Thursday, March 18, 2010

On the First Mayoral Forum: Part Two

Posted By on Thu, Mar 18, 2010 at 3:03 PM

(Continuing the Flyer's coverage of Monday night's League of Women Voters-sponsored forum involved four candidates for Shelby County mayor. Part One can be accessed here.)

Del Gill
  • Del Gill
An interesting — not to say outlandish — feature of Monday night’s first county mayoral forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was the display put on afterward by Del Gill, a self-proclaimed purist on the issue of Democratic party loyalty and something of a full-time controversialist.

Almost as soon as the meeting at the Hooks Main Library broke up, even as candidates were leaving their seats and members of the Standing-Room-Only crowd began discussing the event in separate conversations, Gill marched up to the panelists’ table and began loudly denouncing a format which had included a Republican candidate, Sheriff Mark Luttrell, along with the three participating Democrats — interim mayor Joe Ford, General Sessions Court clerk Otis Jackson, and Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone.

Gill has taken the lead in recent years on the county’s Democratic executive committee in demanding strict interpretation of exclusivist aspects of party by-laws — most recently in denying space on the May 4 Democratic Party ballot to Mike McCusker and Derek Bennett, prospective candidates for Criminal Court Clerk and Trustee, respectively.

But Gill did not explain how -- or why -- the League of Women Voters should be required to enforce some rigid political dividing line in pursuing the League’s well-known non-partisan mission of expanding public awareness.

As Gill held forth, at his elbow, at least briefly, was local Democratic Party chairman Van Turner. It was hard to tell whether Turner was there to restrain Gill or to indicate solidarity with him or whether Gill had merely approached Turner on his own.

But Turner is almost certainly going to be sounded out in days to come about Gill’s performance and/or his philosophical position. So might candidate Jackson, who employs Gill. (Reportedly Gill was a major force behind the General Sessions clerk’s surprise last-minute entry into the mayor’s race.)

* If future forums for the mayoral candidates draw as well as the first one, larger venues are going to be needed to accommodate audiences. Monday night’s affair completely filled up one of the library’s major meeting rooms, which was separated by an accordion curtain from another meeting in the next room.

That room was hosting an oratorical contest involving area youth, and from time to time the sounds of it bled significantly into the room where the mayoral forum was going on. At times this made things difficult to hear, and LWV officers cautioned the candidates to speak directly into their microphones.

Once in a while applause from the oratorical contest coincided with reaction to a mayoral candidate’s statement, sometimes to ironic effect.

* One of the topics brought up in the mayoral debate was one that was new to such occasions, though it concerned a problem that has been long ongoing in the Memphis area.

This was “wage theft,” a term describing the practice of fly-by-night employers — often construction companies — of hiring laborers to complete a project and then finding ways of avoiding their promise to pay, either by filing to show up on appointed payroll dates or by handing out checks that turn out to be worthless.

(More general applications of the term “wage theft” have been employed for a variety of litigations of late.)

Needless to say, all the candidates expressed concern about the issue and promised to do what they could to suppress instances of wage theft.

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