Monday, March 26, 2018

Mayoral Forums Provide a Side-by-Side Contrast

Political audiences profit from chances to evaluate joint appearances by the candidates for county Mayor.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 26, 2018 at 11:38 AM

click to enlarge Filling in the Gaps — That will be the task of future mayoral forums, including the one scheduled for Monday night at Rhodes College. Absent from last Thursday's NAACP forum, moderated by WREG's Alex Coleman and April Thompson,  were Republicans David Lenoir and Joy Touliatos. - JB
  • JB
  • Filling in the Gaps — That will be the task of future mayoral forums, including the one scheduled for Monday night at Rhodes College. Absent from last Thursday's NAACP forum, moderated by WREG's Alex Coleman and April Thompson, were Republicans David Lenoir and Joy Touliatos.
 UPDATE AND REVISION: This version of a previously published online story has been revised by the light of more accurate information than was available for the first version, which — not to dance away from it — contained a suggestion or two that, in the light of a better understanding of candidates and their motives, may not have been justified.

Monday night provided a high public opportunity to see a one-on-one involving two prime contenders for the job of Shelby county Mayor this year. The two — County Commissioner Terry Roland and Trustee David Lenoir — may well be the leading contenders in the mayoral race, at least on the Republican side, and they clearly have no great affection for each other. The outcome of Monday night's forum is dealt with in a separate story, to be published in the Flyer's print edition this week and to be made available online as well.

Roland, who is — relative to Lenoir, anyhow —cash-poor but whose name recognition in Shelby County may well be unexcelled, has certainly been much on display and has turned up at every attempt to arrange a mayoral forum so far — including one held by the NAACP at the National Civil Rights Museum last Thursday.

Lenoir and another GOP candidate, Juvenile Court clerk Joy Touliatos, were absent from the NAACP affair on account of what were said to be schedule conflicts, though apparently there have been a couple of other joint appearance opportunities recently at other forms, one at a local Republican club.

Some cynics had been known to voice suspicions that Lenoir, who has a good deal of support from the GOP establishment and is the leading money-raiser by far among all candidates, might choose to pursue a low-risk strategy of avoiding confrontations and letting his money speak for itself in the form of advertising and yard signs.

That strategy has been followed before in local political races — notably by a couple of well-heeled City Council contestants in 2015. But, on the evidence of Monday night, it would not seem to be the strategy of Trustee Lenoir, who remains the favorite to win the GOP primary, in many people’s minds.

In any case, the Rhodes College Republicans created a clear opportunity for a joint appearance by Roland, Lenoir, and Touliatos on Monday night at the college’s Briggs Hall, and all three Republican contestants rose to the challenge.

If, as a rule of thumb, Roland has been more ubiqutous at various stump opportunities and called events, that, as indicated, is related to his need for, and reliance on, free media, in a campaign against opponents who have, for whatever reasonl raised more funding.

As he told the audience at Thursday night’s NAACP affair, “I don’t have the banks backing me, so I have to work to get m
click to enlarge Almost all of the NAACP forum consisted of an informative back-and-forth between Democratic candidates Lee Harris (l) and Sidney Chism. - JB
  • JB
  • Almost all of the NAACP forum consisted of an informative back-and-forth between Democratic candidates Lee Harris (l) and Sidney Chism.
y money to talk to y'all.” That was his way of telling the crowd that, after making his obligatory opening statement, he would have to be off to a long-scheduled fundraising affair elsewhere.

That made the Millington County Commissioner’s brief stint something of a cameo appearance, during which he professed an intention to “redo” distressed urban areas while avoiding “regentrification.”

Almost all of the NAACP forum consisted of an informative back-and-forth between Democratic candidates Lee Harris (l) and Sidney Chism.

Acknowledging that in a previous forum (in which Roland had appeared alone with Touliatos) he “didn’t answer it right” when asked about Black Lives Matter, having answered with the phrase “All lives matter,” he took another stab at it. He told the predominantly African-American attendees at the NCRM that he knew the issue denoted such matters as police injustice against black youths. He went on to stress his involvement on the Commission with generating a disparity study of black employment opportunities and an MBWE program to increase the proportion of women and minorities with county jobs and contracts, as well as with the renaming of the Courthouse for the late D’Army Bailey.

Roland’s departure after his opening statement turned the rest of the NAACP forum into a one-on-one involving the two Democratic contenders — state Senator Lee Harris and former Commissioner and longtime political broker Sidney Chism, a former interim member of the state Senate himself.

Though in his campaign kickoff event last fall, Chism had lambasted Harris as a candidate of “the fat boys that make all the decisions in this town” and vowed to “beat up on him morning, noon, and night,” both he and Harris were paragons of politeness to each other.

And they were on the same page on most issues, including that of the “fat boys,” if that term is meant to apply to the established powers-that-be in Memphis and Shelby County. Early on, Harris made a point of challenging most local growth initiatives as schemes for “transferring tax money to corporate interests,” expressing himself in perfect solidarity on such points with Chism.

The two Democrats also sounded similar notes on other subjects — crime, which they saw as needing preventive approaches and re-entry programs more than punitive responses per se; education, where they both favored building up pre-K and providing vo-tech opportunities; gun violence, with both candidates disdaining the idea of arming teachers and favoring strict background checks for gun sales and restriction or banning of assault weapons; opioid addiction, regarding which both candidates favored litigation independent of state action.

Both candidates also endorsed the city’s action in having removed controversial Confederate monuments from city parks and cited their own prior activities on behalf of various minority populations — including those based on gender identification.

Both expressed concern about the county’s limited access to revenue, and Harris came up with a novel approach for taxing non-residents who use county infrastructure, whereby city residents could have their downtown parking fees rebated and visitors could not.

All in all, the two-man portion of Thursday night’s forum (which was most of it) proved to be an ideal way for an audience to compare the candidates side by side and to get a sense of where they were coming from on issues.

It remained for the Monday night Rhodes event to provide what may have been the best opportunity to date for the three Republican candidates to interact with each other similarly. And they did, making some clear differentiations as to the nature of their outlooks and candidacies.

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