News Cycle

Notes from the late political year.

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JANUARY 2004: At his annual New Year's Day prayer breakfast, Mayor Willie Herenton virtually declares war on his City Council while seeming to claim divine sanction. The background? Personnel matters, still-fresh MLGW prepayment deal with TVA, and Herenton's ID as alpha male. Darker issues rumored.

Road duty in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the once high-flying Howard Dean first teeters, then crashes to earth while John Kerry begins his improbable rise to the Democratic nomination.

FEBRUARY: In an unexpectedly pivotal Tennessee primary, Kerry disposes of Wesley Clark and John Edwards and virtually seals his eventual nomination. Former Veep Al Gore, at a Nashville rally, denounces President Bush for "betraying" the country in Iraq.

At Clark's swan-song speech, I hear about Bob Mintz, a former Alabama Air National Guard pilot, who, with his buddy Paul Bishop, tell me about Bush's 1972 no-show at their Alabama ANG base. The resulting story goes national and percolates throughout the election year.

Councilman Brent Taylor on Herenton's issuance of a physical dare: "I don't want to meet him outside. I want to meet him at the Health Department. I want him to piss in a cup so we can see what he's on."

MARCH: New council member Carol Chumney begins her yearlong breakaway from her colleagues, charging "petty in-fighting." Councilman Jack Sammons: "She makes [former maverick member John] Vergos look like a team player." Ninth District congressman Harold Ford gets some flak from Germantown Democratic Club members for what they see as "Bush-lite" attitudes.

APRIL: Seventh District congressman Marsha Blackburn comes back from Iraq with a rosy prospectus. Former county commissioner Morris Fair dies not long after making dramatic and pivotal testimony against a multimillion-dollar settlement with Clark Construction Co., over Convention Center cost overruns.

MAY: In Nashville, Governor Phil Bredesen gets heat from fellow Democrats about workers'-comp reforms but eventually prevails. Former state Democratic chair Bill Farmer: "Governor, I wish I had voted for Van Hilleary two years ago instead of working to get you elected. He couldn't have done the damage to us that you've done." State Senator John Ford in a debate on air-travel restrictions: "I don't fly from here to Memphis. I drive -- though some of you may describe that as flying."

Congressman Ford is incorrectly listed byWashington Times as party to a testimonial dinner for Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who claims to be the "messiah."

JUNE: Rumors indicate that Herenton might resign because of ongoing -- and at this point undefined -- investigations. Mayoral press secretary Gale Jones Carson: "This mayor has nothing to hide."

Republican icon John T. Williams dies, following the passing of ex-councilman Bob James, his fellow nonagenarian, by mere weeks. Two Republican county commissioners, Chairman Marilyn Loeffel and first-termer Bruce Thompson, continue a yearlong feud over personal and policy issues.

JULY: A memo materializes from deposed MLGW head Herman Morris, detailing Herenton's high-pressure lobbying on brokering the deal and and the major of MLGW's head-to-be Joseph Lee. Several Ford-family members participate in a wrestling caper. Up in Boston, where the national Democrats convene, a new star materializes -- Illinois' senator-to-be Barack Obama.

AUGUST: Shelby County holds a countywide general election and statewide primary. Key winners: Assessor Rita Clark, General Sessions Clerk Chris Turner, Chancellor Arnold Goldin, and GOP state representative-nominee Brian Kelsey. Bobby Lanier and Susan Adler Thorp lose their county jobs in a controversy over retirement benefits for ex-aide Tom Jones, who begins a yearlong term at federal prison camp in Arkansas. The GOP convenes in New York and renominates President Bush.

SEPTEMBER: The Mintz story resurfaces nationally but is quickly trumped by CBS' "Rathergate." Democratic legislative stalwarts Jimmy Naifeh and John Wilder face determined foes -- but eventually survive. Former legislator Pam Gaia, a gallant reformer, dies. Herenton acknowledges he has thought about stepping down.

OCTOBER: Religious Right icon Ed McAteer dies. The tragic death of county commissioner Joyce Avery's daughter underscores problems with 911 system -- as does the much-lamented heart-attack death of ex-mayor Wyeth Chandler a month later. George Flinn is named a new county commissioner, to succeed Linda Rendtorff, now a Wharton aide. Michael Moore does a local no-show.

NOVEMBER: The election year ends with Kerry-Edwards winning locally but defeated nationally and statewide. Democrats begin a long debate over the party's future. Wesley Clark ponders '08.

DECEMBER: Chumney spouts again on MLGW. Wharton pumps for new tax. Curtis Person is squeezed by GOP state Senate colleagues. A "bombshell" is promised for Herenton's New Year prayer breakfast?

To Be Continued. •

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