Sidney Chism — once upon a time a Teamster leader, formerly a state Senator and a County Commissioner, at present a Sheriff’s employee, and always a political broker — presided over another installment of his annual summer picnic at the usual Horn Lake grounds on Saturday.
Though the affair was open to all and sundry, Chism, when it came his time to speak (before and after the several candidates who were on hand), he left no doubt as to his personal preferences.
Among the mayoral candidates, Councilman Harold Collins reportedly made an early visit but was gone before the speaking started. The other members of the field who were there for the main event were Leo Awgowhat, Jim Strickland, and M. Latroy Williams. No A C Wharton, no Mike Williams, no Justin Ford — at least not early on. Williams did have some backers there wearing his campaign T-shirts.
A former Mayor, Willie Herenton, was there for a while, and, though he didn’t stick around to speak to the crowd, he did a fair amount of hand-shaking, and, mindful, no doubt, of the city’s current financial predicament, brandished to everybody with whom he spoke a vintage 2006 clip from the Commercial Appeal noting that he had achieved a substantial surplus the previous year.
When host Chism took the stage, he made it clear that Strickland, with whom he has had a decades-long relationship, was his choice for Mayor. A few minutes later, in the course of acknowledging the presence in the crowd of Shelby County Democratic chair Randa Spears (who had been his choice for chairman at this year’s local Democratic convention), Chism let it be known who was not high on his toteboard.
“She’s been catching a whole lot of flak from one crazy person, but I hope y’all put him out of this city, and he’ll be all right.” Those who follow local politics knew well who he meant. As for the others, Chism waited until all the candidates on hand at the picnic had had their say, then went back to the subject to make himself clear.
“I said something earlier. I said there was somebody who needed running out of town, and that person, I didn’t call his name, but that person is Del Gill….He ain’t worth two cents,” said Chism, who deviated briefly into giving out a recipe for Democratic success at the polls.
“We’re not going to win any elections in Shelby County until we get into the mindset that we’ve got to get in the middle. If we get in the middle, we can elect Democrats, qualified Democrats. I didn’t say you’ve got to be a super intelligent magna cum laude educated person. I’m saying you ought to be smart enough to know that the people in this country are in the middle.” He urged his listeners to “vote for the right person, and he ain’t got to look like me, just act like me.”
That prescription out of the way, he praised chairman Spears, whom he was about to introduce, and loosed one last blast at the absent Gill, a persistent Democratic Party dissident who has played adversary to virtually every Democratic chair and administration over the years.
“He’s been lying on me for ten years,” said Chism. “He won’t show up and do it to my face, but he lies all the time. “
That was it for controversy. The candidate’s speeches were predictable boilerplate or self-introduction, for the most part, the schmoozing was intramural and across party lines, there were musical interludes offered up by D.J. Leon Gray, and there were refreshments to be had — hot dogs, bologna, and chips, with ice-tubs full of drinks and an ice cream truck standing by.
A fair amount of political buttons and literature was passed out, for those with that kind of appetite. And, this being a political picnic, there were no few of those.