POLITICS: New Mayor, New Council? 

Chumney defends her “leadership style” and counts on extensive turnover on the city council.

Naming "crime, cronyism, and corruption" as major issues in this year's mayoral election, candidate Carol Chumney addressed the Germantown Democratic Club Monday night, pledging if elected to "get a good team" in order to bring renewed efficiency to Memphis city government.

Subsequently, city council member Chumney fielded at least two questions from the membership (which includes several Memphis voters who live in Cordova) about her reported difficulties with the mayor's office and fellow council members.

One member asked: What about her "relation building" and "leadership style"? Would these be obstacles?

Chumney responded that she had developed good relations with fellow legislators while a state House member for 13 years and said, "City government has been a little different because there's been quite frankly some corruption. Many times I would be the only one who would stand up and say anything. Some folks are going to get mad at you. I'm a strong leader, I will tell you that."

When another member followed that up by asking if the city council would back her proposals if she were elected mayor, Chumney said, "We're going to elect a new city council." Noting the virtual turnover of membership in the county commission in last year's elections, she expressed confidence that city voters would follow suit. "It's going to happen here. They're going to vote and vote in a new team."

Pledging to renew cooperation between city and county law-enforcement teams, Chumney said, "It's disrespectful to expect the police to go two years without a pay raise while asking them to risk their lives for us."

She repeated her objections to Riverfront Development Corporation proposals, including the recently approved Beale St. Landing project, and called both for the city's retention of The Coliseum and for "something classy" in the downtown Pyramid.

Chumney said she'd heard "disturbing rumors" about the past management of Memphis Networx and reported plans for its pending sale and promised "to get to the bottom of it." She said the council's authority over a prospective sale was uncertain but said she was seeking authoritative word on that from the state Attorney General's office.

  • Germantown is becoming an important campaign venue for candidates running for office in adjacent Memphis. A week or so earlier members of the Republican Women of Purpose organization heard a presentation at the Germantown Public Library from Brian Stephens, city council candidate in District 2, the East Memphis-suburban seat being vacated by incumbent Brent Taylor

    Stephens has been active in an effort to strengthen laws regulating sexually oriented businesses (S.O.B.'s in the accepted jargon) and specifically to make sure that veteran topless-club entrepreneur Steve Cooper does not convert a supposed "Italian restaurant" now under construction in Cordova into an S.O.B.

    He discussed those efforts but offered other opinions as well, some of them surprising - a statement that "consolidation is coming, whether we like it or not," for example - and some not, like his conviction (a la Taylor) that tax increases are not necessary for the city to maintain and improve basic services.

    In general, Stephens, who seems to have a head start on other potential District 2 aspirants, made an effort to sound accommodationist rather than confrontational, stressing a need for council members to transcend racial and urban-vs.-suburban divisions and expressing confidence in the ability of currently employed school personnel to solve the system's problems.

  • Also establishing an apparent early lead over potential rivals is current school board member Stephanie Gatewood, running for the District 1 council seat being vacated by incumbent E.C. Jones. Gatewood's fundraiser at the Fresh Slices restaurant on Overton Park last Thursday night drew a respectable crowd, and her membership in Bellevue Baptist Church on the suburban side of District 1 provides an anchor in addition to an expected degree of support from the district's African-American population.

  • One night earlier, Wednesday night, had been a hot one for local politics, with three more-than-usually significant events, and there were any number of dedicated and/or well-heeled visitors to all three:

    --Residents of the posh Galloway Drive area where U of M basketball coach John Calipari resides are surely used to long queues of late-model vehicles stretching every which way in the neighborhood, especially in election season when Calipari's home is frequently the site of fundraisers for this or that candidate.

    But Wednesday night's event, a $250-a-head fundraiser for District 5 city council candidate Jim Strickland, was surely a record-setter - out-rivaling not only Calipari's prior events but most other such gatherings in Memphis history, including those for senatorial and gubernatorial candidates. A politically diverse crowd estimated at 300 to 500 people showed up, netting Strickland more than $60,000 for the night and bringing his total "cash on hand" to $100,000.

    --Meanwhile, mayoral candidate Herman Morris attracted several hundred attendees to the formal opening of his sprawling, high-tech campaign headquarters on Union Avenue - the same HQ that, week before last, suffered a burglary - of computers containing sensitive information, for one thing - a fact that some Morris supporters find suspicious in light of various other instances of hanky-panky currently being alleged in the mayoral race.

    -- Yet a a third major political gathering took place Wednesday night, as Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton was the beneficiary of a big-ticket fundraiser at The Racquet Club. Proceeds of that one have been estimated in the $50,000 range - a tidy sum for what the county mayor alleges (and alleged again Wednesday night) is intended only as a kind of convenience fund, meant for charitable donations and various other protocol circumstances expected of someone in his position.

    Right. Meanwhile, Wharton declined to address the most widely speculated-upon subject in Memphis politics: Will he or won't he enter the city mayor's race? As everybody knows, and as the county mayor has informally acknowledged, he is the subject these days of non-stop blandishments in that regard, and there's very little doubt that these have accelerated since a dramatic recent press conference by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton alleging "the 2007 Political Conspiracy."

    While some of Mayor Wharton's intimates at the Wednesday night affair were keeping to the line that the chances of his running for city mayor were minimal to non-existent, their answers to inquiries about the matter were delivered after what we'll call meaningfully inflected pauses. The door may be shut for now, but it clearly isn't padlocked.

    click to enlarge Chumney in Germantown - JB
    • jb
    • Chumney in Germantown

  • NASHVILLE -- The name of McWherter, prominent in Tennessee politics for most of the latter 20th century, will apparently resurface in fairly short order, as Jackson lawyer and businessman Mike McWherter, son of two-term former governor Ned McWherter, is making clear his plans to challenge U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander's reelection bid next year.

    Apparently only one thing could derail Democrat McWherter -- a renewed Senate candidacy by former Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr., who last year narrowly -- lost a Senate race to the current Republican incumbent, Bob Corker. "I don't think I would compete against Harold. But I don't think he will run," McWherter said in an interview with The Flyer at Saturday's annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Nashville.

    The 52-year-old activist sees Alexander as a slavish follower of President George W. Bush.

    "With one or two exceptions, he's done everything the president has wanted him to do. He's toed the party line," said McWherter, who has recently paid courtesy calls on ranking Democrats, both in Tennessee and in Washington, D.C., informing them of his interest in running next year and soliciting their support.

  • Keynote speaker at the Democrats' dinner in Nashville was presidential hopeful Bill Richardson, whose situation somewhat paralleled that of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who earlier this month had been the featured speaker at the state Republicans' Statesmen's Dinner, also in Nashville.

    On that occasion, Romney - who had been invited before the entrance of former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson became likely - was a de facto lame-duck keynoter, and, mindful of the attendees' expected loyalty to favorite-son Thompson, cracked wanly, "I know there's been some speculation by folks about a certain former senator from Tennessee getting into the presidential race, and I know everybody's waiting, wondering. But I take great comfort from the fact than no one in this room, not a single person, is going to be voting for -- Al Gore."

    That bit of verbal bait-and-switch got the expected laugh, and so did a joke Saturday night by New Mexico governor Richardson, who uttered some ritual praise of native Tennessean and former presidential candidate Gore and then, when the crowd warmly applauded the former vice president, jested, "Let's not overdo it. I don't want him in this race!"

    • jb

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