Sunday, June 21, 2009

Local Pols Show Their Stuff at the 9th Annual Chism Picnic

Posted By on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 12:59 PM

776e/1245607550-herenton-steffens_copy_copy.jpgAugust is the new due date for Jim Kyle’s decision about running for governor. Or so confided the Memphis state senator on Saturday after he delivered a brief pep talk to a still teeming (and sweltering) late-afternoon crowd, mainly comprised of fellow Democrats, at Sidney Chism’s “9th Annual Community Picnic” on park grounds off Horn Lake Road.

For some time, Kyle had been indicating he’d make a decision about a gubernatorial race after the just concluded legislative session. Whatever the reason, the leader of the state Senate’s Democratic minority seems to have extended that timetable by a good two months.

“We can be proud,” Kyle had told the crowd about his party colleagues in the legislature, and, while he didn’t spell out what he meant in any great detail, he may have been referring to the mere fact that he and his fellow Democrats had survived a session in which the majority Republicans had most things their way.

But optimism — or at least outward good spirits — ruled the day among the Democratic office-holders and candidates who spoke, not from the grounds’ hilltop pavilion, as in years past, but in an open grassy area down the hill. One of the speakers on Saturday was Kim McMillan of Clarksville, the former state House majority leader who, roughly a year ago, had been the first candidate in either party to announce that she was running for governor.

McMillan had not been able to attend a Friday night Meet & Greet sponsored by local Democrats, as had fellow gubernatorial candidates Ward Cammack and Roy Herron. Her unforgiving schedule had her booked up all that day elsewhere, and she had campaign stops to make later Saturday in West Tennessee, she explained — cheery as always, despite the heat.

Other gubernatorial aspirants on hand Saturday and making brief remarks were Jackson Democrat Mike McWherter, who wants to serve in the office his father Ned Ray used to occupy, and District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, a Republican hopeful.

Weaving in and out of the crowd, looking pleased at the turnout, was Chism himself, the former Teamster leader, longtime power broker, onetime interim state senator, and these days Shelby County commissioner. Candidate speeches alternated with numbers from a band and recorded music. As always, former media personality Leon Gray served as combination deejay and emcee.

Volunteers served up hot dogs, hamburgers, and chips, and libations were available, ranging from canned sodas to cold beer on tap. There was a “petting farm” for children.
Chism’s event has largely superceded the old Fourth of July picnic at St. Peter’s Home on Poplar as an annual affair for politicians on the prowl and political junkies.

As always, a cynosure on the grounds was Mayor Willie Herenton, Chism’s close friend and now a declared candidate for the 9th District congressional seat of Steve Cohen. The mayor spoke to the ground in the broad burlesque manner he adopts for such occasions, talking up “real Democrats” and wishing all candidates well “except the one running against me.”

Meanwhile, many of those in the gathering were wondering: Where was that one? Surely Cohen, no shrinking violet he and no one to sidestep an event so high-profile in his district, would be there eventually. Meanwhile, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton was sighted, as was county commissioner James Harvey, Wharton’s would-be rival for the job of city mayor in 2011.

Harvey had attached a prominent sign saying as much to a chained-link fence on the property — the apparent catalyst for a later announcement by Gray on the P.A. system that any political signs left on the fence would be confiscated unless claimed by their owners.

As the day — and the sun, bringing near 100-degree temperatures — wore on, a variety of luminaries and lessers in the political universe happened by. Among those in the former category were county commission chair Deidre Malone and her potential rival, Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, both of whom addressed the crowd.

So did city council chair Myron Lowery, who declared his allegiance by swirling about at one point, displaying a Malone campaign logo on the back of his T-shirt. Lowery, long considered a likely candidate for city mayor, allowed as how he, too, might be running for something soon.

And finally there was Cohen, fresh from an event elsewhere in town at which he received a “Man of the Year” award from a local group. The congressman worked the crowd, person by person, clump by clump, and finally, after the band had finished a desultory version of “The Thrill Is Gone,” took the mike to say, “The thrill is not gone for me. It’s a thrill to represent you.”

Pics from the Picnic:

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And a video:

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