Monday, March 31, 2014

“Reporter” at Joe Brown’s Post-Jail Press Conference Was a Plant

Campaign video doubles as news report, with staffer asking questions along with bona fide members of the local media.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 9:19 PM

Kirk with Brown in his post-arrest video...
  • Kirk with Brown in his post-arrest video...

“Judge, was this action politically motivated?”
“Will you be able to change any of this as .District Attorney?”
“Where are you taking your fight for justice now?”

Those are three of the early questions posed to Judge Joe Brown, candidate for District Attorney General, in what would appear to be a spontaneous press conference held by Brown upon his habeas corpus release from jail last Wednesday after a Shelby County magistrate in Juvenile Court had ordered him detained for contempt of court.

The contempt citation followed a heated argument between Brown and presiding magistrate Harold Horne regarding a woman in whose child-support case Brown had become her ad hoc attorney. During the encounter Brown challenged Horne’s credentials and referred to Juvenile Court as a “circus” and “a sorry operation.”

The three questions listed above are not the only questions asked Brown, who was poised, communicative, and passionate — and, some theorized, prepared —in his answers. Many other questions came his way, from local TV reporters whose mike flags indicated the stations they worked for. But the questions listed — the first of which was the first one out of the box — did not come from a member of the local press corps.

They came from a young woman named Christy Kirk, who is pictured as a member of Brown’s “social media team” on the candidate’s official Facebook page. She has her own personal Facebook page, where she is identified as “Christian Kirk (Christian Dionne)” and as an employee of “WUMR U92 The Jazz Lover.”

A buzz started up Monday as several viewers of the press-conference video featuring Brown observed that the “reporter” who turned out to be Kirk had no identifying “mike flag” on her microphone. Suspicions mounted on the basis of the three questions she asked.

The first is a reasonable, if somewhat leading,question. The second is a softball right into Brown’s swat zone, and the third is so editorial and leading in nature that it is hard to imagine a genuine reporter asking it. Taken as a whole, the three questions are clearly set-ups for talking points. The video itself was entitled "The Illegal Arrest of Judge Joe Brown: His Full Interview!" and was listed on the YouTube site as having been posted by "Joe Brown." (Full disclosure: it was also included as an appendage to a Flyer report.)

“Questionable,” is the word from veteran media analyst Richard Thompson of the Mediaverse-Memphis blog, who was an early investigator of the situation and who came up with the first tentative identification of the woman, who was at first taken to be a reporter.

Thompson, who was preparing his own take on the matter for his blog, said it was incumbent upon Kirk to identify herself as a campaign operative rather than allowing herself to be taken, misleadingly, as a member of the legitimate press. Similarly,Thompson said the public could be ill-served by posting the video online without explicit indications that it was a campaign product. a Brown campaign-group picture (4th from left, top row)...
  • a Brown campaign-group picture (4th from left, top row)...

...and on her Facebook page
  • ...and on her Facebook page

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mayoral candidates Deidre Malone and Steve Mulroy Tout Endorsements

County Commission chair James Harvey goes for her, Mike Cody and Judge Joe Brown for him.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 10:19 AM

James Harvey (l); Mike Cody (r)
  • James Harvey (l); Mike Cody (r)
In the stew that is electoral politics, many ingredients go into the making of a winning campaign. One of them, the importance of which has long been debated (like a pinch of saffron or a dash of salt), is that of endorsements — both by individuals and by representative organizations.

Two Democratic candidates for Shelby County Mayor rushed out news this week of what they consider important endorsements of their candidacies.

Deidre Malone announced an endorsement from James Harvey, the current chairman of the Shelby County Commission and a mayoral candidate himself before withdrawing from the race.

In a press release put out by the Malone campaign, Harvey is quoted as saying, in part, “… I fully support Deidre Malone for Shelby County Mayor. She is the best candidate for the job as a business woman, a mother, a community activist and someone who understands the needs of this community, especially regarding education and healthcare….”

Simultaneously, one of Malone’s rivals in the Democratic primary, Steve Mulroy, announced this week that he had been endorsed by Mike Cody, former City Council member, U.S. Attorney, and state Attorney General, as well as a onetime candidate for Memphis mayor.

Mulroy made a point of noting that four years ago Cody had endorsed the current Republican county mayor, Mark Luttrell, the candidate whom this year’s eventual Democratic primary winner will be matched against.

And on Friday Mulroy added news of another endorsement — that of Judge Joe Brown, the former Criminal Court Judge, TV celebrity, and current candidate for District Attorney General who made headlines this week as the result of a confrontation in Juvenile Court with a magistrate who cited him for contempt of court.

Ironically, Mulroy and Brown themselves clashed somewhat during a public forum last year in which Mulroy was a panelist and Brown an audience member. Earlier this year, however, Mulroy gave Brown an enthusiastic introduction when Brown was the featured speaker at a Memphis Rotary Club luncheon.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Brown Case: A Legal and Political Quandary

Intentionally or not, this weeks's Juvenile Court incident has become a cause célèbre of far-reaching consequences.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 2:37 PM

TWO QUICK UPDATES, to be elaborated on, ata: (1) Joe Brown confirms that his law school was UCLA, not Stanford; (2) The actual date and venue of his hearing for contempt charges are in limbo now , since all Shelby County judges who could hear the case have recused themselves. MTK

with NEW video, see below

Joe Browns mugshot
  • Joe Brown's mugshot
Judge Joe Brown — whose title sums up the several phases of his career on the bench, actual, honorific, and pretended — was on the other side of the law briefly this week, as a sizeable portion of the nation’s news-watching population knows by now.

And he may end up there again, depending on the result of a scheduled April 4 hearing on his contempt citation this week in Juvenile Court and his pending sentence of 5 days’ incarceration. Brown may also, paradoxically, be helped into a position of legal authority in Shelby County — depending on how his current race for District Attorney General is affected by the fallout from the incident.

Meanwhile, the jury of public opinion remains out. Some see the brouhaha as boosting Brown’s election chances by galvanizing his urban, Democratic, and largely African-American base, within which wariness toward Juvenile Court is a prevailing sentiment. Others see the episode as confirmation of a self-destructive, demagogic tendency that could implode his own candidacy, and other Democratic campaigns with it.

To review: The contempt-of-court charge is the result of an appearance by Brown in Juvenile Court on Monday — an improvised one, as it turns out, stemming from an unplanned appearance in court on behalf of a woman involved in a long-running child support case, and concluding with an angry confrontation with presiding Magistrate Harold “Hall” Horne.

Brown’s forthcoming hearing, before Criminal Court Judge James Beasley, could result in either dismissal or an order to serve the full five days or, hypothetically, some other sentence on the order of the inventive ones Brown himself used to dole out after he was elected a Criminal Court judge here in 1990.

As one example, he punished a convicted burglar by allowing the man’s victim reciprocal rights to ransack the burglar’s own dwelling so as to claim any item he fancied that he might find there.

It was that aspect of Brown, coupled with the notoriety he attracted as the presiding judge over an appeal for a new trial by the late James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, that attracted TV talent scouts. (Perhaps meaningfully, Brown, who saw himself as a ballistics expert, was removed from that case after he claimed publicly that Ray’s rifle could not have been the murder weapon.)

In 1998, he became the star of a widely watched and nationally syndicated TV show, the eponymous “Judge Joe Brown” — a title phrase which has a somewhat ironic connotation now — and for almost three years Brown was a constant commuter between Memphis and Los Angeles attempting to do justice to both of his day jobs. In 2001, he resigned the bench in Shelby County to devote full time to the TV program.

Just last year, Brown’s TV show was canceled after the breakdown of salary negotiations, and he was back on the scene in Shelby County, scouting out election prospects as a means of returning to public life. He considered a race for the U.S. Senate against Senator Lamar Alexander but was coaxed into the race for D.A. against Republican incumbent Amy Weirich by local Democrats, who saw him as a turnout magnet and a boost to the party ticket.

Relevant to the issue was the fact that the persona of Brown — eccentric but avuncular on the Criminal Court bench — had been transformed, over all the television seasons, into that of a domineering, overly passionate authority figure given to snap decisions and emotional outbursts. It was that latter figure that local audiences have seen within the last year at a variety of local events where Brown has figured as a central and contentious figure. It was that Brown who appeared in Juvenile Court.

The question has been, and remains, whether Brown’s celebrity, coupled with his intensity, drive, populist appeal, and flair for getting attention will ultimately be a political plus, or whether his instinct for brinkmanship will push him past the edge, with catastrophic consequences for himself and for the Democratic ticket. As the current issue heats up, both possibilities are being kindled along with it.

A parallel question has to do with the origins of the Juvenile Court flare-up. Brown himself says that he was in the court building “on other business” when a woman, recognizing him, approached him and asked for help on her case.

In his own scenario, a good-faith effort to assist the woman in what to Brown’s mind was a long-running case in which her rights were being ignored, led him to challenge Magistrate Horne’s actions and, simultaneously, the unresponsive disposition of the Court itself — a position which, coincidentally or not, resonates with a recent Department of Justice finding that has obvious political overtones.

The Court itself saw Brown’s role otherwise, as “willful conduct clearly intended to embarrass, hinder, and obstruct the administration of justice; and to derogate the court’s authority and dignity, thereby bringing the administration of law into disrepute.”

Magistrate Horne’s statement accuses Brown of attempting to “bait the court” and to “foment a riot.”

Relevant parts of the dialogue between Horne and Brown can be heard here:

Even as Judge Beasley will be asked to adjudicate the matter, parallel questions preoccupy political observers: Was Joe Brown acting spontaneously or out of calculation? Was his rage actual or feigned? Politically, will he have gained or lost from the incident? Has he activated his following in a legitimate cause, or ignobly caused a polarization damaging to the community?

Judge Beasley’s verdict will come on April 4th, but another verdict, that of the electorate at large, will come on August 7, date of the Shelby County general election.

Appendix: See the magistrate's order here

NEW: Here is a raw video of an impromptu press conference held by Judge Joe Brown afrer his arrest and release from jail:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Local Dem Chair Deals With Two Letters, Attempts to Avert Two Crises

Bryan Carson accepts Chism apology, calling off "non bona fides" action sought by Del Gill, and rebuts Gill warning about Democrats appearing with Republicans at NAACP forum.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 24, 2014 at 11:17 AM

Bryan Carson
  • JB
  • Bryan Carson
Bryan Carson, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, has been busy this past week putting out fires -- or trying to. Carson personally intervened to resolve a party-fidelity case involving one veteran Democrat, Sidney Chism, and he basically rebutted a warning by another, Del Gill, that had seemed to warn Democrats about appearing at Sunday’s candidate forum sponsored by the NAACP.

Chism had been one of several Democrats who were formally censured recently by the party’s executive committee for violation of “existing protocols for bona fides, loyalty and political behavior.” In the case of Chism, a Shelby County Commissioner and former Teamster leader who served an interim term in the state Senate, the offense was that of allegedly trying to keep Sheriff Bill Oldham, a Republican, from having to deal with a Democratic opponent.

Bennie Cobb, who has filed as a Democrat to oppose Oldham’s reelection, testified to the party committee that Chism had implored him on multiple occasions not to run against Oldham.

After being censured, Chism responded by suggesting the party was “dysfunctional” and by stating for the record his conviction that Oldham was “the best candidate: for Sheriff.

At that point, at the request of Gill, an ex officio (i.e., non-elected) member who had brought the censure resolution, Carson had scheduled a special called meeting of the party executive committee for Thursday night of this week, expressly for the purpose of determining whether to declare Chism “non bona fides” as a Democrat. Such action would have precluded Chism’s running for office again as a Democrat or using the party label in any other overt way.

But in the meantime Carson scheduled a lunch with Chism for last Friday. Afterward, Chism dispatched the following letter of apology to Carson:

Chairman Carson,

I am a life-long Democrat and I will always support the Democratic Party. I am under attack from a fragment of the membership who I feel are following the lead of a man with personal motives and as I have said before that is unfortunate. This ordeal has caused me to say words that I wish I hadn't said. But in the heat of being attacked, I simply got angry and called the SCDP dis-functional and for that I humbly apologize.

Bryan, I will support the Democratic Party always and pray God's blessings on us all.

Respectfully yours,
Sidney Chism

Carson released the letter on Monday and said he regarded the apology as resolving the matter and formally called off the schedled Thursday night meeting.

Gill, however, remained unsatisfied. He sent a letter to party secretary Rose Ann Bradley, indicating he would persist in efforts to decertify Chism as a Democrat. The letter said in part:

"...Point of Order: There is no provision in our Bylaws that allows the 'un-calling' of a duly called meeting of the SCDP Executive Committee.

But since it is obvious that Chair Carson does not plan to be in session on Thursday, May 27, 2014 - WE should ALL plan for the next REGULARLY scheduled meeting on April 3, 2014."

The other matter dealt with by Carson was a previous letter sent out by Gill, onje advising Democratic candidates to avoid joint appearances with Republicans. The letter — signed “Del Gill, SCDP” — noted the fact of Sunday’s NAACP forum for county mayoral and Commission candidates and said in part:

"…Our invited candidates should be further cautioned their participation in any such non-partisan forums with cross party participation prior to the conclusion of our PARTISAN DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY on May 6th prematurely elevates potential Republican incumbents to being “honorary Democrats” prior to the GENERAL ELECTION contests scheduled for August 7th.

"Our Party‘s Strategic Position to our CANDIDATES is: during the primary, limit your debates to DEMOCRATS only; let the Republicans and Independents wait on our Nominees per position until the General Election season which commences the day after our May 6th Primary….."

Carson said he disagreed with that position, expressed concern to Gill that he had appeared to speak on behalf of the Democratic Party without authorization, and made his feelings known to other Democrats. “I have always been a supporter of the NAACP,” the chairman said.

In any case, the auditorium at First Baptist Church Broad St. was filled to capacity for the forum on Sunday, almost exclusively with Democrats, candidates as well as rank and file sorts. One Republican, incumbent County Commissioner Steve Basar, spoke at the forum, along with his Democratic opponent in District 13, Manoj Jain.

Carson was on hand, and so, for that matter, was Gill.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Will A C Endorse a Candidate for County Mayor?

After talking about pensions and a bold new convention-center proposal last week, the Memphis mayor hinted broadly that he would. And if he does, who gets the nod?

Posted By on Sun, Mar 23, 2014 at 10:13 AM

Wharton at Rotary
  • JB
  • Wharton at Rotary
Mayor A C Wharton attracted serious attention last week with his proposal, made in a luncheon address to the Memphis rotary Club, for a modular convention-center complex downtown, focusing on a revamped and repurposed Peabody Place.

So dramatic was Wharton’s proposal that another suggestion made to the Rotarians by the mayor was largely overlooked. That was in a question about the coming elections in Shelby County. In particular, would Wharton, at least a nominal Democrat, support a candidate for county mayor.

His answer was intriguing: “ I am debating that. I want to see how the platforms shape up. The guiding or controlling criterion would be how well you are going too partner with the City of Memphis, not with A C Wharton but how well are you going to partner with the City of Memphis when it comes to our economic de3velopment activities, and that’s what I’m going to Judge it on….

“I’ve got my hands full trying to run the city, and I’m not going to try to run somebody’s campaign, but I am going to weigh in on those issues. I want to hear some real platforms on what we’re going to do with the plight of young male blacks in this city.”

On this latter point, the mayor noted that city residents are liable also for county taxes, and the financial burden of the county’s incarceration facilities. Which is to say, his constituents have a vested interest in how the county plays its hand.

So who gets the nod (if anybody does)? Deidre Malone? Steve Mulroy? Kenneth Whalum? Or Wharton’s mayoral counterpart, Republican incumbent county mayor Mark Luttrell, with whom Wharton has mixed results, partnership-wise?

Meanwhile, the Wharton convention-center proposal was reviewed more or less favorably in the Flyer’s editorial space. Go here to take a look.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

John Ford’s J’ACCUSE!

The former state Senator, off probation and free to speak at last, proclaims his innocence and alleges he was imprisoned by a government conspiracy.

Posted By on Sat, Mar 22, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Former state Senator and convicted felon John Ford, who finally received notification late last week that the legal probation which followed his release from federal prison in August 2012 was at an end, is free to speak freely about what’s on his mind now, and one thing very much on his mind is a belief that he is an innocent man who was “set up” by a predatory justice system determined to target Democrats.

In the course of two lengthy sit-down interviews with Ford — one last October in the living room of his condominium in a gated East Memphis suburb, another at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House restaurant in January — along with several telephone conversations, the former kingpin state Senator, now meditating on a possible electoral comeback, confided his assorted thoughts and recollections about his fall from grace and his two felony trials of the late ‘90s.

John Ford at home again
  • JB
  • John Ford at home again
My reporting on certain matters discussed in these conversations was, by mutual agreement including a guarantee of exclusivity, to be withheld until the expiration of Ford’s probation period. Ford has begun discussing several of these matters in at least one scheduled television interview, however, rendering moot the issue of exclusivity, as well as any further delay in publication.

A comprehensive article on our conversations, “Waiting for Godot with John Ford,” will appear in the April issue of Memphis Magazine, and this article, a preliminary to that one, but containing a wealth of different detail, focuses more explicitly on some of the more sensitive legal matters discussed.

A key matter, of course, was the substance of the federal government’s case against Ford in the case that resulted in his conviction for bribery in Memphis in 2007 and a prison term of four-plus years, largely served in the low-security federal facility at Yazoo City, Mississippi.

"The crime was being committed on their part"

“The crime was being committed on their part,” Ford says of the FBI agents who netted Ford, along with six other officials, in the “Tennessee Waltz” sting of May 2005.

“If you tried to bribe me, you would be guilty of trying to bribe me,” Ford says, but he contends that the video, used in evidence at his trial, that shows him taking thousands of dollars in bills from an agent posing as a legislative lobbyist, allegedly to secure Ford’s help in passing a bill, was in effect edited to distort the facts.

“All they had was what they recorded on tape. You can make a video show what you want it to show,” says Ford. “Where’s the evidence? They’re the ones making a recording. There’s nothing illegal about that, about somebody counting out money and giving it to you. They give you some money and talk about something else.”

"There’s nothing illegal about that, about somebody counting out money and giving it to you. They give you some money and talk about something else.”

This sounds stupefyingly disingenuous, to say the least, but one is reminded of another video used in a trial, this one of veteran pol Joe Cooper offering money to then City Councilman Edmund Ford Sr., John Ford’s brother, ostensibly to guarantee Councilman Ford’s vote in a pending zoning case.

Cooper, working off a prior bust of his own by going undercover for the feds, talks about so many different things in the video — a loan here, a favor there, two or three other votes and propositions in addition to the zoning case —that the jury was unable to make any specific quid-pro-quo connections, and Edmund Ford was acquitted..

Now John Ford, who never testified in his own behalf, is arguing something similar about his own trial. “In the video, they show that when they’re talking about one thing, they give you the money because of work on something else.”
Is Ford saying that the money was passed for something other than the illegal purposes the government said it was for? “That’s exactly what I’m saying,” is Ford’s answer, but he doesn’t specify what that other purpose -- the “something else” --was.

“What bothers me is why they go after people who are not engaged in any kind of criminal activity — Ed wasn’t, I wasn’t — and then try to entrap them into a situation.

“And at the same they use somebody as a decoy “ —Ford may be indicating “Tennessee Waltz” witness and go-between Tim Willis here, as well as Cooper — “who has committed several felonies. They hold the charges, and, in the end, they don’t charge them. They say, ‘They helped us.’ To get somebody else who isn’t even engaged in a crime.”

“I think for certain they targeted Democrats"

"I know a lot who should have been targeted who weren’t targeted. They’re still serving. They did things of their own volition, not when somebody set ‘em up.”

It should be noted, of course, that the famous money-counting video used at Ford’s Tennessee Waltz trial — one that quickly went viral — was but one piece of evidence, including other videos and audios and numerous witness testimonies, introduced by the government at the trial.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is that Ford is stoutly maintaining his innocence, and, though he doesn’t use — at least in any of our conversations — any variant of the word “frame,” that seems to be precisely what he’s suggesting. And what would be the motive?

Ford’s answer would seem to depend on the fact that “Tennessee Waltz” and other governmental-corruption trials occurred on the watch of the Bush-era Justice Department.

“I think for certain they targeted Democrats. Who had a lot of power, Democrats in particular who were black who had a lot of power.” As for Republicans — and Democrats — who were conservative, “They didn’t bother with them. I know a lot who should have been targeted who weren’t targeted. They’re still serving. They did things of their own volition, not when somebody set ‘em up.”

Ford is bitter toward the lawyer who represented him in the “Tennessee Waltz” case, Michael Scholl, an attorney listed by the Memphis Business Quarterly as “among the best” in the field of criminal law.

John Ford would include Scholl in a list of “lawyers that ought not be practicing.” Ford insists he was not well served. “I know I wasn’t, locally. I’m so damned mad at him, all that money I spent on him. Altogether, I spent about $700,000. I haven’t spoken to him in six years.”

Among Scholl’s failures on his behalf, Ford says, was his reluctance to pursue the issue of entrapment as a defense, even though, according to Ford, presiding U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen had “given him an out” with his definition of the term.

"You come out against them, they‘ll do whatever they can."

There had been a second federal trial for Ford, one for “official corruption” that was conducted in Nashville and was based on allegations that Ford took some $800,000 from out-of-state medical and dental providers to secure TennCare contracts that he, as chairman of the Senate General Welfare, Health, and Human Resources Committee, could influence.

Ford, who insisted he had merely served as a legal consultant under the then prevailing legislative rules, was convicted in 2008 and was sentenced for an additional 14 years, but he aggressively pursued an appeal. And, as he says, “it took 33 months, we took it all the way to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. They ruled that no crime was committed, and they vacated the conviction.”

(More precisely, the Appeals Court ruled that no offense had been committed over which the federal courts had jurisdiction.)

"They were going to fence me in. It was overkill.”

Ford is convinced the Nashville trial had taken place only as a judicial fail-safe of sorts. “They only did that because they didn’t know what was going to happen with this other one [the Tennessee Waltz trial]. They were going to fence me in. It was overkill. They set you up and then try to overkill you on something else.”

Pending the end of his probation, Ford had been reticent about going public with his accusations against the legal system.

“I don’t know this for a fact, but it’s what I believe,” he told me. “These federal judges and cops and juries and all that, they’re a clique. They stick together. You come out against them, they‘ll do whatever they can. They say ‘Okay, he’s going to play, we’re going to keep him on that.’ If they wanted to, any little thing, any aberration, they could say that’s a violation, and it might not be.”

Further: "That’s why they have probation, to keep your butt quiet for a year or two. Boom! Everybody that goes to prison — federal, county, state, whatever level, — are not there because they committed a crime or because they’re criminals. It’s because the system wanted them there!”

On the town again
  • JB
  • On the town again
And more in that vein about the bind he felt encased in during his probation period: “You have freedom of speech, but you’re limited. You say something against a judge or a prosecutor or something like that, they can get you. They can say ‘boom boom’ and take your freedom away.

“What you say can and will be held against you. What you say may not be pleasing to them, it’ll be derogatory. They’ll cop an attitude so quick. They’ll try to find something. It ain’t gotta be right. If the judge goes along with it, boom!

“I know it. I’ve seen it. .You don’t have to do anything that’s wrong to go to prison. A lot of folks who were down there where I was, we talked. They didn’t commit a crime. They hadn’t done any crime. They lost their cases like I did. They couldn’t out-gun the government. But I did in the end, though didn’t I?”

"Out-gunning the government"

There’s no doubting from all the foregoing that John Ford, who felt muzzled during the whole of his probation period, now has his muzzle off. Again, there’s more of the same — much more — in “Waiting for Godot with John Ford” in the April issue of Memphis Magazine.

One of the several additional matters dealt with in that article is that of what the former state Senator foresees as his political future from here on in. The filing deadline for state and federal offices is just around the calendar, on April 3, and it remains to be seen if a remark Ford made during our conversations has any specific relevance to that future.

I had asked Ford to verify that 9th District congressman Steve Cohen had been instrumental in getting him domiciled in the close-to-home Yazoo City facility where he had done most of his time.

Ford acknowledged that might have been the case, inasmuch as he’d taken up the matter with Randy Wade, then serving as Cohen’s district field representative.

"You say something against a judge or a prosecutor or something like that, they can get you. They can say ‘boom boom’ and take your freedom away!"

One of the political realities of the moment is that Cohen and Wade have parted ways, with the latter now serving as a cadre in the congressional campaign of Cohen’s declared Democratic Party primary foe, lawyer Ricky Wilkins.

And Ford made the following remark, which seemed somewhat gratuitous in the context of the conversation:

“I’m dedicated and committed to the people that elected me. A lot of the public officials are not committed to anybody but themselves. They know who they want to be: mayor, congressman, etc., but they don’t know who they are. They’re just getting all the greed and glamor out of it.

“Like when Isaac Hayes died, the first thing Cohen did was run out there and say, wouldn’t it be nice if we named this or that for Isaac Hayes? I mean, how stupid can you be? He [Cohen] already had part of the expressway named after him [Hayes] when he was in the Senate.

“He runs over there, using Isaac Hayes as a trophy so he can exhibit himself to black people. We need a black to represent us, not because we’re prejudiced, but just because we want our own to be there. Know what I’m saying?”

(This account is the tip of the iceberg. To see more about what John Ford is saying, and more about what he intends to do now, read “Waiting for Godot with John Ford,” in the April issue of Memphis Magazine).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wilkins Formally Announces Bid for the 9th District Congressional Seat

Promising to bring “change and hope” to a needy district, lawyer mostly ignores subject of incumbent Congressman Cohen, his Democratic primary opponent.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 12:06 AM

Backed by a roomful of enthusiastic supporters in his Monroe Ave. office down, lawyer Ricky Wilkins formally announced his candidacy on Wednesday for the 9th District Congressional seat, and, for the most part, he ignored the subject of his opponent in the Democratic primary, four-term incumbent Congressman Steve Cohen.

Boasting his “record of community service,” including 20 years with the Memphis Housing Authority board, during which, he said, MHA was transformed from “one of the worst to one of the best,” Wilkins reflected on his personal odyssey from an impoverished boyhood to a successful career and said he would bring “a message of change and hope” to the voters.

“I know what it’s like to live off food stamps,” he said. “Who better to represent the people of the 9th Congressional district than one who has walked a mile in their shoes?”

Wilkins avoided specifics in his remarks, suggesting that in what would be “a long campaign,” there would be ample time to delve into those and into the differences that might exist between himself and Rep. Cohen.

He said he had “no bones to pick” with the congressman, seeming to acknowledge that Cohen had “served the community, but said,. “I simply believe it is time to move on. He represents the past, I represent the future. it’s time to move on.” He may have been targeting Cohen, however, with he later contrasted himself to “career politicians who live off the community.”

Asked how he expected to triumph over an incumbent who has defeated recent primary opponents by margins ranging from 4 to 1 to 8 to 1, Wilkins said the answer would come from a “bottom up” campaign and cited the presence of “the people behind me.”

That remark drew applause from his backers and a shout of “We’re fired up and ready to go!” from supporter Randy Wade, who until a falling out with Cohen that culminated with his resignation last year had been the Congressman’s local field director.

Other well-known activists in his support group Wednesday were Fred Dorse, Randall Catron, Henry Brenner, and campaign manager Carla Stotts.

Wilkins was asked whether he expected criticism during the campaign about his profitable relationship with Linebarger, a company hired by the City of Memphis to collect delinquent taxes and later accused of overcharges, or about the expense to the City of his long and costly litigation against John Elkington and Performa regarding Beale Street management.

Answering that he was “very proud of clients I represented” during his 23 years of law practice, Wilkins added that “most will tell you I’m a hard worker. that that I produce results, that justify any fees that I earned.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cohen Hits "Tennessee Promise" Legislation as State House Committee Signs Off On It

Congressman who, as state Senator, created the Tennessee lottery, says Haslam proposal means "slow and certain death" for Hope Scholarships.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 1:34 AM

Even as Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” legislation— embodied in HB2491 by McCormick/SB2471 by Norris — which would transform the way lottery revenues are applied, escaped a week’s worth of deferrals and moved by acclamation through the state House Education Committee on Tuesday, one interested party renewed his strenuous objections to it.

This was 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, the founder of the Tennessee lottery, the man who, as a state Senator, lobbied non-stop for it and finally got it approved, as a vehicle for Tennessee’s “Hope Scholarships,” in 2002. Lottery tickets began being sold statewide in the next year, 2003.

Haslam’s proposal would transform the way lottery revenues are applied, tapping the lottery fund , to the tune of $34 million annually, to pay for free tuition in the state’s two-year community colleges for all high school graduates. It would also abandon the current $4,000 level for Hope scholarships at four-year colleges and substitute a two-tiered scholarship system, with $3500 annually for freshman and sophomores and $4500 for juniors and seniors.

Tennessee Promise has received abundant praise statewide; it has also come in for harsh criticism — especially from assorted spokespersons for established four-year colleges, who see the governor’s program as undermining traditional higher education.

Cohen, who has let his displeasure with the proposal be known, fired another broadside at it in the wake of Tuesday’s action in the House. He issued a press release that, after noting that the Hope Scholarships were the product of long study and expert testimony, said in part:

“...Since its creation, the HOPE Scholarship’s value has diminished as tuition has increased—and this plan will cut them even further. All future lottery revenue gains will flow to the Governor’s free-tuition, no-standards community college program, and the HOPE Scholarship will fade into irrelevance when it should be growing to match the rising costs of attending college. It is wrong to cut lottery scholarships to create a massive new government program, and it is wrong to siphon $300 million meant to strengthen HOPE Scholar
ships for the governor’s pet project. Doing so will sentence HOPE Scholarships to a slow and certain death.

“Any changes to HOPE Scholarship should be based on expert recommendations and evidence—not politics. When the experts have weighed in, the General Assembly will find that the best use of these funds would be to strengthen HOPE by extending more benefits to middle-class and low-income students and keeping them here in Tennessee.”

The “Tennessee Promise” legislation will be considered in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, and the House version goes next to Government Operations Committee.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Want Your Name on a Yard Sign? Even Better, Want to Know How to Win?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 8:31 AM

Trace Sharp of the Crockett Policy Institute has the skinny on how to run for political office. In this week's Viewpoint.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Knoxville Attorney Gordon Ball Announces for Alexander's Senate Seat

Well-heeled class-action lawyer swells the list of Democratic hopefuls

Posted By on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 6:58 PM

Gordon Ball
  • Gordon Ball
Can it be that Tennessee’s Democrats will actually contest a major statewide office — in this case, the U.S. Senate seat held for more than a decade by the GOP’s Lamar Alexander?

Nay, more: can it be that Tennessee’s Democrats will actually have a primary contest involving more than one serious candidate?

The answer to both questions would seem to be in the affirmative after an announcement Wednesday by well-heeled Knoxville lawyer and former federal prosecutor Gordon Ball, an East Tennessean who earned his law degree at the University of Memphis and in recent years has won big judgments in a series of class-action cases against major corporations.

Ball, who joins fellow Knoxville attorney Terry Adams and Nashville "Christian counselor" Larry Crim in the Democratic primary, wasted no time to launching an attack on Alexander without naming him, contending in a news release that “Tennessee families have been victimized far too long by professional politicians and Washington insiders” and asserting that “the current incumbent promised to serve no more than two terms, a total of 12 years, but now he’s running for a third term, which would give him 18 years in the Senate.”

Ball himself promised that support of term limits would be a major plank in his platform.

Terry Adams
  • Terry Adams
Meanwhile, Adams, who declared for the Senate seat last October and is being assisted by former state Democratic chair Bob Tuke, also blasted the incumbent this week, saying in his own press release that “Senator Lamar Alexander has betrayed Tennessee’s veterans and embarrassed Tennessee once again” by voting against legislation that, Adeams said, “would have expanded access to veterans’ health and education services bs provided new incentives for businesses to hire veterans after their service to our country….”

For his part, Alexander is faced with a primary challenge from state Representative Joe Carr (R-Lascassas), who has support from Tea Party Republicans — a circumstance that has led some Democrats to wish out loud that the incumbent might at the very least be roughed up in his own primary.

Monday, March 10, 2014

It's Vote Time for Koozer-Kuhn on Capitol Hill

Last week's positive response from legislators gratified medical-marijuana supporters, who are hopeful but cautious about what comes next.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 10:52 PM

Ellis and Jones (in red,standing) counsel Koozer-Kuhn supporters after last week's hearing in Nashville
  • JB
  • Ellis and Jones (in red, standing) counsel Koozer-Kuhn supporters after last week's hearing in Nashville

UPDATE: HB 1385 was not heard on Tuesday in Health subcommittee but was remanded to "last calendar." More information on Wednesday.

NASHVILLE — On Tuesday morning, when the General Assembly’s House Health subcommittee votes on HB 1385 by Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville), a.k.a., the Koozer-Kuhn bill, the hopes of medical marijuana supporters in Tennessee could be brought crashing down to earth, but a hearing before the full Health committee last week generated an unexpected high.

After an hour’s worth of testimony on Wednesday from patients who testified compellingly that their conditions — ranging from cancer to epilepsy to cerebral palsy — could only be alleviated by legalized access to marijuana, even the subcommittee’s most conservative members seemed, if not convinced, then at least impressed and respectful.

At the conclusion of the hearing, not only Committee chairman Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville), whose deportment had been kindly and solicitous throughout, but other Republicans — vice chair Ryan Williams of Cookeville, Timothy Hill of Blountville, and Tim Wirgau of Buchanan, joined Democrat Darren Jernigan of Old Hickory, an overt backer of the bill, in expressing appreciation for what Hill called “sharing your heart.”

Bernie Ellis, the longtime progressive activist from Nashville who organized the occasion, met with his fellow presenters in a Legislative Plaza caucus room afterward for what was a combination celebration and press conference. But both Ellis, who said he had never dreamed of getting so prolonged and attentive a hearing on the hill, and Rep. Jones cautioned the happy group of patients, family, and supporters not to become too heady, that this week’s follow-up would be the real test.

As both noted, only the committee’s Democrats and an unknown number of Republicans could be counted on to vote for the bill, and converting the GOP majority was going to be a daunting task, no matter how friendly the Republican members had seemed on Wednesday. As Jones put it, don’t take anybody for granted, “even if they kiss you on the lips.”

In her introductory remarks before the Health Committee on Wednesday, Jones had stressed the naturally occurring benefits of marijuana. “The only difference between this plant and other plants is that it has some medical benefits to it, proven medical benefits. that can be traced back to 5000 B.C.”

She noted that 21 states either had legalized medical marijuana or had legislation under way. Koozer-Kuhn was a “very conservative program with strict oversight,” she said, adding that cultivation of marijuana could “make a lot of money for Tennessee,” replacing crops like tobacco that have fallen off.

Polls showed that only 18 percent of Tennesseans disapproved of the concept of medical marijuana, she said. “Nobody dies from using marijuana, nobody ever has.”

Ellis, who served as principal consultant on the bill, pointed out that Koozer-Kuhn met Department of Justice standards for medical marijuana legislation “to the letter,” and repeated that the bill established a “safe access program,” employed “rigorous and reliable standards,” and would restrict use of marijuana “only for serious conditions, well documented.”

Persuasive as both Jones and Ellis were, however, it was the patients and their family members who really had the impact.

Among them were Seth Green, a sufferer from both cerebral palsy and MS, who said marijuana had alleviated both the intensity and the frequency of his seizures, which his prescribed pharmacology, rife with unpleasant side effects, could not do. There was Penn Mattison, father of two-year-old Millie, whose case was described so well by the Flyer’s Alexandra Pusateri (“In the Weeds,” February 6).

Millie, a victim of infantile spasms that her father said were constant and “intractable,” had been on eight different medications, costing over $60,000 a month, with side effects ranging from blindness to bone deterioration. Moreover, “they didn’t work at all.” But a move to Colorado, with its newly legalized marijuana, did.

There was Kathy Walker of Fayetteville, a cancer sufferer who drew heavy applause from the packed hearing room when she observed, “I can’t understand why cancer patients can be prescribed morphine but not marijuana.”

Walker had been so damaged by surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy that she had virtually permanent nausea and was unable to eat. “A few puffs,” she said relieved the nausea and increased her appetite.

Green, too, had made mention of the phenomenon well known to recreational users as “the munchies.”

And Ellis, as well, referred to that aspect of marijuana use later at the press conference/celebration:

“The side effects,” he mused. “I think we are going to continue to say there are side effects, and they’re almost all virtually positive side effects. I joke, you know, that one thing that’s common among medical cannabis users is that they eat too much, talk too much, and laugh too much, and none of those are a problem for a seriously ill person. They’re all positive."

Glancing around the caucus room, he winked and said, “If this were a younger crowd, a college crowd, I’d say that the principal side effects are that it makes you happy, hungry, and horny. But at least some of us are beyond the age at which that’s relevant.”

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Get Their Ya-Ya’s Out

Malone, Mulroy, and Whalum, appearing together at DWSC event, have no trouble establishing their talking points.

Posted By on Sun, Mar 9, 2014 at 11:56 PM

From top: Malone, Mulroy, Whalum at Caritas Village
  • JB
  • From top: Malone, Mulroy, Whalum at Caritas Village
The past weekend saw several political events bearing on the forthcoming May 6 primaries for countywide office. One of the key ones, a forum involving all three Democratic candidates for County Mayor, took place on Saturday at Caritas Village in Binghamton, at a luncheon of the Democratic Women of Shelby County.

The candidates, who appeared in alphabetical order, were former County Commissioner Deidre Malone, current Commissioner Steve Mulroy, and the Rev. Kenneth Whalum, a former School Board member. All had their talking points, and all got them said.

As she has at previous events, Malone reminded the audience of her political credentials,including a prior run for mayor in 2010,, and her business ones (a former ALSAC-St. Jude administrator, she operates a And she looked past her current Democratic rivals to assail “the current Republican county mayor,” Mark Luttrell, for what she said was inattention to the needs of the less fortunate and for his refusal even to offer opinions on “things that are important to Democrats.”

She said her business experience would allow her to repair what was an “inefficient”: county operation under Luttrell.

Asked about the county’s shift of Title X funding for women’s health issues from Planned Parenthood, the traditional recipient of the funding, to Christ Community Health Services (CCHS), Malone pronounced it a “mistake” and vowed, as County Mayor, “to do something about it.”.

She may have felt that Mulroy was vulnerable on that score, in that he had voted in 2011 with the majority to award the Title X contract to CCHS.

Mulroy, though, was able to address the issue from what he felt was a position of strength. Earlier in the week, he had held a press conference announcing his dissatisfaction with Christ Community Health Services for, among other things, allowing its service level to drop precipitately for two years in a row from the level previously maintained by Planned Parenthood.

He said at the press conference and repeated on Saturday that he had voted in 2011 to switch from Planned Parenthood to CCHS only after realizing that there were already 9 votes on the Commission to approve CCHS (two more than needed) and that he used his position on the prevailing side to insist on strict monitoring to assure that CCHS (a) engaged in no religious proselytizing and (b)didn’t attempt to steer patients away from abortion.

Because of CCHS’s sub-par service levels, said Mulroy, he was insisting that the county re-bid the contract, using independent medical experts to score the bidding agencies for expertise.

Thus did the commissioner attempt to solidify his position with pro-choice Democrats who felt that Planned Parenthood, identified by the political Right with the abortion issue, had been targeted by state and federal sources for separation from its historic Title X role. Mulroy described himself, with some justice, as the Commission’s chief progressive activist on a variety of hot-button issues.

Whalum continued, as in the past. to burnish his maverick credentials, proclaiming,”I am the underdog candidate for Shelby County Mayor. All of the pundits, all of the professionals are saying, ‘Whalum doesn’t have a chance. He doesn’t have any money. He can’t get the support of the political professionals.’. I don’t need it and I don’t want it.”

Whether the eloquent minister is protesting too much can be debated, in that his personal abilities and grass-roots appeal have been amply noted in most public commentary, as has his leadership in the successful recent effort to turn back a proposed sales-tax increase to fund city Pre-K programs.

“The city of Memphis is the county seat of Shelby County, not the toilet seat,” said Whalum, who described the imminent closing of several Memphis schools as symptomatic of serious community crisis and promised to address that problem “if we have to move all the county departments into the buildings they want to close.”

He promised to raise the pay of women in the county administration to a level commensurate with men and to bring in young people with fresh governmental ideas.

Asked if he were pro choice, Whalum answered as follows: “I am pro choice. I represent the ultimate pro choice person. ‘ Choose ye this day.’"

Friday, March 7, 2014

Tate, Towns, Chism Censured by Local Dems for GOP Hobnobbing

Action by party executive committee follows similar rebuke to County Commission chairman James Harvey last year.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 6:17 AM

Gill holds bill of particulars as Sheriff candidate Bennie Cobb makes charge against Chism
  • JB
  • Gill holds bill of particulars as Sheriff candidate Bennie Cobb makes charge against Chism

For the second time in the last several months the executive committee of the Shelby County Democratic Party has voted a formal censure of its own - this time against two members of the Tennessee General Assembly and a Shelby County Commissioner.

Censured by voice vote at a packed meeting of the SCDP committee at the IBEW Union Hall on Madison Thursday night were state Senator Reginald Tate, state Representative Joe Towns, and Commissioner Sidney Chism.

All-- along with the also censured party committee member Hazel Moore, an activist often described as the (unofficial) "mayor of Whitehaven" -- were accused of violating what the censure resolution called “existing protocols for bona fides, loyalty and political behavior.”

Chism was cited for efforts to dissuade Democratic Sheriff’s candidate Bennie Cobb from running against incumbent Sheriff Bill Oldham, a Republican, so as to allow Oldham “to be the only filed candidate of any party for the position.” Tate, Towns, and Hazel Moore were were censured for their presence “at a campaign opener and funds raising event” for Republican Jimmy Moore, the incumbent Circuit Court clerk.

Removed from the censure resolution, by agreement of the committee, was the Rev. Ralph White, a candidate for Criminal Court clerk who had also attended the event for Moore, a longtime former Democrat before changing his party affiliation in the ‘90s. White was excused because he had submitted a written apology for that action.

Committee member Del Gill, a Democratic primary candidate for the Circuit Court clerkship now held by Moore and a longtime advocate of strict party-loyalty requirements, was the prime mover in seeking the censure resolution and presented it to the committee membership Thursday night. Party chairman Bryan Carson is on record, however, as saying the party would not “tolerate” disloyalty in this this year’s elections and fully backed the resolution.

The censure resolution was in the same spirit of the one voted last year against County Commission chair James Harvey — who was cited in September for awarding chairmanship of the Commission’s key budget committee to Republican Commissioner Heidi Shafer. An unspoken premise of that censure was that Harvey, who was about to become Commission chair, had bargained with GOP members to achieve their support for chairman.

It is uncertain what effect the censure resolution will have on the party status of Tate, Towns, and Chism, although the censure resolution, in its final sentence, states, “The Democratic Party reserves the rights under Tennessee Election Codes to control who appears on its ballot.” Gill informs the Flyer that, in his words, "the party could declare these persons 'non bona fide' Democrats if further violations of party conduct are affirmed by the Executive Committee. They would then not be able to file a future petition for Democratic Party candidacy."

Harvey had filed this year for the office of Shelby County Mayor and was allowed to speak to the executive committee membership, along with three other mayoral candidates, at the committee’s February meeting. He withdrew his filing for County Mayor at last week’s deadline for withdrawal, although it is unclear as to whether his prior censure had any bearing on that decision.

Both Tate and Towns said, while in Nashville for the current legislative session this week, they had not been informed of the committee's intent to consider a censure motion Thursday night, and both were vehement that they had done nothing improper in attending the event for Moore, whom both said they had been friends with for many years.

In discussion of the censure resolution before Thursday night’s vote, no committee member spoke against it, and several chorused their approval of remarks by veteran Democrat TaJuan Stout-Mitchell that, by adopting it, the party would cease to be “a house divided.”

Though he did not speak publicly, state Representative Antonio Parkinson was in attendance and said he approved of the censure resolution naming two legislative colleagues as an expression of party “unity.”

    • Filling in the Blanks

      Gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee’s platform for Memphis remains somewhat inspecific, but he’s got a start on it. Meanwhile, he's wasting no time putting his local network together.

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