MEET THE NEW BOSS...

Ford et al. land on their feet. Bigtime.

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Doubt that Harold Ford Jr. is nimble on his feet? Disbelieve that his organization lives and breathes and still has clout? Assume, in fact, that they’re not still in charge of local Democratic Party affairs?

Don’t.

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 party’s Herenton/Chism faction, whose votes, together, elected young Kuhn over a Ford-sponsored candidate, the estimable David Cocke.)

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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 don’t 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 year’s 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 it’s 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 I’m 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. (There’s a primary on, after all, involving another candidate for the U.S. Senate – state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, who spoke at last week’s 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 weren’t really an endorsement

Not an endorsement? That’s like saying Breyer’s Ice Cream is non-caloric. Stuff me with such a “non-endorsement,” Mr. Chairman, and I’ll turn into a pig and run for something myself!

To be sure, not all of Kuhn’s votes from last week’s convention at the University of Memphis were from Democrats miffed at the congressman’s cautious-to-conservative political posture over the last couple of years. Many were, though, and many of those who weren’t were seriously out of love with his local organization. And that’s 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 Cocke’s triumvirate, Asssessor Rita Clark, kept her silence, though she was an elbow’s length away from the action, putting (as they say) her hands together.

Even some of the congressman’s 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 Ford’s “rousing” speech and made much of the congressman’s $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, we’ll 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 Kuhn’s address to the troops Saturday was one Jim Strickland, a former party chairman who was probably primus inter pares among Kuhn’s early boosters for chairman. (The others, also mentioned by Kuhn, were Nancy Kuhn, the new chairman’s 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 Saturday’s 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 Thursday’s primary ballot depends on who’s 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 Ophelia’s 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 doesn’t shy away from criticizing Governor Bredesen’s 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.

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