POLITICS: Hatful of Names

There is no shortage of wannabes to take the place of Commissioner Rendtorff.

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HATFUL OF NAMES The decision by Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton to fill a staff vacancy with county commissioner Linda Rendtorff has set off abundant speculation as to who might be appointed by her colleagues to fill her seat when she leaves the commission to become , Wharton’s director of community services, probably next month. In the next several days, there are quite likely to be both adds and drops to the current list of those thinking about the Rendtorff seat (or being thought about by others). But, for the record, here -- in no particular order -- are some of the names:
George Flinn, the politically active doctor who ran unsuccessfully for county mayor in 2002 and for the District 5 city council seat last year; Billy Orgel, a well-known developer and communications entrepreneur; Mike Carpenter, president of the West Tennessee chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors and a sometime Republican campaign professional; Wyatt Bunker, former member of the county school board and recently unsuccessful candidate for a city council seat; Jim Strickland, a lawyer, Democratic activist, and another recently unsuccessful city council candidate; Mary Harvey Gurley, widow of the late Paul Gurley, a top aide to former city mayor Dick Hackett, and a respected political activist in her own right; Karla Templeton, an unsuccessful candidate for Rendtroff’s seat in the 2002 election and the daughter of current commissioner John Willingham; Karen Hill, former Shelby County school board member. Joe Cooper, veteran pol, former county office-holder in various capacities, and frequent candidate for political office; Mike Ritz, real estate developer. Jay Sparks, pharmacist’s aide and Democratic activist.
All except Strickland, Cooper, and Sparks are established or presumed Republicans. District 1, which contains the inner ring of county suburban areas as well as outlying city areas, is considered a heavily Republican district. Besides Rendtorff, it is currently served by Willingham and current chairman Marilyn Loeffel. As of now, no one candidate is thought to have a lock on enough commission votes to guarantee appointment. Whoever gets the nod will ultimately have to stand in a special election, the date of which remains highly uncertain. One variable is the fate of a proposed referendum on a city charter commission -- which, if called by enough qualified signatories and deemed to be both constitutional and legal, could happen as early as December. Other scenarios call for an election next year or even the year after. Rendtorff had long been restless in her commission seat and had sounded out her fellow commissioners last year about a possible interim appointment to the legislature when District 89 state representative Carol Chumney was elected to the council. That plan ran afoul of a legal ruling that she would have to resign her commission seat in order to serve the two or three months remaining in Chumney’s term until the newly elected Beverly Marrero could be installed. Rendtorff, who once served as state human resources director in the administration of former governor Lamar Alexander, is chairman of the commission's community services committee. Ironically, she assumed office a decade ago as an appointee, following the death of then commissioner Mike Tooley. She has indicated she will remain in office long enough to vote on the commission’s next chairman -- who is expected to be current vice chair Michael Hooks. The other surprise Wharton appointment last week, that of state Senator Roscoe Dixon to become assistant chief administrative officer, hasn’t yet encouraged the same degree of speculation. Dixon will succeed the retiring Earnest Gunn, who will temporarily serve as Wharton’s executive assistant, a position held until recently by veteran mayoral aide Bobby Lanier. Lanier , who had served each of the last several Shelby County mayors, was forced to resign following disclosures that he had intervened to secure an enhanced pension arrangement for former mayoral aide Tom Jones, now doing a one-year term in federal prison in Arkansas after pleading guilty to improper use of county credit cards. Dixon has indicated he will resign his senate seat in January. Governor Phil Bredesen will then have 90 days to order a special election to determine his successor. Isaac Hayes and David Porter should be proud. The two vintage Memphis tunesmiths have set many a rocker in motion, but one of their compositions last week exceeded even its previous lofty heights. Janice Bowling, the arch-conservative candidate for Congress in Tennessee’s 4th District and avid spokesperson for traditional morality, was conspicuous improvising a hard-rocking boogie from her delegates’ row during one of the musical interludes played by a band on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York. The song that had her moving and shaking? “Soul Man.”

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