BROTHER ACT?

Candidate Avery charges 'skulduggery' in District 4, Pos. 1

Posted by Jackson Baker on Mon, Feb 25, 2002 at 4:00 AM

It’s an old ploy -- the idea of one candidate’s putting another in his own race to dilute the "anti"-vote against him or her -- and it has either happened again in a hotly contested Shelby County Commission race, or it hasn’t happened at all, depending on who you ask. If it’s Joyce Avery, who’s hoping to unseat Clair VanderSchaaf in District 4, Position 1, she’ll tell you that the incumbent and his half brother, Greg Brannick, both of whom are on the Republican primary ballot with her, are in cahoots to split the anti-VanderSchaaf vote. “Skulduggery,” she called it in a press release on Sunday. “’Commissioner Vanderschaaf has a long history of cutting deals that benefit him personally. Placing his brother into this county commission race is just one more act of under-handedness,’” veteran GOP activist Avery is quoted in the release, which continues, “Vanderschaaf’s half-brother, perennial candidate Greg Brannick, filed for the commission seat one day prior to the qualifying deadline for candidates. Days earlier, Brannick moved his voter registration into District 4.” If it’s Clair VanderSchaaf you ask, he’ll dismiss the accusation out of hand, saying that he and his half-brother (they have the same mother and different fathers, and Commissioner VanderSchaaf is the older by almost two decades) are “not all that close.” He will say further, “I didn’t know he was going to file or why. He didn’t tell me. Maybe he thought I wasn’t going to.” And if it’s Brannick, a real estate manager who has made two previous races (for state representative and for Bartlett alderman), you’ll get another denial (of sorts): “I think something very similar is going on in the Ford family,” Brannick says first, presumably referring to a race between siblings Joe Ford and Ophelia Ford for the commission seat formerly held by the late Dr. James Ford, their brother. (Joe Ford, a former Memphis city councilman and 1999 candidate for mayor, was appointed to the seat by the commission on an interim basis.) Brannick goes on to note that he filed at the Election Commission on Wednesday, a day ahead of brother Clair, who filed on Thursday, the deadline for candidacies -- a fact which both brothers cite as evidence for the possibility that there was no collusion and no foreknowledge by either that both would be on the ballot. Both VanderSchaaf and Brannick maintain that they never talked about the race before their respective filings. “We’re not even all that close,” avers VanderSchaaf further, while Brannick talks vaguely of “research” he will perform before deciding whether to stayin or get out by the withdrawal deadline of this Thursday. Avery is having none of it. Her press release maintains: “He got his brother to file because he doesn’t think he can get 50% of the votes. He’s hoping to split the anti-Vanderschaaf vote between his brother and me so that he can slide back in with a plurality of the votes. I’m working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Avery’s public motive for running against VanderSchaaf (also alluded to in her release) is that he voted for a wheel-tax increase and to fund the soon-to-be-built NBA arena while voting against a measure to fully fund the county schools. An unexpressed reason -- at least for many of her supporters -- is that of payback for VanderSchaaf’s siding with the commission’s Democrats year before last in a complex arrangement that saw former commissioner Shep Wilbun move to the post of Juvenile Court clerk while developer Tom Moss was appointed to the commission. A significant number of local Republicans -- and the rest of the Republicans on the commission --wanted to see David Lillard (now a candidate for another seat) on the commission and then deputy clerk Steve Stamson (now a candidate to unseat Wilbun). All of the above circumstances give the VanderSchaaf/Brannick/Avery race more than ordinary interest.
  • Commissioner VanderSchaaf professes to be bemused by the whole thing -- and, for that matter, by what might have happened had he chosen to run for Shelby County mayor instead of for reelection. As recently as the Christmas season the developer and long-term commission incumbent thought seriously about it but ultimately decided -- "for business reasons," he says -- not to do it. But , says VanderSchaaf, he still wonders what might have happened -- especially, he says, after what Democrat A C Wharton told him, in the wake of a poll purporting to show that the Shelby County Public Defender was running comfortably ahead of all extant comers. "He said to me,' I sure do thank you for not running.' And he made it sound like his poll had me way up there.." (No mention of how brother Greg Brannick might have done in such a poll.)
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