Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On the First Mayoral Forum: Part One

Posted By on Tue, Mar 16, 2010 at 1:53 PM

Mayoral candidates (l to r) Ford, Jackson, Luttrell, Malone
  • JB
  • Mayoral candidates (l to r) Ford, Jackson, Luttrell, Malone

Fielding a question on domestic violence at Monday night’s county mayoral forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone opined, “These days, a lot of women have tempers — quite frankly, have issues as well as men.”

Whereupon she would go on to demonstrate a couple of times more what she had already begun to manifest during the hour-and-a-half-long forum at the Hooks Main Library — that she had issues with her major Democratic primary opponent, interim mayor Joe Ford, and that she could conjure up a right impressive show of temper about it.

Although all of the four mayoral hopefuls — who also included General Sessions Court clerk Otis Jackson and Sheriff Mark Luttrell, the only Republican in the mix — had their moments, it was the byplay between Malone and Ford that provided the most sparks, and maybe even the most genuine illumination.

The essence of the argument between the two was their disagreement over whether the Med had achieved a level of financial stability in the face of adverse circumstances (including a state cutdown on TennCare disbursements). Ford said that it had — that, in fact, a $10 million emergency add-on appropriation from county government sources that he had brokered had “saved” the institution.

Malone questioned that, called the $10 million a “bandaid” that had been stripped from the county’s reserve fund, and in that contention she would be seconded by Luttrell, who viewed that as a temporary and essentially unsatisfactory expedient as well.

Luttrell’s solution was much the same as the one advocated by Republican county commissioners George Flinn and Mike Ritz, who eventually prevailed on the commission as a whole to endorse a call for gubernatorial candidates to pledge that all federal revenues generated by the Med through his care of uninsured patients should go to the Med whole. At present, those funds are distributed to hospitals statewide through the TennCare network.

The small flame of disagreement would eventually build up into sizeable conflagration. The two Democratic contenders went through an on again/off again dialogue consisting essentially of Malone’s insistence that “the Med is not saved” and Ford’s rejoinders that “the Med is saved.”

And, as the final candidate to make a closing statement, Malone would get the last word, demanding to know of the $10 million, “Where did those dollars come from?” She said that Ford threw county CAO Jim Huntzicker “under the bus” when Huntzicker supplied the commission, at Ford’s behest, with what turned out to be some very rough estimates indeed of future revenue sources.

Answering her own question, Malone would say, “We don’t now where from. The commission approved [the funds] without knowing. If you like that kind of leadership, then you’ll support the interim mayor as the next mayor of Shelby County. If you want somebody that’s serious about having integrity and bringing integrity to that office, then you’ll support me.”

Meanwhile, Ford had some good moments of his own — perhaps the most surprising coming when LWV moderator Danielle Schonbaum hit him with what she said was the most frequently submitted audience question of the night: Why had he become a declared candidate in the mayor’s race when he had “committed” himself not to seek the job permanently at the time of his accepting an interim appointment from the commission?

“Well, I changed my mind,” began Ford with a response that, in its baldness and simplicity, begat more than a few appreciative guffaws.

Ford then went on to talk about his 24/7 caretakership of the mayor’s office, his visitations in each of the county’s several communities, and, for one of several times, his stewardship in “saving” the Med. He contended that he had literally been besieged with requests that he run for mayor and that “only two people” had asked him not to.

That gave Jackson, in his own closing, his best line of the night. “Mr. Ford, somebody’s telling you a lie, because everybody says they‘re going to vote for me.”

All the candidates had telling moments — Jackson with his contention that he had increased the revenues of General Sessions, Luttrell with his generally serene, knowledgeable manner, and moments like his apparently genuine anguish over the loss of funding for mental health activities, forcing too many prospective patients into the criminal justice system.

But the main show Monday night, in what was an overall quite revealing forum, was the shoot-out between rivals Ford and Malone, one that is sure to continue.

See Part Two of the Flyer's coverage here

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