Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Preliminary City Election Roster is a Done Deal

Situation could be further clarified a week from now, at the withdrawal deadline, except for one case, that of would-be Council candidate Joe Cooper, which is thorny (and unique).

Posted By on Thu, Jul 16, 2015 at 7:17 PM

click to enlarge Tempers had cooled by this point, but things got hot and havy Thursday when Joe Cooper appealed his ineligible status as a Council candidate to Election Coordinator Rich Holden. - JB
  • JB
  • Tempers had cooled by this point, but things got hot and havy Thursday when Joe Cooper appealed his ineligible status as a Council candidate to Election Coordinator Rich Holden.

The roster for the Memphis city election of 2015 is final, as of noon Thursday — although withdrawals are possible before noon next Thursday, July 23, and, in one bizarre case, an add-on is theoretically possible, though highly unlikely.

In the marquee race, that for Mayor, the field has settled down to 12 still extant candidates with a sufficient number of qualifying signatures. But the number of viable candidates is much smaller — either three or four, depending on your mode of reckoning.

With the decision by Kenneth Whalum Jr. on Tuesday to seek a Council position instead and a not unexpected withdrawal from the Mayor’s race by Justin Ford on Thursday, the list of three would be incumbent Mayor A C Wharton and City Councilmen Jim Strickland and Harold Collins. A list of four would include Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams, who has a tightly knit group of supporters but whose fundraising has lagged well behind the others.

Both Wharton and Strickland have kaboodles of cash and networks of supporters capable of working citywide campaigns. Collins has raised a fair amount of money, $60,000-plus, which isn’t even close to the war-chests of Wharton and Strickland, each of whom will soon have something like half a million dollars on hand, but Collins does have the vast geography of Whitehaven, which he represents, to draw upon.

In Council races, one of the more interesting developments was the filing of businessman Frank Colvett Jr., a well-known Republican activist, for the Council’s District 2 seat. Colvett cited this week’s surprise decision by incumbent Bill Boyd not to run again and will have four opponents, one of whom, Rachel Knox, is a promising newcomer with abundant support among local Democrats.

The Council’s District 3 race is hard to handicap, with two education veteran, former School Board member Patrice Robinson, and Memphis Education Association president Keith Williams, among the seven contestants. But the real scramble will be in District 4, where eight contestants, none of them household names, are vying.

District 5 has seven entries, with relative unknowns Jimmie Franklin and Jennifer James Williams book-ending some political known quantities — John Marek, Charles “Chooch” Pickard, and Mary Wilder, from the progressive side of the spectrum; Worth Morgan and Dan Springer from the conservative side. Whichever two end up in a runoff will make for a tightly contested battle.

District 6 incumbent Edmond Ford Jr. should be in good shape against two opponents, Perry Bond and Delvin Lane. There are nine candidates in District 7, with the most recognized entries being interim incumbent Berlin Boyd and Thurston Smith. Incumbents Joe Brown and Janis Fullilove should be able to prevail against two opponents each in Super District 8, Position 1 and Position 2, respectively.

The Position 3 seat in Super District 8 could be interesting, however, with School Board veteran Martavius Jones taking on Mickell Lowery, son of current Council chair Myron Lowery, who is vacating the seat.

Incumbent Kemp Conrad is well disposed in Super District 9, Position 1, though both Robin Spielberger, running as part of a de-annexationist ticket, and Charley Burch are try-hard types who could get something going. Similarly, incumbent Reid Hedgepeth is an obvious favorite against Stephen Christian and Zachary Ferguson in Super District 9, Position 3.

Super District 9, Position 2, should see a contest, though, with youthful Philip Spinosa, a well-funded FedEx executive, IBEW union leader Paul Shaffer, and School Board vet Stephanie Gatewood the standouts in a six-person field.

The Cooper Imbroglio

This is a race, too, where there is an outside chance — very outside — of there being an add-on candidate. That would be veteran pol Joe Cooper, who has been campaigning for months for the seat. Cooper had engaged a consulting firm, put up some electronic campaign signs, published his platform, and made frequent contacts with the political media.

Only this week was it learned that, while Cooper had been allowed to pull a qualifying petition from the Election Commission on April 17, the first day it was possible to do so, he was also advised that his petition could not be validated until and unless he could complete a process of having his rights restored, following a felony conviction in 2008, his second. Nor could he appoint a campaign treasurer as required by law, Cooper says he was told.

Consequently, he did not complete a petition and made increasingly desperate attempts, most of them quite recent, to get a Court hearing on the restoration of his rights. He maintains he was stonewalled by the District Attorney General’s office, which could authorize the completion of such a process, but for one reason or another, could not make an attorney available for a hearing on the matter.

Not, that is, until 10:30, Thursday morning, an hour and a half before the filing deadline, for a hearing in Chancellor Jim Kyle’s courtroom, by which time the issue was no longer the mere fact of Cooper’s need for a certification of his rights alone, but his request for a two-week injunction to appoint a treasurer and secure signatures in order to qualify his candidacy.

Judge Kyle essentially told Cooper that such an injunction would have to be declared for all candidates and seats, not just for the one he was seeking, and his hands were tied if Cooper was not ready to file on Thursday with 25 valid signatures of eligible Super District 9 voters. Cooper pleaded that he had been in a Catch-22 situation, unable legally to solicit signatures without a prior restoration of his rights.

With no success in court, Cooper took his petition, which had two names on it, to the Election Commission office, where he paid a $100 filing fee, submitted his petition, and had a confrontation with Shelby County coordinator Rich Holden, reviewing the same dilemma he had pleaded in court. The only silver lining for Cooper is that he can plead his case again when the Election Commission meets, following the withdrawal deadline, to authenticate the election roster.

The final contest on the Memphis election calendar is that for City Court Clerk, in which eight candidates have qualified, including the afoesaid Justin Ford, transplanted from the Mayor’s race, where he endorsed incumbent Wharto; outgoing City Councilwoman Wanda Halbert; incumbent Thomas Long; former Councilman and Juvenile Court Clerk Shep Wilburn; and former Circuit Court Judge Kay Robilio.

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