Monday, September 9, 2019

Downtown Town Hall Leads to Dialogue on City Issues

Council candidate Pearl Eva Walker stirs up a coherent critique

Posted By on Mon, Sep 9, 2019 at 1:47 PM

Candidate Walker (l) at her downtown town hall. - JB
  • JB
  • Candidate Walker (l) at her downtown town hall.

The town hall format, whereby a political figure presides over an open-ended group discussion of public problems and issues, has long been a staple of elected officials; it is also coming into increasing use by candidates for office, and, at best, can be a showcase of Socratic inquiry, as was the case last week in town hall on downtown issues, presided over by City Council candidate Pearl Eva Walker at Robinson Gallery.

Walker is one of several candidates seeking Position 1 of Super District 8. The others are Nicole Cleaborn, Gerre Currie, Derrick “Dee” Harris, and J.B. Smiley Jr., and while most public attention (such as exists) has focused on the candidacies of Currie, the current District 6 Council incumbent, and Smiley, Walker clearly has an open-minded approach to issues and a constituency responsive to it. Earlier this year, she won the endorsement of the 2019 People’s Convention.

After a brief self-introduction in which she expressed support for solar energy and re-designation of MATA bus routes, Walker led an energized group of attendees through two hours of highly charged discussion on specific downtown issues, in the process posing a challenge to the reigning assumptions of city government.

One pathway of discussion led into questioning the current mode of downtown development, whereby what one participant labeled “para-governmental” authorities had without much in the way of public sanction imposed a growth strategy on downtown that favored the “live, work, play” formula and entertainment projects over the needs of the area’s residents.

As that idea was explored by others, a consensus seemed to develop that fundamental problems were overlooked:

That, for example, there was a pell-mell rush to turn downtown into a high-density center for upscale residence and recreation without regard to the needs of existing residents or attending to what is already an outmoded and overworked sewer system in the area.

That the development of Downtown and of the city’s medical district has failed to provide the infrastructure, including schools and adequate local transportation, needed by working-class residents.

That PILOTS (“payment-in-lieu-of tax” inducements to new business and industry) had been failures as factors in economic rejuvenation, in that, among other things, the higher salaries brought to town by new industry go principally to imported executives who often find residences outside the city.

That projects like the planned redevelopment of Tom Lee Park are brought into being without adequate public vetting or proper consideration for their effect on existing institutions.

There was more such thinking out loud, adding up to a coherent critique of things as they are, and, right or wrong, all of it was the sort of stimulant that ideally should be part of the public dialogue. Last Thursday’s town hall downtown followed one in the North Hollywood area and precedes one to be held Tuesday evening at Abyssinia Baptist Church in Whitehaven.

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Strickland‘s Amen Corner

Posted By on Mon, Sep 9, 2019 at 8:39 AM

Strickland and his clerical support group. - JB
  • JB
  • Strickland and his clerical support group.

Some critics of Mayor Jim Strickland have expressed skepticism about his accomplishments and maintain that he is out of touch with large portions of the greater Memphis community — specifically, its African-American population. The Prayer Breakfast shared by Strickland and African-American pastors on Saturday at his Poplar Avenue headquarters in the old Spin Street building could be seen as a move toward discrediting such assertions.

At the end of the breakfast meeting, the 30-odd clergy members, representing several denominations and numerous well-known community churches, gathered around Strickland and offered serial testimonies to his virtues and reaffirmed their support.

Leading off was Bishop Henry Williamson of the CME church: “We know this man has shown his commitment for increased business opportunities, jobs and the African American community ... and of course, going forward into the future, the development of Memphis into a world-class city And so for that, we are proud to endorse him today and encourage all citizens vote for this progressive, productive man, Jim Strickland.

He was followed by Bishop Brandon Porter of COGIC, who would credit Strickland’s efforts for returning his church’s annual convention to Memphis and absolved the mayor of any blame for the resurgent crime problem.

Next came the Rev. Bill Adkins of the Greater Imani Cathedral of Faith, who noted that 28 years earlier he had been one of the main supporters of the candidate, Willie Herenton, who would become the city’s first elected black mayor. Calling Strickland “a mayor of all the people,” Adkins said, “He has responded well, expediently. He has answered many of the questions that we have, and he has pursued many of the causes that we have great interest in therefore we are totally supportive. And this turnaround from 28 years ago to this day, and we hope that all the other methods would see the great job that he has done as the mayor of this city. And we encourage all of us to support him for the good work that he has done.”

Asked by a reporter to specify something in particular that Strickland has done, Adkins answered instantly, “The statues,” and went on to credit Strickland for ridding the city of memorials to Nathan Bedford Forrest, “founder of the Klan,” and to the Confederacy at large. Adkins thanked Strickland “for listening to us, understanding our concerns, understanding our needs, and responding.”

(After the meeting, Adkins said, “Strickland has done everything we have asked him to do. I’ve supported two black mayors, but maybe we’ve got to the point that we don’t have to vote for mayor on the basis of race.”

Pastor after pastor added other items to the bouquet, mentioning summer work opportunities for youth, a growth in living-wage jobs, action on behalf of the city’s sanitation workers, the city’s provision of pre-K, projects for Whitehaven, etc. All matters that Strickland would gladly claim as talking points and was no doubt happy to hear said by someone else.

Among other things, the turnout on Saturday could indicate that polls showing Strickland holding his own with the black vote, as he did in 2015, might well be on target.

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Monday, August 26, 2019

Herenton Rouses Women Supporters with Promise of Victory

Posted By on Mon, Aug 26, 2019 at 10:33 AM

Willie Herenton won’t be, as Gail Floyd-Tyree called him on Saturday, “the first boss to go back in that chair.” Several others, including three-time Mayor Ed Crump (who once literally owned the name “Boss”) have managed to get back into the
Herenton at his Saturday rally - JB
  • JB
  • Herenton at his Saturday rally
office of mayor after serving in it previously.

But Herenton — who, as several speakers (including himself) noted at a jam-packed “Women for Herenton” rally, was there from 1991 through 2009 — agrees with Tyree, the executive director of Local 1377 of the AFSCME union, who gave him a rousing introduction. He, too, believes strongly that he can get back into City Hall in the role of mayor.

And there was much about Saturday’s rally, held in a cavernous warehouse-sized space on South Third Street, that could just about convince anybody.

First, there were the numbers, upwards of a thousand women, all patently excited and happy to be there. Then there was the enthusiasm, simmering to begin with, and periodically fired into high decibels in the course of the event. Finally, there were the obvious signs of organization and preparation — a forest of large-sized “HERENTON” signs handed out by helpers at appropriate moments, much in the manner of a national political convention.

And, perhaps most convincingly, there were the several voter-registration tables around the sides of the hall, staffed by teams of women supporters who, from time to time, appeared deluged by new applicants.

Women supporters came out en masse. - JB
  • JB
  • Women supporters came out en masse.
The event was so emotionally rousing as to remind onlookers of the first Herenton campaign in 1991, the one that, by a razor-thin margin of 142 votes over incumbent Dick Hackett, made Herenton the first elected black mayor in Memphis history. And it more or less overpowered the more recent memory of the half-hearted Herenton run for Congress against incumbent Steve Cohen in 2010, a Democratic primary race Herenton lost by a margin of 4 to 1.

Both Herenton’s campaign manager, Robert Spence, and AFSCME’s Floyd-Tyree, generated some abundant advance energy on behalf of Herenton. Said Spence: “I heard our opponent’s theme” (meaning current Mayor Jim Strickland, running for reelection).

“‘Good at the basics.’ What is that? When did somebody come to office saying the best they could do was mediocre? ... We can do better than that,” said Spence. “And the basics don’t even get good. Trash on the streets. Potholes. Crime. ... We know who ran the city in an exceptional and extraordinary way. ... The Lion is walking in the jungle, and they can't stop it.”

Spence was outdone and then some by Floyd-Tyree, whose union is one of several that have endorsed the former mayor. Saying that she was “confirmed in my soul that this is divine intervention,” Tyree concluded a passionate speech thusly: “You can’t be in the presence of Willie Herenton and not know he’s a boss. Walks like a boss, talks like a boss. He’s the boss!” And: “Where we taking our boss?” The answer came back: “City Hall!”

Expectations in the hall were so high that it would have been virtually impossible for Herenton himself not to deliver. And he did.

After some pro forma early praise for his volunteer workers and an expression of his belief in the power of the spiritual realm, Herenton said, “There’s power in the vote of women, too. We made history in 1991 when you elected Willie Herenton as the first African-American mayor. You didn’t stop there. You reelected me in 1994, you reelected me 1997, in 2000, in 2004, and 2007. And guess what, you’re going to elect me in 2019!”

Herenton was wrong. The actual reelection sequence was 1995, 1999, 2003, and 2007. But it hardly mattered. The women roared their agreement.

Herenton continued. “Someone asked me a question: Willie, can you do it? I took them to the book: Philippians 4:13.” There was a roar. “I see we’ve got some church folks in here,” said Herenton, who then quoted the scripture: “‘’You can do all things through Christ!’

“Sometimes the Lord makes the lowly overcome the highly,” Herenton said. He made note of opponent Strickland’s much-touted $1 million campaign budget. “They’ve got the money power. But we’ve got people power. That’s what’s going to take us over the top on October 3rd.

“This crime problem is deep. It bothers me, this present administration is weak on crime. A lot of people in our community, they have no hope. They’ve given up. They have no inspiration. We’ve got to embrace the values that our parents gave us.” With a nod to his sister in the audience, he said, “Our mother taught us: Work. Education. Church. Work hard and you can be successful. Somehow or another we’ve got to bring those values back. ... There's so much hatred, so much jealousy, so much envy among our people.

“I want you to know that this election is very critical to the future of our city. You’ve asked the question of why am I going back into public service. Because it's late in the evening for me. I want to tell you. I want you to hear me. It’s late in the evening, but the God I serve is still using me.”

The whoop from the crowd was so great as to befit one who had freshly emerged from Sinai with brand new tablets.

And indeed, Herenton had a revelation of sorts for the women. But first there was another Biblical reference, one that might not have gone down well amid a group of feminists but one that scored well with this audience.

“When I look in the Bible,” Herenton said, “I see that first God made man, and he made women, the helpmate. There were great women in the Bible. Esther, Ruth ... I could go on and on. ... Since the beginning of Biblical times, there have been women of value, women of courage, women who nurtured civilization. And today women are still relevant.

“I am appealing to you. You have been there for me in every election. Women have voted overwhelmingly for me. And I’m asking you to do it again.”

The women shouted their assent. Then Herenton favored them with the great revelation:

“Before I take my seat, let me tell you what we’re going to ask you to do. This is real strategic. Early voting starts September 13th. We have you guys in our database, and we’re going to reach out to you, because I don't mind telling you part of what our strategy is. We’re going to win this election in early voting. We going to have a caravan of buses. We’re going to have vans called the Herenton Express. We’ll do an early voting like they have never seen before.”

And there was a warning: “Let me tell you why we have to overwhelm in early voting. In Memphis, with technology, they can steal the election. We’re going to win so overwhelmingly that they can’t steal this election. We need to come out in record numbers.”

Apologizing “for my emotionalism,” Herenton said, “I don't know how to do a fake. I’ve just got to be real.” And, with another exhortation to “go back to our values,” he proclaimed, in the words of “that old church song we used to sing, ‘Victory is ours!’”

Altogether, a boffo performance. If Herenton can continue to generate energy on this scale, Strickland, opponent Tami Sawyer, and the rest of the 11-candidate field will have something to take very seriously.

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Monday, August 5, 2019

Corey Strong To Challenge Cohen in the 9th District

Posted By on Mon, Aug 5, 2019 at 7:42 AM

Corey Strong
  • Corey Strong
Yes, it’s true: Steve Cohen has an opponent. The 9th District Congressman, who has knocked off a serious string of Democratic challengers since 2006, when he first emerged victorious from a multi-candidate primary field, now faces a 2020 bid from Corey Strong, the former Shelby County Democratic chairman.

Strong acknowledges that Cohen has made the appropriate votes in Congress, supported legislation that a Democrat should have supported, properly backed up Democratic President Obama, and has correctly opposed Republican President Trump. Further, says Strong, the Congressman has successfully become a factor in key national dialogues.

What he has failed to do, Strong maintains, is to bring jobs to a home region that desperately needs them. Strong even finds evidence of this alleged failure in a well-publicized stunt staged by Cohen last spring on the House Judiciary Committee. That was the occasion in May when the Congressman ridiculed the failure of Attorney General William Barr to answer a subpoena by wolfing down pieces from a Kentucky Fried Chicken basket at his seat on the committee.

Cohen got headlines, both pro and con, and, says Strong, “I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is that we’ve got all kinds of local fried-chicken enterprises here in Memphis, and he could have made his point with them if he wanted. But he didn’t.”

Strong is well aware that Cohen, who is white and Jewish, has easily dispatched all previous would-be party rivals in his predominantly African-American Memphis district since that first victory in 2006. He has triumphed over Justin Ford, Willie Herenton, Tomeka Hart, Ricky Wilkins, and Nikki Tinker, all of whom had either name recognition or financial support or both.

He has done so, as Strong acknowledges, by careful attention to the needs of his constituency in most ways — save the aforementioned inability to raise the income level of his district.

Strong believes he can succeed at that task, where, he says, Cohen has not. And one way of demonstrating his prowess will be to raise a campaign budget that will allow him to compete with the financially well-endowed incumbent Congressman on relatively even terms..

“I will do that,” says Strong, a Naval Reserve officer who in 2017 became the renovated Shelby County Democratic Party’s bounce-back chairman after it was decommissioned by the state Democrats a year earlier during a period of internal stress and discord within the local party.

Strong acknowledges that Michael Harris, his successor as local party chairman, has had a difficult problem arousing support from party cadres because of issues stemming from his suspended law practice. But, says Strong, local Democrats have a duty to support their party.

The future congressional aspirations of current Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris have become so obvious as to make Harris’ ambitions something of a public proverb, and a good race next year by Strong, even if unsuccessful, could serve the purpose of setting up a future challenge against Mayor Harris. But Strong insists he is in the 9th District race this year to win.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Strickland Opens Up

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 6:13 PM

Mayor Srickland in the center of supporters (top) and being buttonholed by them (bottom) - JB
  • JB
  • Mayor Srickland in the center of supporters (top) and being buttonholed by them (bottom)

On Tuesday afternoon, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, freshly introduced by School Board member Michelle McKissick (who in turn had been introduced by County Commission chair Van Turner) took a look around the crowd that surrounded him on the vacant floor of the former Spin City on Poplar Avenue and professed himself “humbled to see so many people from all walks of life.”

That was how Strickland formally opened his 2019 reelection campaign, clearly trying to present himself as a man for all seasons and factions.

The Mayor promised the crowd “a few words,” which turned out to be a semi-lengthy recounting of what he considers his accomplishments over the 3 ½-year period of his tenure so far.

These included an accelerated hiring of police officers, a doubling of the city’s paving budget, and the use of “data” to “drive government decisions.” He would quickly amend that formulation to “data and good people,” working in a brag on city employees.

Apropos that matter of data, Strickland served up more stats, claiming : a quickening of the city’s 911 response to an average of 7 seconds per call; an enhanced survival rate at the city’s animal shelter; an increased MWBE percentage (rate of contracting with firms owned by women and minorities); a 90 percent increase of summer jobs for youth; 22,000 new jobs in 3 ½ years; etc., etc. “All of that without a tax increase,” Strickland proclaimed promising more via his administration’s Memphis 3.0 growth plan. “Memphis does have momentum,” he said.

The Mayor cited some encouraging appraisals from the Bloomberg organization of Manhattan and got a rise out of his crowd of supporters when, in boasting the rate of job growth in Memphis, he said it surpassed that in such other major cities as Houston, Dallas, and “a small town east of here called Nashville.”

There was more such upbeat boasting, some of it borrowed from other governmental jurisdictions, as when Strickland cited state government’s provision of free education at community colleges and tech schools.

All in all, the Mayor’s presentation was rhetorically lean and in line with his oft-stated concept of his job as essentially that of handling the “basics.”

He is making a point of running on his record, and it will be up to his several opponents to question his data and his conclusions and to offer arguments of their own as alternatives. At least two of them — County Commissioner Tami Sawyer and former Mayor Willie Herenton — seem prepared to make such an effort, but they are both well behind with respect to one important piece of data not mentioned by Strickland on Tuesday.

That would be in the matter of campaign budgets, where the incumbent Mayor has an amount on hand close to one million dollars. That is one “basic” that will be hard to counter.

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Council Candidate Burch Accuses Opponent Fletcher of Violating State Law

Alleges conflicts pertaining to TIF in University of Memphis area.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 26, 2019 at 3:45 PM

Burch (l), Fletcher
  • Burch (l), Fletcher

Charley Burch, a candidate for the City Council in Super-District 9, Position 3, is taking aim at one of his opponents, Cody Fletcher, charging the Fletcher campaign with violating state law.

Burch cites Tennessee Code Annotated § 8-30-306, also known as the Little Hatch Act, which contains this provision: “No person holding a position in the preferred service shall solicit, directly or indirectly, or require any other person to solicit, directly or indirectly, donations or contributions for any political party, candidate, cause or purpose in order to acquire or deny a position in state service or to materially affect the retention, promotion or demotion of any employee in state service.”

He also cites TN Code § 2-19-203, which says: "It is unlawful for any public officer or employee knowingly to solicit directly or indirectly any contribution of money, thing of value, facilities or services of any person who has received contracts, compensation, employment, loans, grants or benefits, or any person whose organization, agency or firm has received such benefits financed by public funds, state, federal or local, for political purposes or campaign expense."

Several candidates are contending for the District 9, Position 3 seat. Besides Burch and Fletcher, two others are Dr. Jeff Warren and Tyrone Romeo Franklin. Fletcher had originally proposed to run for the Position 1 position in Super-District 9 but was persuaded by consultant Brian Stephens to switch his venue.

Burch, a security officer at Memphis International Airport, said he intends to file a formal complaint with state authorities. He contends that Fletcher, a development officer of the University of Memphis, a state-supported institution, has run afoul of the provision by “directly or indirectly” soliciting campaign contributions from contractors of other persons with an interest in various building projects.

Burch specifically includes the University Neighborhood Development Corporation, a comprehensive redevelopment project focused on Highland Street and financed under the auspices of a TIF (tax increment financing) grant.

Fletcher is executive director of the UNDC, and, as such, says Burch, is empowered to distribute some $21 million “in city and county tax dollars over the next 15 years up and down the TIF area,” which runs from Poplar Avenue to Park Ave.

“Cody may not be fully aware personally of the problem,” said Burch. “But his campaign people should be.”

Burch pointed out that a well-attended fundraiser for the Fletcher campaign was held in March at the home of Ted Townsend, head of economic development and government relations for the University of Memphis.

“That compounds the issue,” said Burch, who pointed out that invitations to the March fundraiser “almost certainly” went out to “architects, engineers, and builders with existing or potential future contracts with the University.”

Asked if such individuals, many of whom subsequently contributed to the Fletcher campaign, didn’t have the right to contribute to political campaigns like any other citizens, Burch said, “Of course, and they’re perfectly fine people. The point is that they were solicited, and that’s a questionable gray area under the Little Hatch Act.”

Citing public information, Burch said major contributors to Fletcher with some degree of involvement with the UNDC TIF area included Bob Loeb of Loeb Properties, New York developer Zachary Channing, and representatives of the Bass, Berry and Sims law firm, the Makosky, Ringel, and Greenberg property management firm, and Looney, Kiss, and Ricks architects.

Burch also raised the issue of possible conflicts of interest involving Fletcher as a Councilman, given that the Council has ex officio representation on the EDGE board and certain powers of approval over that board, which initiates and oversees TIFs and other development projects.

Apprised of Burch’s charges, Fletcher responded, “‘My top priority is fighting crime. If my opponents are talking about me, I must be doing something right.”

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Memphis City Election: The Contenders Are On the Line

Posted By on Sat, Jul 20, 2019 at 6:22 PM

City Council Position 3 candidate Jeff Warren (far left) with supporters at a Thursday afternoon fund-raiser. From left: Kathy Fish, co-host of the affair; Congressman Steve Cohen; former County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, and County Commission Chairman Van Turner. - Cohen got off a shot at political consultant Brian Stephens, who, said Cohen, was interested in making money, not the welfare of the city, and had talked one of Warren's opponents into moving from the Position 1 race, where Stephens already had a client, in order to maximize his potential profit. - JB
  • JB
  • City Council Position 3 candidate Jeff Warren (far left) with supporters at a Thursday afternoon fund-raiser. From left: Kathy Fish, co-host of the affair; Congressman Steve Cohen; former County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, and County Commission Chairman Van Turner. Cohen got off a shot at political consultant Brian Stephens, who, said Cohen, was interested in making money, not the welfare of the city, and had talked one of Warren's opponents into moving from the Position 1 race, where Stephens already had a client, in order to maximize his potential profit.

It's not quite a done deal. There’s still a withdrawal deadline of Thursday, July 25th, to be reckoned with — and rumors abound of dramatic changes of mind between now and then. But the filing deadline for places on the October 3rd Memphis city election ballot has come and gone, and (pending those potential changes) we know what the lineups are for the various races.

After this week’s filing deadline, at noon on Thursday, July 18th, here’s what the races looked like. (County election coordinator Linda Phillips stressed that these results were “preliminary.”)

This one is pure carnival. To understate the case somewhat, incumbent Jim Strickland, with a $1 million budget for the race, is in good shape. Three challengers have at least the trappings of a campaign: former Mayor Willie Herenton, activist and Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, and Lemichael Wilson. For the record, the other candidates are Terrence Boyce, Leo Awgowhat, Pamela Moses, Michael Everett Banks, DeAngelo Pegues, David Walker, Steven Bradley, Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges, and Sharon A. Webb.

District 1: Rhonda Logan and Sherman Greer. This is a straight-out, one-on-one between Logan, whose candidacy for an appointment to the council was pushed vigorously but unsuccessfully last year by various north-side political figures, notably state Representative Antonio Parkinson, and the eventually named incumbent, Greer, a former long-time aide to former Congressman Harold Ford Jr. Greer has widespread support from other members of the political establishment.

District 2: Incumbent Frank Colvett is on the ballot. Two would-be challengers, John Emery and Marvin Louis White, were having their supporting signatures checked. Should they qualify, that is likely the closest they’ll come to having a success.

District 3: Incumbent Patrice Robinson will be heavily favored against Tanya Cooper.

District 4: Incumbent Jamita Swearengen, another in-office favorite, has one definite challenger, Britney Thornton, and two other potential challengers, Rodney A. Muhammad, and Russell R. Jones, whose qualifying signatures are undergoing verification.

District 5: Incumbent Worth Morgan is being challenged by John Marek. Morgan would seem to be sitting pretty, but there are those who credit Marek with a chance to make some mischief.

District 6: Former incumbent Edmund Ford Sr., regarded as a prohibitive favorite, has four definite challengers — Davin Clemons, Theryn Bond, Jaques Hamilton, and Perry Bond — and one potential challenger, Paul S. Brown, whose signatures are being checked. Two Bonds: That makes things interesting.

District 7: Incumbent Berlin Boyd, who routinely attracts controversy, has attracted a passel of opponents as well: Catrina Smith, Jerred Price, Larry Springfield, Michalyn C.S. Easter-Thomas, Thurston Smith, Jimmy Hassan, and Will “The Underdog” Richardson. Toni Green-Cole could join this entourage if her signatures, undergoing evaluation, hold up.

Super-District 8, Position 1: Vying for this position are: Gerre Currie, who is vacating her appointive District 6 seat to do so: J.B. Smiley, Jr; Pearl Eva Walker; Nicole Cleaborn, M. Latroy Alexandria-Williams; and Derrick Dee Harris.

Super-District 8, Position 2: Incumbent Cheyenne Johnson, who always won her races for Shelby County assessor, even during Republican sweep years, will be opposed by Craig Littles, Frank W. Johnson, Brian L. Saulsberry, and Marinda Alexandria-Williams.

Super-District 8, Position 3: Incumbent Martavius Jones has two known opponents — Roderic Ford and Cat Allen — and two potential challengers whose signatures are being checked — Pamela Lee and Lynette P. Williams. In any case, Jones is heavily favored.

Super-District 9, Position 1: Qualified candidates are: Erika Sugarmon and Chase Carlisle. It’s going to be a contested one-on-one between a well-regarded woman with political lineage and the scion of a development dynasty.

Super-District 9, Position 2: Incumbent Ford Canale has one definite challenger, Deanielle Jones. But Mauricio Calvo is in the race too, if his supporting signatures check out, and he could prove to be a sleeper.

Super-District 9, Position 3: Jeff Warren was an early candidate and has raised more cash than any other council candidate. He has three challengers — Tyrone Romeo Franklin, Charley Burch, and Cody Fletcher, the latter a transplant from his original ballot choice, Position 1. He might have been better off before the switch.

There are several well-known names in the clerk's race, it would seem, with former Councilman Myron Lowery and Democratic activist Lea Ester Redmond definitely in, and Joe Brown, another former councilman, and county Commissioner Justin Ford in the process of being approved for the race. Others are George D. Summers, Carl Irons, David Vinciarelli, Dorothy Jean Bolden, Dee Givens, and William Stovall, with Delicia DeGraffried undergoing final certification.

There are three positions on the ballot and at least one definite race.
In Division 3, incumbent Judge Jayne Chandler is being challenged by current Judicial Commissioner David Pool.

In Division 1, the recently appointed Teresa Jones, a former school board member, may have a challenger in Latrena D. Ingram, who is still undergoing certification.

Division 2 incumbent Judge Tarik Sugarmon will be unopposed.

Council candidate Mauricio Calvo, running in the race for Super-District 9, Position 2, was flanked by family members at a Thursday afternoon rally in Midtown, as he delineated the neighborhoods in his district via a chart held by a supporter. - JB
  • JB
  • Council candidate Mauricio Calvo, running in the race for Super-District 9, Position 2, was flanked by family members at a Thursday afternoon rally in Midtown, as he delineated the neighborhoods in his district via a chart held by a supporter.

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Monday, July 15, 2019

Trump Endorsement of Hagerty Senate Bid May Have Force of Edict

Posted By on Mon, Jul 15, 2019 at 11:20 AM

Bill Hagerty in Memphis in 2012 - JB
  • JB
  • Bill Hagerty in Memphis in 2012
The trial balloon sent up last week by 8th District Congressman David Kustoff, along with several others expected to have been launched by would-be Republican U.S. Senate candidates would appear to be grounded by word from President Donald Trump favoring Bill Hagerty, current U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

Trump’s support for Hagerty as a 2020 candidate for the Tennessee Senate seat being vacated by Lamar Alexander was announced in a presidential tweet on Friday that said: "Tennessee loving Bill Hagerty, who was my Tennessee (Victory) Chair and is now the very outstanding Ambassador to Japan, will be running for the U.S. Senate. He is strong on crime, borders & our 2nd A. Loves our Military & our Vets. Has my Complete & Total Endorsement!."

Trump’s tweet came the day after an announcement of non-candidacy from former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who had been understood to have first dibs on a race for Alexander's seat. After Haslam said that such a race was “not my calling,” Kustoff teased a candidacy of his own, saying,” I've been approached by folks from all across Tennessee encouraging me to run and I look forward to continuing to talk to the people about how to best continue serving our great state."

Meanwhile, such other GOP Senatorial prospects as 7th District Congressman Mark Green and Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett made statements taking themselves out of contention for the race.

Inasmuch as Trump’s tweeted endorsement preceded any statement by Hagerty himself, it amounted to an unusual presidential edict, and it would seem to have, temporarily at least, foreclosed any other candidate activity from state Republicans, though Manny Sethi, a Nashville physician, had already announced his Senate candidacy in early June.

As Green made a point of noting, Hagerty has good ties with both the traditional Republican establishment and its Trump wing. A private equity investor, he served as an economic advisor and White House Fellow under President George H. W. Bush and was national finance chairman for Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign. From 2011 to 2014, Hagerty served as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development under Governor Haslam.

Lawyer and Iraq war veteran James Mackler of Nashville remains the only serious and declared Democratic candidate for the Alexander seat.

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Haslam Says No to Senate Race; Kustoff Says Maybe

8th District Congressman teases availability for run at Alexander seat; others are likely to be heard from.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 11, 2019 at 12:49 PM

Haslam (l); Kustoff
  • Haslam (l); Kustoff
If not Bill Haslam, then who? Hmmm, says David Kustoff. How about me?

That was the clear meta-message of a press release from the 8th District Republican congressman Thursday in the wake of former Governor Haslam’s published disavowal of any intent to run for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

The former governor, who would have been an odds-on favorite in the GOP primary and probably the general election, had this to say in an op-ed in the Nashville Tennessean regarding his decision not to seek the Senate seat being vacated by Senator Lamar Alexander:

“While I think serving in the United States Senate would be a great privilege and responsibility, I have come to the conclusion that it is not my calling for the next period of my life. This is a difficult decision because I have loved my time in public service and I believe so deeply in the importance of our political process.”

Kustoff, the 8th District congressman who was first elected in 2016 and was handily reelected last year, promptly teased his availability in the aforementioned press release. It reads as follows:

“Governor Haslam's career of public service is an honorable one, and I am grateful for all he has done for our state. Tennessee is home to some of our country’s best agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism and we need a senator who is willing to work with President Trump to help these industries thrive. It is vital that Tennessee has a senator that knows and deeply cares about the state and its people. I've been approached by folks from all across Tennessee encouraging me to run and I look forward to continuing to talk to the people about how to best continue serving our great state."

There are two hoary cliches on the subject of political office. Those leaving it, whether under pressure or not, often express their reason for doing so as a desire “to spend more time with my family” or something such-like. (Non-existent is the corollary: “I am running in order to spend less time with my family.”)

On the other hand, those about to seek an office customarily say something such as, “My friends have been asking me to consider seeking, etc., etc.” Kustoff’s statement is in that tradition. And, no doubt, he does have friends who have indeed floated the idea with him.

Other political figures, Republican and Democratic alike, have such friends, and one suspects we are about to hear from several others in addition to Kustoff.

Among the Republicans rumored to be thinking about running are former U.S. Reps. Diane Black and Stephen Fincher. Current GOP U.S. Rep. Mark Geeen has disavowed any interest in running. Among Democrats, Nashville lawyer and Iraq war veteran James Mackler has been running for some time.

More to come as developments warrant. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Lee Harris Endorses Council Candidate Davin Clemons

County Mayor’s intervention in city election seen as escalation of battle with Fords.

Posted By on Sun, Jul 7, 2019 at 3:20 PM

Endorsee Davin Clemons and Mayor Harris
  • Endorsee Davin Clemons and Mayor Harris
In a move that had been rumored for weeks, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris has intervened directly in the Memphis city election, announcing on Sunday his endorsement of Davin Clemons, Memphis City Council candidate in District 6.

The move can be — and no doubt will be — interpreted as an escalation of the already festering feud between Harris and Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr., whose father, Edmond Ford Sr., is making an election bid to recover the District 6 seat he once possessed.

Harris and the younger Ford have had heated exchanges of late, with Ford assailing the mayor publicly during commission meetings and with Harris apparently appearing to Ford to have taunted the extended Ford family during a recent appearance on local television.

In an interview with Richard Ransom of WATN, Channel 24, Harris jokingly blamed his troubles with Commissioner Ford on his previous electoral wins over two Ford family members

Ford took Harris to task for the TV remarks, telling the mayor at the June 24 commission meeting: "Don't use any member of my family as backup when you don't have answers. I can't respect you." At an earlier meeting, Ford had done the taunting, accusing Harris of looking beyond his mayoral duties to a projected future congressional race.

In his endorsement of Clemons, Harris may also be engaging in some political outreach. Clemons, a police officer who doubles as a minister, is openly gay and has served as the MPD’s official liaison with the LGBTQ community, encountering controversy here and there.

Clemons once filed a suit against the city for what he said was the department’s discrimination against him on the job, based on his sexual orientation and religion. The suit was resolved via a settlement between the parties.

Technically, the endorsement was not by Harris per se but by the Tennessee Voter Project, which Harris founded. The endorsement statement reads as follows:

Dear Friend,
The Tennessee Voter Project (TVP) invests in candidates who directly engage voters and who promise to expand voter access if elected.
Today, we are proud to endorse Davin Clemmons for Memphis City Council District 6.
It feels like Davin has been in service to this community his entire life. He is a minister, a police officer, a community organizer, and he is homegrown. Davin is a graduate of LeMoyne Owen College and his roots run deep in South Memphis. He is running an aggressive campaign in the same City Council district where he grew up. Because of his stances and proven record of accomplishment, supporting Davin is an easy call. That is why we are endorsing him in this campaign and that is why TVP has already contributed $500.

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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Done Deal! 2019 People's Convention Makes New History

Posted By on Sun, Jun 9, 2019 at 11:22 PM

Stare Rep. London Lamar presents a citation (from Tenn. House Speaker Glen Casada, no less) honoring 1991 Peple's Convention vets Shep Wilbun and state Rep. Barbar Cooper as Rev. Earle Fisher looks on
  • Stare Rep. London Lamar presents a citation (from Tenn. House Speaker Glen Casada, no less) honoring 1991 Peple's Convention vets Shep Wilbun and state Rep. Barbar Cooper as Rev. Earle Fisher looks on

How did the People’s Convention of 2019, held at the Paradise Entertainment Center on Saturday, compare with the seminal People’s Convention of 1991 that launched the successful campaign of Willie Herenton, Memphis’ first elected black mayor? As an apple to an orange, though both were undertaken with the aim of expressing the will of what one of this year’s convention participants called a “marginalized” population.

The 1991 event drew roughly 2,000 participants to Cook Convention Center; this new one drew a smaller number. Estimates range from 200 to 600, depending on the extent of the estimator’s involvement with the event. The actual number of attendees at Paradise probably closer to the low end, but Internet logs of the event, which was streamed online, suggest a far larger cybernetic audience, maybe in the thousands.

Under the umbrella of the ad hoc group, Up the Vote 901, numerous organizations associated themselves with the 2019 event: AFSCME, Black Lives Matter, MiCAH, etc., an extensive land impressive list, and preliminary statements by spokespersons for these groups took up almost two hours of the five hours-plus that the event lasted. Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris was there to add his exhortation as was Mayor Frank Scott Jr. of Little Rock.

There was something of a collective organizing group, though two of the major figures were the Rev. Earle Fisher and Sijuwola Crawford. Unmistakably, Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer was a booster of the convention and was boosted by it in return, to the point that other major candidates — notably Mayor Jim Strickland and former Mayor Herenton — kept their distance.

To note the more sectarian and limited nature of the 2019 convention, as compared to the 1991 original, which arguably spoke to Memphis’ aspiring black population per se, is not to downgrade it, however. This year’s convention drew inspiration and cadres from such earlier grassroots expressions as the Bridge confrontation of 2016 and the Take “em Down 901 campaign against the city’s Confederate statuaries.

The agenda for the People’s Convention of 2019 included attention to a diverse set of issues — including housing, education, public health job creation, justice reform, and voting equity — but its overtly political aims were to endorse candidates willing to “align” themselves with those aims.  Candidate response was somewhat uneven and it remains to be seen how well those who responded to the convention call do in October, and what sort of groundswell can be generated between now and then.

Municipal Court Judge Jayne Chandler, the one candidate present who was enjoined by the Judicial Canon of Ethics to avoid overtly political statements, managed to circumvent that prohibition with some appropriately forceful — and clearly permissible — rally cries:

“‘Wait’ almost always translates to Never!” “They used to feed you chicken and watermelon. Now they feed you crawfish!” (That was a reference to the crawfish fest held by opponent David Pool on the previous weekend.) “I’m not going in reverse anymore.” (That was a reference to Chandler’s response for circumventing a transmission issue, and it made a nifty metaphor.)

The judge was the second of several candidates who appeared as the only participating representatives from their particular election contest (or who, in the jargon of the event, were there to “align” their candidacies with the convention agenda). And she was the first to be acknowledged as a “consensus” choice of those voting.

At that stage of things, the number of people voting electronically (including those present as well as those streaming the event online) had to reach a ceiling of 200 to achieve viability for the outcome. Chandler made the cut, whereas the first hopeful appearing solo, city court clerk candidate Demeatree Givens, had apparently not.

It was hard to tell whether Givens had been adjudged to have fallen short of approval or had been victimized by gremlins in the electronics of voting, carried out via the prescribed website, In any case, the threshold of 200 votes cast was adhered to through the first several candidate rounds but was allowed to dip to 120 by the end of the event, which was in its sixth hour by the time of a culminating vote for a mayoral candidate.

In any event, several candidates would meanwhile get the convention nod — two of whom, Orange Mound activist Britney Thornton for the District 4 seat; Theryn Bond in District 6 — were the sole candidates appearing, but both of whom gave good accounts of themselves.

There were actual contests for successive positions. The District 7 contest would see several aspirants on stage: Michahalyn Easter Thomas, Thurston Smith, Will “the Underdog” Richardson, and Larry Springfield. This was a spirited colloquy, with Thomas and Smith sounding notes of populism and Smith boasting his entrepreneurial know-how and Springfield stressing his personality. Thomas would get the nod.

At this point, heading into the consideration of candidates for super-district city council seats and mayoral hopefuls, time was made for a segment honoring two veterans of the original People’s Convention of 1991, the one that would nominate Willie Herenton as the consensus black candidate for mayor.

As it happens, Herenton, who went on to defeat then-incumbent Dick Hackett and serve 17 years as the city’s chief executive, is once again a candidate for mayor, but he was conspicuously absent from this year’s event. His name was invoked, however, by former Councilman, County Commissioner, and Juvenile Court Clerk Shep Wilbun, one of the two first Peoples' Convention vets being honored. Besides being one of the original organizers of the 1991 event, Wilbun had been an aspirant for the mayoral role himself back then, and he would cite Herenton’s victory at that convention as proof of the objectivity of that event and as a precedent for that of the current one, which, as Wilbun knew, had been widely rumored to be a “setup” for mayoral candidate Tami Sawyer.

The other honoree from 1991, 90-year-old state Representative Barbara Cooper, recalled for the audience her lifetime of “40 years of segregation and 40 years of integration” and drew implicit parallels between the two conventions. In one particular, though, Cooper was at variance with the spirit of the current convention.

Several convention participants, including members of collaborating organizations and some of the candidates for office, had made a point of extolling Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant Runoff Voting), a method of balloting that allowed voters to rank candidates for office in order of preference, creating thereby a means for re-assigning the secondary preferences to reach a majority verdict in cases where, on first balloting, none had existed.

RCV has been approved by Shelby County voters twice but has been resisted by incumbents on the current city council, who, along with state election officials, have been able to delay its planned implementation in the forthcoming city election.The method was implicitly regarded as akin to the other progressive elements of the 2019 People’s Convention agenda and in addition to the other testifiers, a figure in the RCV movement, Aaron Fowles, had been included in the original lineup of co-sponsors allowed to address the convention.

But Cooper, in her somewhat rambling remarks to the crowd, made it clear that she had bought into a contrary theory advanced by RCV opponents that the method would run averse to the interests of the city’s current black voting majority. “IRV may be good for a minority but I’m not a minority,” Cooper said.

It was a break in the texture of things — a generational one, as clear and obvious as was Herenton’s absence from this would-be re-do of his 1991 triumph, and a deviation from populist idealism in the direction of imagined self-interest — whether a confirmation or rejection of Wilbun’s claim that the two conventions shared “the same agenda,” it was hard to say.

This moment for the elders was followed by a trio of contenders for the Super-District 8, Position 1 seat — educator Nicole Clayburn, lawyer J.B. Smiley, and Whitehaven activist Pearl Eva Walker, the ultimate endorsee. Each was asked to opine on RCV, and each responded without ambiguity: The people had spoken for the process in two referenda, and it — and they — needed to be heeded.

The convention was back on message and would stay that way — through effective solo presentations by Frank Johnson, candidate for Super District 8, Position 2, and Erika Sugarmon, candidate for Super District 9, Position 1.

The stage was set for the two mayoral candidates present — the aforementioned Sawyer and LeMichael Wilson, an unsung but hard-working mayoral entry who in his turn would cover the waterfront of social issues and inner-city concerns.

But it was Sawyer’s day, though she had to wait for hours to claim her moment before a somewhat diminished crowd. In the five minutes allotted to her, Sawyer noted that in the 200 years of its history, Memphis had never had a woman as mayor. Sensing that she was well enough known to avoid having to recount all her activist deeds of the last few years, notably including her spearheading of community efforts to dispose of Memphis’ Confederate monuments, she talked about the need to redistribute the city’s resources “to all neighborhoods” and scorned Strickland for what she said were inadequate efforts on behalf of the whole Memphis population.

She promised to do something concrete about the “school-to-prison pipeline” and to up the percentage of blacks and women benefited by the city’s ongoing MWBE (Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise) efforts.

As expected, Sawyer was named the consensus nominee for mayor by the convention, and by Sunday morning, an icon announcing her as the “winner” was a posted link on Facebook.

There is no disputing Sawyer’s determination, but neither is there any gainsaying the enormity of the task before her — a far greater one than confronted Herenton in 1991. The odds of her accomplishing the miracle of election in 2019 are beyond enormous, but at the very least she has established a head start in community consciousness that could pay dividends in 2023, when Strickland would be term-limited and such other likely candidates as current Shelby County Commission Chairman Van Turner will be making their move.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Casada Backs Down, Will Resign

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2019 at 12:52 PM

Though his initial instinct on Monday was to respond in the negative to the latest call for his resignation as speaker of the Tennessee House — this time from members of the House Republican caucus — Glen Casada (R-Franklin) has finally capitulated, after indicating in an earlier statement on Tuesday that he intended to remain in office despite a lopsided 45-24 vote against him by his fellow House Republicans.
Glen Casada
  • Glen Casada

The last straw for Casada was Monday’s caucus vote, which was followed almost immediately by a statement from Republican Governor Bill Lee that the governor would call a special session of the legislature to consider the matter of Casada’s tenure if the beleaguered Speaker resisted resignation. "Today, House Republicans sent a clear message," Lee said.

Casada’s first response to the caucus vote was one of continued resistance. ““I’m disappointed in the results of today’s caucus vote," the speaker said. "However, I will work the next few months to regain the confidence of my colleagues so we can continue to build on the historic conservative accomplishments of this legislative session.”

That statement was supplanted on Tuesday by this one: "When I return to town on June 3rd, I will meet with caucus leadership to determine the best date for me to resign as speaker so that I can facilitate a smooth transition.”

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Friday, May 10, 2019

Harris Conducts Smooth First Meeting as Dems’ Chair; Other Local Officers Elected

Exec Committee member Memula successfully moves for future meeting to consider disqualification of the chairman for professional misconduct issues and a new election.

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2019 at 9:44 AM

Harris presiding over his first meeting as SCDP chair - JB
  • JB
  • Harris presiding over his first meeting as SCDP chair

The executive committee of the Shelby County Democratic Party completed its reelection of officers Thursday night in a placid, orderly meeting that concluded in a shouting match over whether its newly elected local chairman, Michael Harris, can continue as party leader.

Harris, a suspended lawyer who has admitted having to live down a formidable list of professional “mistakes,” would, on the strength of commentary from members Thursday night, seem to have ample support on the local committee to continue. But committee member Sanjeev Memula, on behalf of a group of Democrats opposed to Harris’ continuation as chair, was able, amid controversy, to move for a hearing on the Harris matter, coupled with a call for a new chairmanship election.

Harris himself agreed to accept Memula’s motion after a ruling from parliamentarian Larry Pivnick that only the chairman or the executive committee itself, functioning as a grievance committee, could approve the motion. Before that happened, there were calls from several members to purge Memula and two other members publicly opposed to Harris — and a temporary motion to the effect, later withdrawn, from member Williams Brack.

Time and place for the hearing on the Harris matter have, as of Friday morning, yet to be set.

Harris’ professional issues — resulting in a 5-year suspension from the practice of law by the Board of Professional Responsibility and disqualification of him as a bankruptcy petitioner by the United States Bankruptcy Court — have complicated his tenure from the moment of his election, by a single vote over “none of the above” as a stated alternative , in a stormy organizational meeting early in April.

The beleaguered chairman’s conduct Thursday night of his first meeting as chairman could hardly be faulted. It was generally agreed, even by critics, that he seemed smooth, organized, and focused as he discussed a series of items with the membership — including the time and place of future committee meeting (likely to be held at AFSCME headquarters downtown), plans for a forthcoming public event, strategies for community outreach, and possible sponsorship of a mayoral debate during the ongoing city government election.

Memula and other critics of Harris have alleged, however, that his personal issues should disqualify him as a party leader and have brought the party into bad repute. They cite the likelihood that Republicans will be able to exploit those issues for their own purposes, and, indeed, the Tennessee Star, a publication featuring the point of view of right-wing Republicans, has already featured Harris’ problems in a published feature.

Aside from the chairmanship issue, the other standout fact of Thursday night’s meeting was that it included the first fully completed successful use of ranked choice voting in a local election. RCV backer Aaron Fowles was on hand to serve as an advisor on the process, which allows sampling of runner-up votes to determine a winner in multi-candidate races without a majority winner in the first round of voting.
Elected Thursday night were the following:
*Sara Beth Larson, first vice chair;
*Brian McBeidge, second vice chair;
*Regina Perry, secretary;
*Emily Fulmer, assistant secretary;
*Jesse Huseth and Williams Brack, steering committee members

Harris’ appointment of Lucretia Carroll as treasurer was accepted by acclamation by the membership.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

New Filing: The Background Papers of the Michael Harris Case

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 9:40 PM

The pending intra-party litigation by several members of the Shelby County DemocratIc Party seeking to invalidate the election of Michael Harris
Michael Harris - JB
  • JB
  • Michael Harris
as chairman of the SCDP has been supplemented with an abundance of new documents for the state Democratic executive committee to consider — all this on the eve of the first planned meeting, Thursday night of this week, of the newly elected SCDP executive committee.

As it happened, the local committee, amid an oft-turbulent discussion, took no action Thursday night but agreed, on a decision by Harris himself, to hear out a petition by SCDP executive committee member Sanjeev Memula to hold a new election. Memula's petition asks for the hearing within 20 days, in accordance with local party bylaws.

Before the state party issued its response remanding the issue back to the SCDP, members seeking Harris' ouster had submitted a series of documents:

The first grievance to the state committee, filed on April 10, focused on possible discrepancies in the rules of election practiced by the SCDP executive and grass roots committees on April 6, when Harris, a lawyer who has been suspended from his practice for a five-year period, was elected by one vote over "None of the above."

Subsequent supplements deal with what the litigants believe is the unsuitability of Harris for the position of chairman, given a lengthy and still uncorrected record of professional infractions and misdeeds by Harris. In one supplement, immediately below, the litigants cite these issues in a general way; they specifically seek a public hearing for their evidence, Harris' disqualification, nullification of the election results, Harris' disqualification, and ultimately a new election.

This supplement, like all the others gathered here, speaks for itself:

The second supplement, immediately below, repeats the requests made in the first supplement and cites facts relating to Harris' frequent efforts to claim bankruptcy protection, claims that the United States Bankruptcy Court has now expressly prohibited him from renewing:

In support of this second supplement, the litigants cite the specific efforts made by Harris in his quests for bankruptcy protection, listed below in a timeline:

Next is the order from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court revoking Harris' privileges even to file for further bankruptcy protection:

The next supplement is an itemized record of actions taken by the Board of Professional Responsibility apropos Harris' suspension:

And the final, and most lengthy supplement, is an itemized chronology of the aforementioned infractions charged to Harris during his now terminated practice of law:

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County Commission Backs Censure of Judge Lammey

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 5:48 PM

In a dramatic morning session, the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday voted 7-2 “in support of the public censure” of Criminal Court Judge James Lammey.

The move, a response to well-publicized Facebook posts by Lammey considered potentially anti-Semitic and racist and to courtroom actions and attitudes of his widely regarded as prejudicial to minorities, came via an add-on resolution from Democratic Commissioner Tami Sawyer.

Several representatives of established civic associations and religious and ethnic groups — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hispanic — spoke in support of the resolution, as did most of the Commissioners on hand for the body’s committee sessions.
Dr. Nabil Bayakly, chairman of Muslims in Memphis, speaks for Sawyer resolution. - JB
  • JB
  • Dr. Nabil Bayakly, chairman of Muslims in Memphis, speaks for Sawyer resolution.

Speaking strongly on behalf of the resolution, Republican Commission and Commission vice chair Mark Billingsley made a point of emphasizing that the resolution should be regarded not as “political” or as either Dermocratic or Republican but as a generalized and necessary statement by the Commission as a whole.

Billingsley went on to successfully advocate for several
Commissioner Sawyer - JB
  • JB
  • Commissioner Sawyer
 amendments strengthening the tone of the resolution.

Two Republican Commissioners, Amber Mills and Brandon Morrison, would nevertheless end up abstaining from the vote — Mills on the ground that the Commission had not yet heard directly from Lammey, Morrison warning of entering upon a “slippery slope” and contending that the Commission as a legislative body should defer on judgmental matters to specifically judicial authorities; she recommended the state Board of Judicial Conduct.

Sawyer, who insisted on a Commission vote, would respond that the Commission could afterward ask its staff to contact the Board of Judicial Conduct for further action. She was clearly infuriated by Mills’ remarks regarding Lammey’s “side of the matter” and indicated she was put off as well by a suggestion from Billingsley that Lammey be invited to respond, either in person or in writing, at the Commission’s next regular public meeting on Monday.
Billingsley speaking for resolution - JB
  • JB
  • Billingsley speaking for resolution
In an extended and emotional speech, Sawyer recounted an online communication she personally had received two weeks earlier from a declared white supremacist, who vilified her, threatened her with physical harm, and announced his intention to make sure her body ended up in the Mississippi River. Comparing that communication with Lammey’s various online postings — which included links to Holocaust deniers and overt racists — and what she described as his overly punitive treatment of immigrants in court, Sawyer said if someone had dared to ask her to consider the “other side” of her would-be attacker’s point of view or had told her the Commission, similarly, would be interested in hearing out Lammey’s, “I would be offended.”

Sawyer received applause from attendees, as did Commissioner Eddie Jones subsequently as he choked up while describing being addressed by a white National Guardsman on the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. The man said “Little nigger boy, where are you going?” and said Jones, “I never forgot those words.”

Voting for the resolution were Republicans Billingsley and David Bradford, and Democrats Sawyer, Edmund Ford, Reginald Milton, Eddie Jones, and Michael Whaley.

A letter to Lammey announcing the results of Wednesdays’s action and confirming the Commission’s wish to give him opportunity to respond on Monday, when the action is scheduled to become official, was dispatched by email to the Judge. It can be seen below:

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