Passing the Plate

There may not be an election on this year, but fund-raisers are much in evidence.

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We have not yet reached the halfway point of 2001, a specimen of the one year in every four that is politics-free in the election calendar of these parts.

But merely ask the deep-pocketed ones among us whether politics is at a standstill. Fund-raisers abound for the political hopefuls of Campaign Season 2002.

Among the notables who've had them around town of late are: U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (beneficiary of a $500-a-head version at the Plaza Club at AutoZone park, an increasingly sought-after venue); U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary, Republican of Tennessee's 4th Congressional District, who's slipped in once or twice for big-ticket affairs; Shelby County Trustee Bob Patterson, who engaged a prize-winning barbecue team to cater his, at Kirby Farms; Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore, at the Collierville home of developer Jackie Welch; and county Probate Clerk Chris Thomas, who had his affair at another increasingly popular venue, the Union Planters Bank building on Poplar Avenue.

(For the record, Moore is still considering a run for sheriff next year instead of one for re-election.)

State Rep. Carol Chumney, who's gotten off to an early organizational head start on her Democratic rivals for next year's nomination for Shelby County mayor, is unable to hold a fund-raiser by virtue of a state law forbidding same for legislators while the General Assembly is in session.

But she did the next best thing -- holding a reception last month at a Germantown supporter's residence. She, like state Senator Jim Kyle, a declared party rival for the mayoral post, have to be yearning a little bit more than the rest of their colleagues for an end to what may turn out to be another marathon session, like last year's. (What's holding things up, of course, is the legislature's continued failure to find a solution to a threatened budget deficit whose dimensions could reach as much as $1 billion by next year.)

Kyle, by the way, is secretly thankful for Governor Don Sundquist's recent veto of a Kyle-sponsored bill to place a lower limit on retail gasoline sales. The measure, passed several weeks ago before the latest dramatic price hikes, is at least off the table now -- although the senator knows to expect gigs from his mayoral rivals.

Down the line

n The Shelby County Democrats don't have a date fixed yet, but Chairman Gale Jones Carson announced that the keynote speaker for the party's forthcoming Kennedy Dinner will be former Atlanta mayor and noted civil rights activist Maynard Jackson.

At its last steering committee meeting, the party also formally voted to petition the Election Commission for a countywide primary next year.

n Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove told Memphis Rotarians Tuesday that the NFL's New Orleans Saints are flirting with a move to his state's Gulf coast.

Outside the Box

As no one needs to be reminded, much attention of late has been focused on the hows and whys and whethers of building an NBA-worthy arena to house the putatively transplant Grizzlies of Vancouver.

John Q. Public has weighed in on the subject with us, as with the other paper in town. Following are two excerpts from two unusually pointed responses to the issue:

"Whenever the subject of securing a professional sports franchise in Memphis arises, I am reminded of the expression 'if you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.' In matters urban, the acquisition of a pro sports team confers 'big dog' status like few other things, and Memphis seems to be a Chihuahua that spends a lot of time barking from behind the screen door ...

"As the ex-wife of an All-American in football and the mother of two teenage sons who were swinging a baseball bat before they could read, I understand the importance of sports. As an alumnus of the University of Memphis, I can attest to the tremendous sense of pride that comes with having a team bring national attention to our city.

"And I am as weary as anyone else of hearing people complain that Memphis would be great if only we had a professional team. But if Memphis is not a viable venue for pro sports profits without taking all the financial risk, could it be because the economic underpinnings of this city are fragile?

"Might we be better off trying to solve the problem of an undereducated work force that depresses our per capita income, which in turn keeps commerce and pro sports from chasing us? If we improved the economic foundation of Shelby County first, maybe we could become big dogs without ever leaving the porch ... ." -- Ruth Ogles (free-lance writer and 2000 candidate for the Memphis School Board)

"At some point Memphis is going to build a stadium, a structure budgeted at 250 million dollars, which means that it will probably cost upwards of $275 to 300 million dollars. With such an expenditure of money, we might ask how the citizens of Shelby County can best be served this appropriation, and how we can get the most bang for the buck. Considering the fact that major league sports teams have become Gypsies, and an NBA team could well move out of town within a half-dozen years, the new stadium should be something that will continue to serve even if the NBA team decides to move on.

"With all of these factors in mind, there really is only one logical building option: a retrofitted and domed Liberty Bowl. This would be a multi-sports arena which would also benefit the University of Memphis, the Liberty Bowl, and the Southern Heritage Classic, all of whom play their football games there.

"Today all it takes is a threat of rain, or a temperature drop of 10 degrees to cut attendance by as much as 50 percent, which is a small fortune at $20 per ticket or more ... ." -- Larry Moore (University of Memphis law professor)

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