demonstrators protesting his paring of the TennCare rolls, a move he defended again Thursday night as necessary for budgetary reasons.

“Inviting me is one way to get demonstrators to show up at the end of your driveway,” joked the governor, who said he had spoken with several of the protesters and urged the attendees at the fundraiser to do so. “These are good people,” he said.

The governor’s appearance in Memphis came at the end of a day in which the members of his recently appointed Citizens Advisory Panel on Ethics held the last of several statewide meetings at the university’s Fogelman Center.

Focus on Lobbyists

Presided over by former state Attorney General Mike Cody and former state Senator Ben Atchley of Knoxville, the meeting was attended by several local legislators, including state Senators Steve Cohen of Memphis and Roy Herron of Dresden, and state Representatives Paul Stanley and Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Dolores Grisham of Covington.

Cohen called for ratcheting up the current "cup-of-coffee" law to the end of eliminating all lobbyist-funded favors for members of the General Assembly -- a point that was seconded by Stanley and Kelsey.

Asked how much legislation was currently initiated by lobbyists rather than members of the Assembly, Cohen answered bluntly, "Almost all of it."

Grisham, who said she and two other relatively short-term Republican legislators shared the services of a single staffer, called the absence of adequate staffing for legislators "unacceptable." It meant, she said, that increasingly legislators are forced to use lobbyists as sources of advice on legislation. "The good ones will give you both sides," she said.

At one point, panelist Lyle Reid, the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, probed into the basic function of lobbyists. Among those called upon to answer was current lobbyist and former legislator Rufus Jones of Memphis, who provided one of the afternoon's best laugh lines.

"The first thing you've got to do is get a client," Jones said. "You can go up there and lobby all day long, but if you don't have a client, you're in trouble!"

The panel will shortly report its findings and recommendations to Governor Bredesen.

New problems for Dixon

One of the former legislative figures whose indictment in the recent Tennessee Waltz scandal was a major reason for the ethics panel’s creation took another jolt on Thursday.

That came when assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza announced that former state Senator Rosce Dixon was subject to indictment and prosecution on matters unrelated to his previously alleged extortion activities in relation to the bogus FBI company “eCycle Management.” Dixon was forced to resign as an aide to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton when he was indicted on the eCycle matter in late May.

An obviously shaken Dixon told reporters Thursday that “the government holds all the cards” and “you get to spread your arms and get nailed to the cross.” It certainly appeared that the government had stepped up its pressure on Dixon – possibly to encourage a plea change on the prior charges.

But neither Dixon, who had said only last week that he was wiling to stand trial on the eCycle charges, nor his attorney, Walter Bailey, indicated that any change was likely in Dixon’s existing Not Guilty plea.

Gibbons fundraiser

District Attorney General Bill Gibbons filled the upstairs room at the downtown Rendezvous restaurant Tuesday night for a fundraiser/reception that drew many of Gibbons’ fellow luminaries in addition to a large crowd of other supporters.

Among those attending in support of Gibbons’ 2006 reelection effort were both Memphis mayor Willie Herenton and Shelby County mayor Wharton. Reaffirming his previously announced endorsement of Gibbons, the often controversial Herenton joked, “I hope I do him more good than harm.”

In his remarks, Gibbons compared his efforts “to punish the guilty and to protect the innocent” to law-enforcement measures pursued in New York City in the ‘90s under the administration of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

POLITICS

Roland’s stunning showing indicates political flux – in more directions than one.

Posted on Tue, Sep 20, 2005 at 4:00 AM

CROSSROADS POLITICS

Republicans could be forgiven for indulging in some bittersweet rejoicing last week. It had been back-and-forth for most of the evening, but when the final vote was totaled last Thursday night in the District 29 state Senate special election, Democrat Ophelia Ford was ahead by only 13 votes – count ‘em, 13.

Final unofficial totals, including early voting and absentee ballots and all 60 precincts were 4333 votes for Ford, and 4320 for Republican Terry Roland, the Millington service-station owner who has carried his unlikely underdog challenge to the very brink of success. (Perennial nuisance candidate Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges, running as an independent, had polled 89 votes, leading some to wonder if he had influenced the outcome and, if so, in whose direction.)

Understandably, Roland refused to concede, telling a group of supporters at his Millington headquarters on election night, “We’re still in the race,” and promising to “turn things over to the people who know how to handle things like this" -- presumably a team of both political and legal advisers.

A spokesman for the Roland campaign would subsequently promise to contest the outcome, saying, "We're going to bring in a shitload of attorneys," both from Tennessee and Washington. And, sure enough, as of this week, Roland’s gathering battery of lawyers and political advisers were actively pursuing a challenge through appeals of various sorts to both state and local election officials.

Much statewide attention had been focused on the Ford-Roland race for the light it might shed on a variety of looming political subjects: the state of the Ford-family campaign apparatus; the possible shift of power in the General Assembly, where Republicans had hoped to build on their current 18-15 majority in the Senate; the signals the outcome might send for races to come, including that of Senator-elect Ford's nephew, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. , now a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Long considered a stronghold for the Ford family and for Democratic candidates in general, District 29, which hugs the Mississippi River-front for almost the length of Shelby County, has a largely African-American population, but Roland's Republican team had put forth intense efforts, not just in his own Millington bailiwick but, to some measurable effect, in the inner city itself.



BUT, EVEN AS REPUBLICANS were taking heart at one of their number’s showing in a predominantly Democratic district, encouraging thoughts of future crossover appeal, other figures in the party were doing their best to move the GOP in an opposite direction.

There were two cases in point: one local, one statewide.

First, there was a pending change of the guard in state House District 97, soon to be vacated by incumbent Tre Hargett. Former House Republican leader Hargett ignited a storm last month by first accepting a job as chief lobbyist in Nashville for the Pfizer pharmaceutical firm, then rejecting it – under pressure from Pfizer itself, some theorize – when the “revolving-door” job offer became an issue in the legislature’s still-festering ethics controversy.

Hargett would ultimately be offered a higher-paying job by his long-standing employer, Rural/Metro Ambulance Services, but he had meanwhile quit his leadership post and declared he would leave the legislature. Though some still believe that Hargett will reconsider and run for reelection next year, the main issue seems to be whether he will serve out his current term or resign his House seat outright, forcing the appointment of an interim successor.

If the latter turns out to be the case, both Shelby County GOP chairman Bill Giannini and other local Republicans have indicated their preference that the county commission select a fill-in and not one of the several Republicans interested in running for the seat next year. (“I don’t want to create a state representative,” Giannini said bluntly this week.)

Several Republicans have signaled their intent to run for the seat, including three prominent middle-of-the-roaders -- Bartlett alderman Mike Morris, teacher/activist Jim Coley, and Shelby County school board member Anne Edmiston. Other candidates may be coming, and at least one who’s already there has prompted some concern in the GOP mainstream.

That would be Austin Farley, the “Political Cesspool” broadcaster whose radio shows, like his Web site, focus on efforts, in Farley’s words, “to preserve our Southern Heritage and its symbols.” Among other things, Farley has been a vigorous defender of the status quo in the simmering controversy over three Confederate-themed parks in downtown Memphis. There are no runoffs in legislative races, and the more crowded the field gets, the better the chances for someone like Farley, whose hard-core constituency could give him a plurality.

Conventional wisdom, of course, holds that District 97, in the heart of Bartlett, is Republican for time to come – about as “red” on the political color chart as it’s possible to be, the center of gravity, locally, for SUV’s sporting the letter ‘W’. About as staunchly Republican a place, in other words, as Senate District 29, which just elected a candidate named Ford by 13 votes, is staunchly Democratic.



AND THERE’S THE RUB. Last week’s nip-and-tuck affair in District 29 is a lesson that cuts both ways, especially in special elections. If a bona fide Bubba like Terry Roland can do as well as he did in John Ford’s bailiwick, then why, Democrats are beginning to ask themselves, shouldn’t a Democrat be able to pull something off in Tre Hargett’s?

District 97 was, after all, represented for decades recently by Democrats – first Harold Byrd of the Bank of Bartlett Byrds, then his brother Dan. Just in case, there were mainstream Democrats discussing seriously last week the option of trying to talk Dan Byrd out of political retirement.

The issue of Republican identity is at stake on the statewide level, too – notably in next year’s governor’s race, where Democratic incumbent Phil Bredesen’s onetime aura of invincibility has been tarnished enough by the his budget-minded paring of the TennCare rolls that statewide Republicans have begun to dream at least of mounting a credible challenge.

Senate Republican leader Ron Ramsey of Blountville is one prospect, as is former legislator Jim Henry of Kingston, a well-liked centrist who ran for governor in the 2002 GOP primary.

Most Republican hopes, though, have been vested in state Representative Beth Harwell of Nashville, the former state Republican chair who is presumed acceptable to both moderates and conservatives and until recently was a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

But just as the specter of Farley bedevils the mainstream Republicans of Bartlett, so, on the statewide scene, does that of one Carl “Two Feathers” Whitaker, an arch-conservative gubernatorial candidate and pillar of the Minuteman movement that has made an issue of thwarting illegal immigration from Mexico.

Whitaker is a former independent who claims Native American ancestry but also, as he light-heartedly told a recent meeting of the socially conservative Defenders of Freedom organization, has “some white” in him. Too much so, grumble some alarmed Republicans, mindful of several recent emails from Whitaker to his network of supporters alerting them to sex crimes allegedly committed by illegal aliens in Tennessee.

Though Whitaker is considered a long shot in the governor’s race, to say the least, the very fact of his candidacy makes him a potential Republican nominee by default and intensifies the pressure on Harwell or some other mainstream GOP figure to declare.



THE FEAR IN REPUBLICAN RANKS is that anything resembling a race-based appeal could nullify the GOP’s developing approach to traditional Democratic voters – specifically to the middle-class, religiously conservative blacks so recently courted by Terry Roland and targeted for long-term outreach by Shelby County Republican chairman Giannini (as by his predecessor, Kemp Conrad).

Complicating the picture is the fact that the GOP right is capable of making its own pitch to voters in the center of the political spectrum.

Republican crossover appeals have been based, locally as nationally, more on “values” issues than on economic ones – but a rough form of populism has lately begun to rear itself in the ranks of the Defenders of Freedom, a local group which occupies the rightward edge of local Republicanism and has so far stressed religious and patriotic themes.

Emailing his local network this week, DOF founder Angelo Cobrasci announced a memorial service for a man who, he said, had died after losing his TennCare prescription-drug benefits “as a result of these draconian cuts by Governor Phil Bredesen.” And he wondered: “How many more?”

For that matter, when Whitaker himself addressed a meeting of the DOF a few weeks ago, he began his speech with solicitous-sounding reflections on the TennCare crisis.

Which is to say, the crossover lanes potentially run in more than one direction, for Republicans as well as for Democrats, and the two-way traffic could generate as many potential hazards as benefits.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Weak Sister?

An unexpectedly competitive District 29 Senate race may signal new times.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 16, 2005 at 4:00 AM

The District 29 special state Senate race (with apologies for those who are reading this on Friday morning or later, when Thursday's election results will be known):

For the second time in less than a year, the Shelby County Republican Party has put a major move on in a special election race taking place in a predominantly African-American, heavily Democratic district. For the second time in a year in such a race, the GOP has managed to out-poll its Democratic rivals in early-voting turnout.

Only this time, with election day coming up on Thursday, the cavalry may not arrive for the Democrats. Or so confided a ranking Democrat early this week -- either out of legitimate concern for the outcome or in an effort to drive some additional election-day votes by sounding an alarm.

In any case, Republican businessman Terry Roland suddenly seemed a real threat to steal the District 29 state Senate seat away from Ophelia Ford, sister of John Ford, the Democrat who had held the seat for 30 years before being forced to resign this year in the wake of his indictment in the Tennessee Waltz scandal.

With early voting now concluded, Roland was generally thought to own as much as a 600-vote margin over Ford. "And that's a lot to make up on election day," said the Democrat, in a convincing show of concern.

Roland has campaigned hard in his own bailiwick of Millington, one of the district's few Republican enclaves, but he has also made a point of showing up at traditional Democratic stops, even taking Sunday-morning turns in various black churches, where his down-home self-professed "country-boy" manner has found some unexpected resonance.

Roland has been assisted by the virtually invisible campaigning mode of Ophelia Ford, whom many Democrats privately see, both literally and figuratively, as a weak sister. At what should have been a climactic rally on Saturday at her Southgate headquarters, Ford attracted a small crowd of supporters that contained no office-holding members of her well-known political clan.

Former state senator Roscoe Dixon was on hand, though -- maintaining, when asked, that he would not join the parade of fellow Tennessee Waltz indictees changing their pleas from not guilty to guilty. "I'm going to stand trial," insisted Dixon, who left the Senate early this year and was succeeded by former state representative Kathryn Bowers, who was later indicted, along with Dixon, John Ford, and four others, for extortion in the scandal.

In her own special election race, back in May, Bowers faced a full-court press from GOP contender Mary Ann McNeil, who finished with considerably more than a third of the vote on election day after leading during early voting.

Ophelia Ford's final vote total might still be dramatically boosted via intervention on the part of another brother, former U.S. representative Harold Ford Sr., whose last-minute robocalls on behalf of his sister are credited with having given her a narrow win in the August Democratic primary.

Even if Roland should stage an upset, the aforementioned ranking Democrat found two silver linings: 1) that "he [Roland] would have to run again next year, and he'd lose"; and 2) that Senate Republicans, even with a strengthened majority, would not have an opportunity to replace Democratic speaker and Lieutenant Governor John Wilder of Somerville until January 2007.

Two more special elections could be coming up in Shelby County, depending on A) whether state senator Bowers is able to finish her term; and B) whether state representative Tre Hargett of Bartlett, who has resigned as House Republican leader, chooses to finish his.

Hargett recently ignited a storm by first accepting then declining the position of head lobbyist in Nashville for the Pfizer pharmaceutical firm. When his current employer, Rural/Metro Ambulance Services, offered Hargett a substantial promotion, he decided to stay with the company but reaffirmed his resignation from his leadership post. Hargett has apparently also stayed with his original decision not to seek reelection next year but hasn't decided on whether to resign his seat before then.

Several Republicans have lined up as would-be successors to Hargett: teacher Jim Coley, Bartlett alderman Mike Morris, broadcaster Austin Farley, and, most recently, Shelby County school board member Anne Edmiston, who is thought to have the inside track on an interim appointment by the Shelby County Commission if one is called for.

Cohen vs. Bredesen (cont'd.): State senator Steve Cohen upped the ante in his ongoing verbal combat with Governor Phil Bredesen Sunday, accusing Bredesen of waging "a Katrina -- a war for political expediency on poor people" by paring the TennCare rolls, a process which, said Cohen, would "deprive 200,000 people of health care and cost many of them their lives."

Speaking at a seminar on "Rethinking the War on Drugs" sponsored by the Public Issues Forum of Memphis, the Midtown Democrat also took an indirect swipe at U.S. Senate hopeful Harold Ford Jr., the Memphis congressman whom Cohen unsuccessfully opposed in the 1996 Democratic primary for the 9th Congressional District seat.

Cohen noted that no Tennessee congressman had voted for a bill in Congress that would have prevented federal law enforcement authorities from arresting medical-marijuana users in states where they were entitled to use marijuana by law. "And I submit to you that it'd be a popular thing for one of our congressmen to do, because it would say to the state of Tennessee that we had a congressman who had a brain and who had a vision and who had a heart and was trying to make a difference and not just to promote themselves to another office."

Said Cohen: "There's a purpose to being in office and that's to try to do things to make your society better and not just to advance yourself. Basically what I've seen in my life, most politicians are just there for the next office. They're there for the next fund-raiser, for the next round. And I see it when I look to Nashville, and I see it when I look to the 9th District. And it's very disheartening."

Cohen continued: "The people are so far ahead of the politicians on so many issues, it's a shame. And you don't see a whole lot of politicians put their neck out on issues to make society better. I have a lot of despair right now when I look at our president, and to be honest, when I look at our governor, who is bringing about a Katrina in Tennessee. It's just that the 200,000 people he's depriving of health care aren't put in front of The Pyramid for the public to see. They're spread out throughout this state. That is a Katrina -- a war, for political expediency on poor people who can't afford health care themselves and for the political agenda of a multimillionaire who wants to be something else in life rather than the provider and giver of health care and a better, more progressive society, but wants to advance himself."

Cohen, who is sponsoring pending legislation that would legalize medical marijuana use for specified classes of patients, appeared at the forum meeting along with Dr. Ethan Nadleman, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which opposes the federal "War on Drugs" as both a wrong-headed policy and a failure.

Saying, "Why am I the only council member asking questions?" City Council member Carol Chumney issued a statement late last week demanding that the administration of Mayor Willie Herenton "stop playing games" and respond to a detailed inquiry (see in full at MemphisFlyer.com) which she submitted concerning budgetary shortfalls.

Chumney also defended her attendance record, lamenting that "If I show up and speak, I'm grandstanding. If I don't show up one time for a good reason, I'm singled out for criticism."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

POLITICS

An unexpectedly competitive District 29 race may signal new times.

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2005 at 4:00 AM

WEAK SISTER?

The District 29 special state Senate race: For the second time in less than a year, the Shelby County Republican Party has put a major move on in a special election race taking place in a predominantly African-American, heavily Democratic district. For the second time in a year in such a race, the GOP has managed to out-poll its Democratic rivals in early-voting turnout.

Only this time, with election day itself coming up on Thursday, the cavalry may not arrive for the Democrats. Or so confided a ranking Democrat early this week – either out of legitimate concern for the outcome or in an effort to drive some additional election-day vote by sounding such an alarm.

In any case, Republican businessman Terry Roland suddenly seemed a real threat to steal the District 29 state Senate seat away from Ophelia Ford, sibling of John Ford, the Democrat who had held the seat for a full 30 years before being forced to resign this year in the wake of his indictment in the Tennessee Waltz scandal.

With early voting now concluded, Roland was generally thought to own as much as a 600-vote margin over Ford. “And that’s a lot to make up on election day,” said the Democrat, in a convincing show of concern.

Store-owner Roland has campaigned hard in his own bailiwick of Millington, one of the district’s few Republican enclaves, but he has also made a point of showing up at traditional Democratic stops, even taking Sunday-morning turns in various black churches, where his down-home self-professed “country-boy” manner has found some unexpected resonance.

Roland has been assisted by the virtually invisible campaigning mode of Ophelia Ford, whom many Democrats privately see – both literally and figuratively -- as a weak sister. At what should have been a climactic rally on Saturday at her Southgate headquarters, Ford attracted a small crowd of supporters – containing no office-holding members of her well-known political clan.

Former state Senator Roscoe Dixon was on hand, though – maintaining, when asked, that he would not join the parade of fellow Tennessee Waltz indictees changing their pleas from not guilty to guilty. “I’m going to stand trial,” insisted Dixon, who left the Senate early this year and was succeeded by former state Rep. Kathryn Bowers, who was later indicted, along with Dixon, John Ford, and four others, for extortion in the Tennessee Waltz scandal.

In her own special election race, back in May, Bowers faced a full-court press from GOP contender Mary Ann McNeil, who finished with considerably more than a third of the vote on election day after leading during early voting – in that case, largely on the strength of Republican ballots in Collierville.

Ophelia Ford’s final vote total might still be dramatically boosted via intervention on the part of another brother, former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., whose last-minute district-wide robocalls on behalf of his sister are credited with having given her a narrow win in last month’s multi-candidate Democratic primary.

Even if something like that doesn’t happen and Roland should stage an upset, the aforementioned ranking Democrat found two silver linings: (1) that “he [Roland] would have to run again next year, and he’d lose;” and (2) Senate Republicans, even with a strengthened majority, would not have an opportunity to replace Democratic speaker/Lt. Gov. John Wilder of Somerville until January of 2007.

Two more special elections could be coming up in Shelby County, depending on (a) whether state Senator Bowers is able to finish her term; and (b) whether state Rep. Tre Hargett of Bartlett, who has resigned as House Republican leader, chooses to finish his.

Hargett recently ignited a storm by first accepting, then declining the position of head lobbyist in Nashville for the Pfizer pharmaceutical firm. When his current employer, Rural/Metro Ambulance Services, offered Hargett a substantial promotion, he decided to stay with the company but reaffirmed his resignation from his leadership post. After a spell of re-thinking, Hargett has apparently also stayed with his original decision not to seek reelection next year but hasn’t decided on whether to resign his seat before then.

Several Republicans have lined up as would-be successors to Hargett: teacher Jim Coley, Bartlett alderman Mike Morris, broadcaster Austin Farley, and, most recently, Shelby County school board member Anne Edmiston, who is thought to have the inside track on an interim appointment by the Shelby County Commission if one is called for.

Cohen vs. Bredesen (cont’d): State Senator Steve Cohen upped the ante in his ongoing verbal combat with Governor Phil Bredesen Sunday, accusing Bredesen of waging “a Katrina -- a war for political expediency on poor people” by his paring of the TennCare rolls, a process which, said Cohen, would “deprive 200,000 people of health care and cost many of them their lives.

Speaking at a seminar on “Rethinking the War on Drugs” sponsored by the Public Issues Forum of Memphis, the Midtown Democrat also took an indirect swipe at U.S. Senate hopeful Harold Ford Jr., the Memphis congressman whom Cohen unsuccessfully opposed in the 1996 Democratic primary for the 9th Congressional District seat.

Cohen noted that no Tennessee congressman had voted for a bill in Congress that would have prevented federal law enforcement authorities from arresting medical-marijuana users in states where they were entitled to use marijuana by law. “And I submit to you that it’d be a popular thing for one of our congressmen to do, because it would say to the state of Tennessee that we had a congressman who had a brain and who had a vision and who had a heart and was trying to make a difference and not just to promote themselves to another office to do nothing except at a higher level.”

Said Cohen: "There’s a purpose to being in office and that’s to try to do things to make your society better and not just to advance yourself. Basically what I’ve seen in my life, most politicians are just there for the next office. They’re there for the next fundraiser, for the next round, for the next whatever. And I see it when I look to Nashville, and I see it when I look to the 9th District. And it’s very, very disheartening."

The full context of Cohen's remarks about Bredesen went this way: “The people are so far ahead of the politicians on so many issues, it’s a shame, and you don’t see a whole lot of politicians put their neck out on issues to make society better. I have a lot of despair right now…when I look at our president. To be honest, when I look at our governor, who is bringing about a Katrina in Tennessee. It’s just that the 200,000 people he’s depriving of health care aren’t put in front of The Pyramid for the public to see it. They’re spread out throughout this state. That is a Katrina – a war, for political expediency on poor people who can’t afford health care themselves and for the political agenda of a multi-millionaire who wants to be something else in life rather than the provider and giver of health care and a better, more progressive society, but wants to advance himself.

“He’s going to deprive 200,000 people of health care and cost many of them their lives. That’s cruel, and it’s Katrina in Tennessee, and it’s happening now at our governor’s level.

Cohen, the sponsor of pending legislation that would legalize medical marijuana use for specified classes of patients, appeared at the Forum meeting along with Dr. Ethan Nadleman, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which opposes the federal “War on Drugs” as both a wrong-headed policy and a failure.

Saying, “…[W]hy am I the only council member asking questions?”, city council member Carol Chumney issued a statement late last week demanding that the administration of Mayor Willie Herenton “stop playing games” and respond to a detailed inquiry which she submitted concerning budgetary shortfalls.

Chumney also defended her attendance record compared to that of other council members, lamenting that,“If I show up and speak; I’m grandstanding. If I don’t show up one time for a good reason; I’m singled out for criticism.”

Full text of Chumney statement:

WHEN WILL THE ADMINISTRATION STOP PLAYING GAMES AND ANSWER THESE SIMPLE QUESTIONS?

 

When the City Finance Director disclosed the new budget shortfall last month, I called for answers on the record to the questions attached to this press release. At his request for more time, Councilwoman Tajuan Stout Mitchell, chair of the Council budget committee, scheduled a meeting for Thurs., Sept. 1. I put it on my schedule and planned to attend.

            Councilwoman Stout Mitchell, then cancelled the meeting without explanation on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 30th; and the Mayor sent a letter advising that he was nominating a new Finance Director, creating the new position of Chief Financial Officer at total salary of $187,000, and reassigning the current City Finance Director.

When Councilwoman Stout Mitchell did not schedule a budget meeting for Tues., Sept. 6, a regular Council meeting day, I sent her an e-mail asking when the questions would be answered. She responded on Fri., Sept. 2, resetting the meeting for Thurs., Sept. 8, without any inquiry as to the availability of any council member to attend, or explanation as to why it was not scheduled on the regular council day.

            On Tues., Sept. 6, the Mayor made an impromptu appearance at the City Council Executive Session. In response to my direct inquiry as to whether we would get the facts and accurate numbers on the budget for Thursday’s budget meeting, the Mayor unequivocally stated that he would not provide numbers until they were accurate, and that would not be for some time.

Based upon the Mayor’s response that no answers would be forthcoming, I kept my prior commitments of a court appearance, and speaking to community leaders about  government, and resubmitted my questions in writing to the budget chair. As reported on several newscasts, the administration did not answer the questions at yesterday’s meeting.

Ironically, a few weeks ago, much ado was made of a Public Services & Neighborhoods meeting chaired by me on ethics reform, which no other Council member attended, and the spin was that council members did not attend in an effort to embarrass me. Yet, when no other council member but the chair attends the Budget meeting, the spin with some is that Carol Chumney wasn’t there? Seems like a double standard to me, and more of the petty politics which is why government is not run efficiently and professionally at City Hall. As one of the few Council members who attended nearly every budget hearing this year, I’ll match my council committee attendance record against any other Council member’s any day, and to imply otherwise is ludicrous.

If I show up and speak; I’m grandstanding. If I don’t show up one time for a good reason; I’m singled out for criticism. And why am I the only Council member even asking questions? But once again, the administration gets to walk away from the real story without having to answer the real question: when will they stop playing games and answer these simple questions attached to this press release today?

 

TO:      Tajuan Stout Mitchell, O & M Budget Chair

            Members of O & M Budget Committee

 

FROM:            Carol Chumney

 

DATE:             September 8, 2005

 

RE:       Report on Budget from Administration

 

            Due to two previously scheduled commitments, I am submitting my written questions for the hearing today on the current status of the budget. I will be delayed in attending the meeting, and will look forward to listening to the Committee hearing tape to hear the administration’s response to these questions:

 

1.         At the July 26, 2005 City of Memphis Healthcare Committee Meeting, 3rd Quarter 2005, the administration presented a Financial Report that showed an 11% (over 4 million dollar) savings in comparing the city’s health care costs for the 2nd quarter of 2004 versus the 2nd quarter of 2005, which includes both active and retiree employees. (see chart attached). Now the administration says that 4 million of the 10.3 million deficit is that the pensioners insurance is “over budget by 4 million”, with an “unfavorable variance due to under budgeting. Assumption-by switching healthcare provider, we felt at the time there would be savings for General Fund”. (see page 6 from City of Memphis FY 2005 Operating Update August 16, 2005 attached). These appear to be inconsistent statements, where one report states a 4 million dollar savings, and the other states a 4 million dollar unfavorable variance. Please explain.

 

2.         Since the administration admits that most of the 10.3 million dollar shortfall was known before the proposed FY2006 budget was presented to the Council, please explain why these shortfalls were not addressed in the proposed budget at that time.

 

3.         What is the total amount of shortfall at the present time?

 

4.         On page 12 of the City of Memphis FY2005 Operating Update August 16, 2005, the shortfall coverage identifies three categories: (1) Personnel Attrition/Vacancies 4.3 million; (2) Operating Cost Savings- 5 million; Amnesty Program- 1 million. Please provide specifics on (1) what positions will be eliminated;(2) a list of the operating costs that will be saved for each department with the amount of savings projected; and (3) the financial documentation supporting the projected 1 million in savings from the Amnesty Program.

 

cc:  press/media

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Still Kicking

A combative Kurita shows the flag in Memphis, discounting reports of campaign problems.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 7, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Citing a months-old poll of her own that shows her 6 percentage points ahead of U.S. representative Harold Ford Jr., in the Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate, state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville declined Saturday to "speak ill of my opponent." But she went on to take a subtle dig at Ford, telling a meeting of the Germantown Democrats, "I really can't look into his heart and say why he voted on things."

Kurita went on: "I do observe that there seems to be 'a little this and a little that.' With me you get this. I'm going to be there and show up for the important votes every time. Every time." With a few deft brush strokes, thus, she managed to remind her listeners of A) Ford's votes for recent energy and bankruptcy measures (both of which she stated her opposition to, referring to the latter bill as "a travesty"); B) what some Democrats consider the congressman's political ambivalence; and C) his widely noted absence from last spring's vote on President Bush's budget.

Of the bankruptcy bill, Kurita observed, "The credit card companies wrote that bill, just like the oil companies wrote the energy policy."

Ford was not the only target of Kurita's commentary. In defending her reluctance, some years back, to support a state income tax, Kurita also expressed criticism of its chief proponent, former Republican governor Don Sundquist, who "couldn't run anything" and whose administration was "incredibly incompetent."

And of Tennessee Justice Center head Gordon Bonnyman, whose litigation has been blamed by current Democratic governor Phil Bredesen for forcing cuts in state TennCare rolls, Kurita said, "God bless him. Gordon's going to heaven. But in the meantime, everybody's losing everything, and that's what's wrong."

Nor did President Bush escape the candidate's lash. Commenting on both failed relief efforts in New Orleans and the increasing demands of the Iraq war, Kurita said rhetorically, "Where was the National Guard? We know where the National Guard was." Military personnel are "going out every single day" from the Ft. Campbell Army base which adjoins her district, she said.

Kurita's appearance here was in the wake of recent reports that her campaign was suffering both financially and from the loss of support staff. In an interview afterward, she discounted both matters, noting that she had brought three staffers to the meeting with her and expressing optimism for a series of fund-raising Internet ads she has begun.

Even as local attention focused last week on Hurricane Katrina and the city's response to it, political gossip about prospective candidates for two seats -- one sure to be open next year and another likely to be -- simmered on the back burner.

District 97, State House of Representatives: Tre Hargett of Bartlett, the incumbent, who has been serving as House Republican leader, resigned last month to accept a job as chief legislative lobbyist for the Pfizer pharmaceutical chain. At least three Republicans are rumored to be interested in competing for the seat: Bartlett alderman Mike Morris; broadcaster Austin Farley; and teacher Jim Coley. Other names are expected to be tossed into the hat as well.

District 3, Shelby County Commission: In a development no less shocking for being widely rumored beforehand, incumbent Michael Hooks Sr., the current commission chairman, was indicted last week in connection with the Tennessee Waltz scandal. While there is no word as yet on whether Hooks intends to try to hold on to his seat, former interim state senator Sidney Chism is considered a likely replacement should the commission be called upon to designate an interim successor.

Last week's rejection by the state Democratic Party executive committee of state representative Henri Brooks' primary-election appeal means that Ophelia Ford will go forward as the Democratic nominee -- and favorite -- against Republican Terry Roland and independent Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges on the special general election ballot for state Senate, District 29, on September 15th.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

POLITICS

Posted By on Tue, Sep 6, 2005 at 4:00 AM

UPDATE: The Flyer has learned that state Representative Beth Harwell will announce the suspension of her candidacy for the U.S. Senate as of Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning. According to a source, Harwell is still actively considering making a transition to a gubernatorial race for next year.

Following is a press release just in (noon Tuesday):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 7, 2005

The following is a statement from State Representative Beth Harwell (R-Nashville):

"Today I am announcing that my exploratory committee for the United States Senate has been suspended. We have been pleased with the level of financial and political support the committee has received, but at the end of the day my family and I have determined that this is not the race for us. We have quality Republican candidates running for the Senate, and I am convinced one of them will be our next United States Senator.

Many good people have put their faith in me, and I want them to know how much I appreciate their prayers and support. They should also know that I am honoring their friendship by returning any contribution that they may have made to our exploratory committee.

It has been a gratifying experience to travel across the state learning about the concerns of everyday Tennesseans, and I have been reminded daily how truly blessed we are to live in the greatest state in the nation."

STILL KICKING

Citing a months’-old poll of her own that shows her six percentage points ahead of U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., in the Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate, state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville declined Saturday to “ speak ill of my opponent.” But she went on to take a subtle dig at Ford, telling a meeting of the Germantown Democrats, “ I really can’t look into his heart and say why he voted on things.”

Kurita went on: “I do observe that there seems to be a little ‘this’ and a little ‘that.’ With me you get ‘this.’ I’m going to be there and show up for the important votes every time. Every time.” With a few deft brush strokes, thus, she managed to remind her listeners of (a) Ford’s votes for recent energy and bankruptcy measures (both of which she stated her opposition to, referring to the latter bill as “a travesty”); (b) what some Democrats consider the congressman’s political ambivalence; and (c) his widely noted absence from last spring’s vote on President Bush’s budget.

Of the bankruptcy bill, Kurita observed, “The credit card companies wrote that bill, just like the oil companies wrote the energy policy.”

Ford was not the only target of Kurita’s commentary In defending her reluctance, some years back, to support a state income tax, Kurita [cut also] expressed criticism of its chief proponent, former Republican governor Don Sundquist, who “couldn’t run anything” and whose administration was “incredibly incompetent.”

And of Tennessee Justice Center head Gordon Bonnyman, whose litigation has been blamed by current Democratic governor Phil Bredesen for forcing cuts in state TennCare rolls, Kurita said, “God bless him. Gordon’s going to heaven. But in the meantime, everybody’s losing everything, and that’s what’s wrong.”

Nor did President Bush escape the candidate’s lash. Commenting on both failed relief efforts in New Orleans and the increasing demands of the Iraq war, , Kurita said rhetorically, “Where was the National Guard? We know where the National Guard was.” Military personnel are “going out every single day” from the Ft. Campbell Army base which adjoins her district, she said.

Kurita’s appearance here was in the wake of recent reorts that her campaign was suffering both financially and via the loss of support staff. In an interview afterward, she discounted both matters, noting that she had brought three staffers to the meeting with her and expressing optimism that a series of fund-raising Internet ads she has begun with keep her campaign viable.

Even as local attention focused last week on Hurricane Katrina and the city’s response to it, political gossip about prospective candidates for two seats -- one sure to be open next year and another likely to be – simmered on the back burner.

DISTRICT 97, STATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES : Tre Hargett, of Bartlett the incumbent, who has been serving as House Republican leader, resigned last month to accept a job as chief legislative lobbyist for the Pfizer pharmaceutical chain. At least three Republicans are rumored to be interested in competing for the seat: Bartlett alderman Mike Morris; broadcaster Austin Farley; and teacher Jim Coley.

Other names are expected to be tossed into the hat, from Democrats as well as Republicans.

DISTRICT 3, SHELBY COUNTY COMMISSION: In a development no less shocking for being widely rumored beforehand, incumbent Michael Hooks Sr., the current commission chairman, was indicted last week in connection with the Tennessee Waltz scandal.

While there is no word as yet on whether Hooks intends to try to hold on to his seat, former interim state senator Sidney Chism is considered a likely replacement should the commission be called upon to designate an interim successor.

Last week’s rejection by the state Democratic Party executive committee of state Rep. Henri Brooks’ primary-election appeal means that Ophelia Ford will go forward as the Democratic nominee – and favorite – against Republican Terry Roland and independent Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges on the special general election ballot for state Senate, District 29, on September 15.

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Friday, September 2, 2005

Imperfect Storm

The Ford blunder on a parole-board letter becomes a potential issue.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 2, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Whether or not some oversight by a staff person was responsible for the ill-fated letter to the state parole board on behalf of convicted murderer Phillip Michael Britt -- sent out over 9th District U.S. representative Harold Ford Jr.'s signature and later disavowed by the congressman -- anyone who has logged any time at all in a congressional office is aware that most mail is staff-written and signed either by auto-pen or by staffers emulating the boss's signature.

The greater part of such correspondence is in response to somewhat standard requests for information or assistance or for an elaboration of the congressman's or senator's views on this or that topic of the day. And the sheer volume of incoming mail means that many inquiries are met with form letters.

For whatever reason, Britt's appeal to Ford must have found itself in a pile of such mail destined for routine treatment and was not, as it clearly should have been, directed to Ford for a discretionary response by the congressman himself. The odds for such a mischance occurring were no doubt increased by a stepped-up travel schedule on the part of Ford, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate. It is difficult to believe that the congressman, who is nothing if not cautious in his rhetoric, would have knowingly written a letter of even qualified support for Britt, who was a principal in the brutal and notorious murder-for-hire of Memphian Deborah Groseclose in 1977.

Whatever the case, it was a class-A boo-boo -- and though Ford has manfully taken responsibility for the error (enduring in the process a severe reaming-out on the air by local radio talk-show host Mike Fleming), it has already impacted his Senate race, overshadowing his endorsement by the state AFL-CIO earlier in the week that the story broke.

Sooner or later, somebody on the Ford staff will have some serious 'splaining to do. Most likely, that moment of truth has already occurred -- and not, one would assume, to the offending staffer's gratification. Expectations governing work in the congressman's office, as previously in that of his father and predecessor, a zealot for constituent service, are exacting, even by congres-sional standards.

Simultaneous with the parole-board flap, but presumably unrelated to it, Ford has been breaking in a new press secretary, Corinne Ciocia, who succeeded Zac Wright early in August. Wright had returned to his Tennessee home, it was said, as the consequence of back problems and other assorted physical complaints.

Thus did the revolving staff door swing again in the Ford congressional office.

Wright's immediate predecessor, the short-lived Carson Chandler, was reportedly fired in late 2004 for divulging to Roll Call, a Capitol Hill publication for insiders, that the congressman was a frequent weekend visitor to Florida. Disclosed the periodical on November 22nd of last year: "Ford's press secretary says the Congressman goes to Miami often to visit his father, former Representative Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), and his brother."

That sort of candor, which clashed somewhat with the stereotyped notion of dutiful back-and-forthing to the district, was bad enough. But what apparently cut it with the congressman were two further revelations in the Roll Call story -- one that began this way: "Ford was chilling poolside recently at the schwanky [sic] Delano hotel in Miami. He wore a bathing suit and Washington Redskins baseball cap, puffed on a stogie, and sipped a fruity frozen drink" -- and another that dished on the congressman's alleged penchant for pricey pedicures.

Although Chandler was specifically ruled out as the source for the latter item, his name was all over the rest of the column, and the effect of the whole was to get him shown the exit.

During his tenure, which lasted a tad longer than six months, Wright committed no such gaffes. He churned out press releases and doggedly monitored Ford's press availabilities so as to exclude potentially embarrassing or unfriendly questions. But the wear and tear of his high-pressure job began to show on Wright, and his departure was not altogether a surprise.

Frist-Lott (cont'd): As fate would have it, former Senate majority leader Trent Lott of Mississipppi was due in Memphis this week for a booksigning, one week after an appearance here by his nemesis/successor Bill Frist, who was the subject of a decidedly unfriendly reference in Lott's newly published memoir, Herding Cats.

In the book, the Mississippian accuses former protégé Frist of "betrayal" for taking advantage of Lott's impolitic praise of centenarian Strom Thurmond in order to take over as majority leader. As noted here last week, Frist told the Flyer as far back as 1998 that he intended at some point to make a bid for the job.

After a luncheon appearance before the downtown Rotary Club at the Convention Center last Tuesday, the Tennessee senator was asked about what Lott had written:

"I've not read the comments; I've not read the book," Frist answered, then did his best to pour honey on the wound. "I have tremendous respect for Trent Lott. I've worked with him very closely. I have lunch with him two days a week. He helped me on the energy bill. He helped move America forward on the highway bill, on the recent CAFTA bill. I look forward to working with him constructively. And that's pretty much where it sits. I know that it was very difficult in the past when he, uh, sat down, and I respect his interpretation of the events that led to that. I'm really looking to the future and to my continued close work with a man I respect tremendously, Trent Lott, who's served the people of Mississippi in a very positive and constructive way."

Hurricane Kurita: The field of would-be successors to Frist, who will vacate his seat next year to prepare an expected bid for president, includes Representative Ford, a Democrat, and three Republicans -- former congressmen Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary and former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker. It also includes another Democrat, state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, who continues to hang in there with an innovative advertising campaign on Web sites and blogs, despite some staff losses and slowdowns in her more conventional fund-raising.

Kurita, who has gained adherents among Democrats who consider Ford too ambiguously conservative, will blow into town this weekend. Her several local appearances include one before the Germantown Democratic Club at the Germantown library on Saturday morning.

New Dance Moves

Since former state senator John Ford has indicated he still intends to plead not guilty of extortion and bribery in the Tennessee Waltz scandal (and to demonstrate in the process that his government accusers were in fact the Bad Guys), it was probably inevitable that one of his fellow indictees should work things in exactly the opposite direction.

When state representative Chris Newton of Cleveland came to Memphis Tuesday morning to change his not-guilty plea to guilty in federal court, he did his best not only to present himself as an innocent in the general, not the legal, sense of the term but almost as a de facto member of the prosecution. (If he turns out to provide state's evidence in cases against others, that could turn out for real.) While praising Newton as having been "forthright," however, assistant U.S. attorney Tim DiScenza indicated Tuesday that no plea bargaining had been pursued in the case.

First, Newton responded to Judge Jon McCalla's lengthy reading of the indictment with a highly qualified plea of guilty, alleging straight-facedly that he had intended only to accept a campaign contribution but conceding that he accepted money from the bogus FBI-established eCycle firm "at least in part" to influence the course of legislation.

Talking to members of the media later, Newton lavishly praised both the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office and proclaimed that "the process of rebuilding public trust in our institutions of government, especially the Tennessee General Assembly ... begins here with me today."

Though Newton has now copped to being a felon, he was within a few dollars and a few procedures of actually being legal. DiScenza alluded in court Tuesday to a scandal within the scandal -- the fact that lobbyist/co-defendant Charles Love of Chattanooga, one of the "bagmen" in the case, had admitted skimming most of the eCycle money intended for Newton. Of the $4,500 routed his way, Newton only got $1,500 -- just $500 more than the legal limit for a contribution.

Asked by a reporter how he felt about being skimmed, Newton beamed good-naturedly and pantomimed his answer: "You're bad!"

Newton's change of plea follows that of Love's fellow bagman Barry Myers and puts pressure on the other accused -- besides Ford, state senators Kathryn Bowers and Ward Crutchfield and former state senator Roscoe Dixon -- to follow suit. This dance could be over before it really gets started good. -- JB

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