One week after suffering a defeat at the local party convention which should have been decisive at least symbolically Ford and the Fordites sponsored a Unity breakfast at Café Francisco downtown in honor of new Democratic Party chairman Matt Kuhn and his freshly elected executive committee.
Cutting to the chase, here, in part, is what Kuhn had to say on Saturday to the gathered faithful: (These included numerous members of the Convention Coalition and the partys Herenton/Chism faction, whose votes, together, elected young Kuhn over a Ford-sponsored candidate, the estimable David Cocke.)
Kuhn: It is so good to see everybody here together. Last week at this time we came together as a party. And I want you to know that the first call I received was from our congressman, Harold Ford Jr (applause) Thank you. Jack Kennedy once said that a rising tide raises all boats .Now, I dont know a whole lot about sailing, but I know something about politics, and I just want to say that the rising tide we need to understand and we need to realize this in Shelby County the rising tide in next years election is sending a Democrat from Shelby County to the United State Senate .
So when our candidate for Senate was not there with us last week, I actually smiled and knew what he was doing and thought it was a good thing. What happened last week was about coming together. And I want to tell you a little something about why I think that and why I think its important. In 2000, when Al Gore needed someone to give the keynote address at the Democratic convention, Harold Ford Jr. was for us. He was there. And in the past election, when John Kerry needed someone from Shelby County to provide vision, leadership, Harold Ford Jr. was with us. This past Thursday, on the floor of the House of Representatives you labor folks will know what Im talking about Harold Ford Jr. was with us. In August of 2006 and in November of 2006 we need to be there for him.
Afterward, Kuhn seemed to be aware that he might have crossed way over a line. (Theres a primary on, after all, involving another candidate for the U.S. Senate state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, who spoke at last weeks Democratic convention , which Ford, as Kuhn indicated, had been absent from -- and party officials are normally obliged to remain netural in such matters.) When asked about what he'd said, the new chairman tried to maintain that his remarks werent really an endorsement
Not an endorsement? Thats like saying Breyers Ice Cream is non-caloric. Stuff me with such a non-endorsement, Mr. Chairman, and Ill turn into a pig and run for something myself!
To be sure, not all of Kuhns votes from last weeks convention at the University of Memphis were from Democrats miffed at the congressmans cautious-to-conservative political posture over the last couple of years. Many were, though, and many of those who werent were seriously out of love with his local organization. And thats not even to mention the Herenton/Chism organization, chief rivals to the Ford people.
The fact is, no other candidate for chairman not even longtime loyalist Cocke himself could have sung such an open-voweled hosanna to the congressman as did Kuhn. What does he say to Kurita the next time she comes around? What does he say when his committee meets, not many days off, to reorganize?
But give it to the congressman and give it to his people: They turned around a messy situation in record time. Besides Ford himself, Shelby County mayor A C Wharton who had co-sponsored Cocke along with him addressed the throng. The third member of Cockes triumvirate, Asssessor Rita Clark, kept her silence, though she was an elbows length away from the action, putting (as they say) her hands together.
Even some of the congressmans habitual Internet scourges like Steve Steffens of Leftwingcracker.blogspot.com were caught up in the swoonfest (which had an abundance of blue Ford-for-Senate buttons being sported by attendees). In the first post-breakfast posting on his blog, headed It Was a Good Morning for the SCDP, Steffens praised Fords rousing speech and made much of the congressmans $2500 donation to party coffers (ponied up in response to a challenge from none other than Joe Cooper, who started that game off with a $1000 gift), and pledged henceforth to keep his remarks constructive. (Another helping, if you will, Mr. Breyer!)
Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss? Hmmmmm, well see. But never again doubt that Harold Ford Jr. is one hell of a politician perhaps one more formidable than his adversaries can hope to match.. One can sum up the last week thisaway: The King is Dead (not). Long live the King!
RUMORS & RUMBLES:
Given his proper Kudos in Matt Kuhns address to the troops Saturday was one Jim Strickland, a former party chairman who was probably primus inter pares among Kuhns early boosters for chairman. (The others, also mentioned by Kuhn, were Nancy Kuhn, the new chairmans mother; and Randa Spears.)
Preoccupied with family and business matters, lawyer Strickland has been absent from many (perhaps most) significant party affairs of late, including Saturdays lovefest whose sponsors were not necessarily his cup of tea. But he does exist and indeed was an early hand in the Kuhn-for-chairman idea maybe even the first mover.) And the 2003 city council candidate still has political ambitions of his own.
Two likely candidates for the position of Juvenile Court Judge, which longtime incumbent Kenneth Turner is said to be vacating next year, are municipal judge Earnestine Hunt Dorse, a 1998 candidate who has declared for the race, and Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey, who pending the outcome of an appeal of a term-limits ruling has not.
The question of who leads in the two legislative races on Thursdays primary ballot depends on whos doing the opining: Some still think that Ophelia Ford should finish ahead in the Democratic primary for the District 29 state Senate seat. Reasoning? The family name still counts for much, and the field is large and fragmented. Moreover, she is said to be on the verge of sending out an impressive campaign mailer. And, finally, the seat was held for decades by brother John, who resigned it in the wake of his many legal difficulties.
Others think the Fords as a unit either are not contributing or cannot contribute to sister Ophelias campaign effort, and many note her absence from candidate forums and other meet-and-greet affairs.
Meanwhile, almost everybody besides the Ophelia-boosters sees state Representative Barbara Cooper to be at or near the lead in the Democratic field, with House colleague Henri Brooks close behind. Another state rep. John DeBerry, is thought to be lagging.
Southwest Tennessee Community College prof Steve Haley soldiers on and makes converts in a campaign that is more than usually issue-conscious. Haley actually espouses an income tax at least to the point of having it on the table, and he doesnt shy away from criticizing Governor Bredesens TennCare cuts as unnecessary. Kevin McLellan, another white candidate and a former Southwest cadre himself, takes a contrary view that Bredesen is more sinned against than sinning.