Political Squeeze Plays 

"Plots, true or false, are necessary things/to raise up commonwealths, and ruin kings." -- John Dryden

Several plots, real or alleged, are afoot in the politics of Shelby County just now. To take some of these, in no particular order:

1) Ford vs. Ford vs. Whomever: Last week's filing deadline for statewide and federal races ended with lawyer Joe Ford Jr., son of the county commissioner, as one of several candidates for the Democratic primary for the 9th District congressional seat being vacated by his first cousin, current U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr.

Simultaneously, another first cousin, the current congressman's brother Jake Ford, filed as an independent.

For the record, Joe Ford Jr. sounded genuinely annoyed at Jake Ford's filing, disclaimed any family-wide knowledge of or participation in his decision to run, and scoffed at both Jake Ford's qualifications and his chances of polling many votes as an independent. "I don't care what his name is, who his brother is, or who his dad is," said Joe Ford, who predicted a victory in the general election for the winner of the crowded Democratic primary.

There were others, however, who saw the double-Ford entry as a ploy to ensure that a Ford family member would still be on hand to contest the issue among black Democratic voters if state senator Steve Cohen, the only major white candidate, should emerge as the Democratic nominee.

In the ensuing three-way race, which would presumably include a white Republican, Cohen's vote total would be squeezed, allowing a Jake Ford victory. Or so goes the theory. Meanwhile, various Democrats were supposedly exhorting Jake Ford -- probably in vain -- to pull out by this Thursday's withdrawal deadline.

2) LaSimba Gray et al. vs. Cohen: There was no doubting that an effort was under way to undermine Cohen's chances from another direction. The Rev. LaSimba Gray, a principal organizer of a multi-candidate forum held on Sunday night at First Baptist Church on Broad Street, made no bones about it in his introduction of the aspirants:

The forum was "to make some sense of the confusion that is taking place," Rev. Gray said. "All that we have fought for all of these years ... we could end up losing it this year." He went on: "Tonight's forum is to see if we can come to some sense of for whom we should vote. It may well be that, for the first time in 32 years, African Americans will be without representation in the U.S. Congress from West Tennessee."

That was fairly direct corroboration of Cohen's somewhat anxious paraphrase, before the event, of a well-known Carly Simon lyric. "I'll bet this song is about me," the senator said.

In the event, Cohen sang effectively from his own songsheet, pointing out a series of his votes and legislative proposals over the years that expressly benefited African Americans as well as several instances of his having supported black candidates against white ones in local elections.

"I've always represented African Americans," Cohen said in a passionate opening statement, which concluded thusly: "I ask you to vote for the content of my character and not the color of my skin, and you'll never ever regret it!" In answer to several questions and in his closing remarks, Cohen made similar statements, to general applause.

After the event, several of the other candidates expressed regrets, both to Cohen and to this reporter, that the racial issue had been brought up. In defending his approach, Gray acknowledged that Cohen had fairly represented blacks in the state Senate but insisted that his preference for an African-American candidate would be paralleled by Cohen in an election featuring a Jewish candidate: "If Steve Cohen voted, he'd vote for the Jew."

Apprised of this, Cohen, who is Jewish, expressed disappointment at Gray's interjection of a religious element and pointed out that he had supported John Kerry, a Catholic, over Joe Lieberman, a Jew, in the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries.

For the record, a poll of attendees at the forum favored candidates Ed Stanton, Ron Redwing, and Marvell Mitchell.

3) Bailey and Bailey vs. Whomever: Though the Shelby County Democratic Party was unable, for deadline reasons, to decertify former longtime Republican activist J.W. Gibson as a County Commission candidate for District 2, Position 1 on its May 2nd primary ballot, the party's steering committee did formally deny Gibson's status as a "bona fide" Democrat after a vigorous debate of the party's executive committee last week.

A plot within the plot, as it were: Various partisans of outgoing term-limited Commissioner Walter Bailey -- notably, the incumbent's lawyer son Jay Bailey, who spoke vigorously against Gibson at last week's meeting -- are pushing for a "victory" for Walter Bailey, whose name remains on the ballot. The theory: If the incumbent finishes ahead, the party committee will then be able to substitute its own choice, presumably the younger Bailey.

Offsetting this prospect was a growing support in the party ranks for a third candidate, Darrick Harris, who acquitted himself well in a forum for Democratic commission candidates last week. Jested Harris about the party loyalty issue: "My voting record looks sort of like my fourth-grade report card: It's got D's all over it."

Mayor Sammons? One of the visitors to the Election Commission on filing-deadline day last week was City Council member Jack Sammons, who engaged in animated and friendly conversation with another interloper, local Republican eminence John Ryder. It was Ryder who -- on behalf of former county mayor Jim Rout and the GOP establishment -- recruited John Bobango for a successful 1995 run against then-incumbent Sammons, who had opposed Rout in 1994.

Sammons, Ryder, and Bobango were all best buds by 1999, when Bobango stepped aside, and Sammons, who later became finance chair for the local Republican Party, regained his seat.

Now Sammons is eyeing a further political step. He acknowledged that he was seriously considering a run for Memphis mayor in 2007, thereby becoming the first of several rumored mayoral candidates to make such an overt declaration.

Preview of Possible, er,

Coming Attraction

"That's Western technology, sir. A eugenicist like yourself should be on top of that!" That was me, talking to James Hart, would-be Republican candidate for Congress in the 8th District (though the Republican Party itself has taken steps to strip him of the party label on the ballot).

Having arrived at the Coletta's restaurant in Cordova, site of Hart's "debate" last week with John Farmer, another Republican primary candidate, I discovered to my chagrin that my trusty Olympus recorder had slipped out of my jacket pocket during an impromptu afternoon nap at home. And, though I scribbled notes furiously during the Hart-Farmer encounter, I make every effort to ensure the verbatim accuracy of all quotes and therefore asked Hart, who had his own pocket recorder and had further furnished a compliant audience member with a video-cam, if he would mind downloading a recording from either and sending it to me from his Paris, Tennessee, address.

That was when Hart, who claims racial supremacy for Europeans and their descendants and campaigns on the issue, confessed he had just bought both contraptions and didn't know from downloading or anything else technical. And that was when I made my crack.

"That's like when that fellow said 'Sieg Heil!'" admonished Hart -- his reference being to Farmer's disgusted retort to one of his more perfervid denunciations of "inferior" races.

(Two interested observers, General Sessions judge Betty Thomas Moore and her husband Alvin Moore, both African Americans, had discreetly -- and understandably -- left the restaurant in the middle of Hart's impassioned declaration that blacks possessed "lower I.Q.'s and smaller brains.")

In any case, Hart did make a tape recording while playing the video and sent me a copy. The result is pretty muddy, and I'm making my way through it. I'll be happy to write a fuller account of the proceedings later if that seems needful. Or maybe this is 'nuff said.

Meanwhile, Farmer's reaction is not unique. I can attest to the fact that virtually every self-professed conservative I know, conventional or otherwise, has made a point of communicating to me disgust with Hart's out-and-out racist views, which include his advocacy of "eugenic abortion."

Indeed, with Hart in the race, the term "centrist" may need to be re-defined.

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