By the end of the current week, the Republicans of Shelby County may have a mayoral candidate to call their own, after all. Former Memphis Redbirds president and general manager Allie Prescott acknowledges that he met last week in the law office of Shelby County Republican chairman Alan Crone with a high-level group of local GOP dignitaries, who offered him their support.
"I told them I wouldn't be meeting with them if I wasn't seriously interested," said Prescott, who promised a decision by this weekend to a blue-ribbon recruiting group including current Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, district attorney general Bill Gibbons, Chairman Crone, former county chairmen Bill Watkins and David Kustoff, and state GOP committeeman John Ryder.
Prescott, who retired earlier this year from his Redbirds duties, is a former chairman of the Park Commission and of MIFA, and served as vice president and general manager of the old Memphis Chicks.
Though he says he has always been a Republican, Prescott concedes that he's had little political involvement, most of it confined to assisting in the various election campaigns of his wife, Memphis School Board member Barbara Prescott. "I've had a good deal of experience in nailing yard signs," he jests.
If Prescott does give the Shelby GOP the high sign, he will end what has turned into an increasingly desperate hunt for an officially sanctioned party candidate since the decision some months ago by Rout not to seek reelection.
Since then, various party dignitaries have opted out of running, among them Gibbons, former city councilman John Bobango, councilman Jack Sammons, Shelby County commissioner Buck Wellford, state Senator Mark Norris, Probate Court clerk Chris Thomas. All but formally ruling themselves out have been Circuit Court clerk Jimmy Moore and county trustee Bob Patterson. If he decides to run, Prescott is expected to have little or no opposition in next May's primary.
Democrats so far vying in their party's primary for the right to run in the August general election include Shelby County public defender A C Wharton, Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, and state Representative Carol Chumney.
· Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen made his umpteenth recent appearance before a Memphis audience Monday night at Folk's Folly restaurant on Mendenhall. There were two main differences this time: The former Nashville mayor, who for some months was cultivating local soil with a series of free meet-and-greets, was well into the fund-raising stage of his campaign this time ($1,000 and up was the amount "suggested" for attendees). And perhaps more importantly, Republicans were every bit as prominent as Democrats at the affair.
Tellingly, several of those present were prominent supporters of current Republican governor Don Sundquist in the last two elections. A case in point was co-host Jim McGhee, the developer and former Airport Authority chairman, who introduced Bredesen with remarks that included a lament that sitting congressmen -- he mentioned Sundquist and former Governor Ray Blanton (the center of a pardons-for-cash scandal who served time for selling liquor licenses) -- had proved "a mistake" in the role of chief executives for the state.
One edge of that blade swiped at the leading Republican candidate, 4th District congressman Van Hilleary. Another longtime local Republican, industrialist Jim Fri, said he distrusted Hilleary's adamant stand against the income tax and, even though Bredesen has also shied away from espousing such a tax, said, "I trust Jim McGhee on this."
A prominent former aide of Sundquist's, AutoZone executive Ray Pohlmann, was also in attendance.
Of course, Democrats were on hand, too -- including Shelby County party chairman Gale Jones Carson, former chairman Sidney Chism, current county mayor candidate Wharton, and hotelier and co-host Pace Cooper.
But the emphasis was on the Republicans and independents on hand, a fact underscored by the candidate himself, who noted the political diversity of the room and referred to those present as a "cross section" of the Memphis community.
In a reference to last week's flap concerning the fund-raiser that Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams hosted for him at Adelphia Coliseum, Bredesen quipped that he had discovered "maybe seven people" in the state who were upset about the financial package he helped prepare (along with Sundquist) to entice the NFL contender to Nashville. If the Titans matter became an issue, Bredesen said, "I'll be all right."
· There's increasing talk that insurance man Henry Hooper, a former Secret Service agent who has said he will run for Shelby County sheriff as an independent, may switch tracks and run as a Democrat. Two other Democrats, Deputy Chief Randy Wade and city councilman E.C. Jones, have their druthers as to which way Hooper should do it. Jones, a white with a solid working-class base in Frayser, would undoubtedly profit from a split of the black vote in the party primary between Wade and Hooper, both African Americans.
Wade, on the other hand, would just as soon Hooper bypassed both the primary and the general election, where Hooper's presence would greatly assist a white Republican nominee.
The GOP race, as of now, is four-way, with Captain Bobby Simmons, who is backed by a number of members of the Memphis City Council, vying with departmental field commander Mike Jewell, a Bartlett alderman who has support from several of his city's officials, Mark Luttrell, director of the Shelby County Corrections System, who is backed by a number of figures in the current county administration, and Chief Don Wright, regarded as the candidate of the reigning department hierarchy.
· One of the largest political crowds of the season gathered at the Germantown home of Wayne Mashburn last week to provide a show of support (financial and otherwise) for Steve Stamson, the former deputy clerk at Juvenile Court who left his position for an equivalent one at General Sessions Court after he failed to get the chief clerk's job at Juvenile Court last year to some horse-trading on the Shelby County Commission.
When former Juvenile Court clerk Bob Martin retired, he and most members of the county's Republican establishment supported Stamson as Martin's successor, but then Commissioner Shep Wilbun got the job instead as part of a complicated trade-off which saw another favorite, Memphis lawyer David Lillard, defeated for a commission vacancy by developer Tom Moss.
As a consequence of all that maneuvering, several looming contests on the county's 2002 political calendar have a grudge-match quality. There is the developing general-election race between Republican Stamson and Democrat Wilbun; a Republican primary race between GOP regular Joyce Avery and Commissioner Clair VanderSchaaf (who voted with the commission's Democrats to seat Moss); and another primary race that has former Lakeland mayor Jim Bomprezzi running against Moss.
· Lillard had been another possible contender for that seat, but when Commissioner Tommy Hart made a surprise announcement last week that he would not seek reelection, Lillard, a current member of the Shelby County Election Commission, decided to run for Hart's seat instead and made an announcement to that effect Tuesday.
· Two members of the Memphis School Board, Lora Jobe and Barbara Prescott, achieved official positions at last week's annual meeting of the Tennessee School Board Association in Nashville. Prescott (wife of potential county-mayor candidate Allie Prescott) was named president of the organization and Jobe became chairperson of TSBA's state "legislative network," which also includes Shelby County School Board member Ron Lollar as a member.
Jobe, whose position is essentially one of organizing lobbying efforts, presided over a debate in Nashville involving four Democratic gubernatorial candidates -- Bredesen, Knoxville district attorney Randy Nichols, former state Education Commissioner Charles Smith, and former state Senator Andy Womack of Murfreesboro. ·