Sorting Things Out

As 9th District candidates begin to make their move, a judge and various contenders mull the future.

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Even as reports grew, circulated by intimates of Shelby County commissioner Julian Bolton, that Bolton was highly likely to enter the race, the crowded field of declared District 9 congressional candidates redoubled their efforts to gain an advantage.

Several of these candidates were capsuled in this space last week, on the eve of their appearance at a Tuesday night cattle-call forum sponsored by Democracy for America at the IBEW union hall. One who wasn't -- but clearly should have been -- was Tyson Pratcher, currently an aide to U.S. senator Hillary Clinton of New York.

In word-of-mouth discussions after the forum and on the local blogosphere circuits, Pratcher received high marks indeed for his spirited and detailed answers to questions. As I suggested in online coverage after the event: "... Pratcher [made] full use of his presumed expertise and connections ('Senator Clinton and I did some work on this issue ...') but persuasively rather than presumptuously so, going on in most cases to spell out exactly what he meant. As in the case of specific labor legislation when faced with the same question about union rights ...

Others dominating post-forum discussions as having done well were Joseph Kyles, a prominent member of the Rainbow/Push organization; University of Memphis law professor Lee Harris; and lawyer Ed Stanton, Jr. Reaction to three others -- consultant Rod Redwing, pastor Ralph White, and lawyer/activist Bill Whitman, a fresh entry -- was more subdued.

White, especially, raised eyebrows by expressing surprise at being asked about the Iraq war and by giving an extended lament about union corruption when asked about measures he might pursue regarding organized labor.

Though Redwing had seemed relatively laid-back and noncommittal at the forum, he was anything but that at a well-attended rally in his honor on Saturday at April House on the old Defense Depot grounds. Running down a litany of issues ranging from the war to "living-wage" legislation, Redwing galvanized his crowd and offered thereby a reminder that his early start last year had allowed him to develop a bona fide grass-roots organization.

Last week's leading gainer, however, may have been Stanton, who not only impressed attendees at the forum but was a runaway winner in a $50-a-head straw poll/fund-raiser sponsored by the Shelby County Democratic Party at the Rendezvous restaurant. Stanton's 56 votes put him ahead of the absent Pratcher, with 19, and Redwing, who got five votes despite referring to the event as requiring a "poll tax" and asking his supporters not to participate. Other vote-getters were Kyles and Harris, with two votes each.

Another straw poll, conducted by radio station WLOK, would see Redwing the victor, with state senator Steve Cohen second. Absent from both the forum and the SCDP straw poll were lawyer Nikki Tinker, who has gathered significant name recognition but has not yet figured on the public stump, and Cohen, whose entry is now regarded as all but certain.

"If Julian gets in, this thing will come down to Bolton vs. Cohen," predicted Shelby County commissioner Deidre Malone last week.

Meanwhile, this week saw a new entry: businessman Marvell Mitchell, whose credentials include appointment by Governor Phil Bredesen to the state Lottery Board, membership on the Chamber of Commerce board, and service as chairman of the Black Business Association.

Among the topics of discussion among the Republican state senators who, en masse, attended last week's hearing on the District 29 election dispute in U.S. district judge Bernice Donald's court, was the GOP's quandary in finding a suitable opponent to run against Democratic incumbent governor Phil Bredesen.

Two name Republicans -- former state representative Jim Henry of Kingston and state representative Beth Harwell of Nashville, a recent party chairman -- have opted out of a gubernatorial race in recent weeks.

One of the Republican senators in Memphis for the hearing, Jim Bryson of Franklin, gave a shrug and acknowledged the likelihood when asked if a GOP member of the legislature might be drafted by the state party to run as a quasi-official candidate.

Even as Bryson spoke, meanwhile, an unofficial but highly visible and declared Republican candidate, Carl "Two Feathers" Whitaker -- a leader of the Minuteman movement, which attaches high priority to stopping illegal immigration -- was preparing to address a rally in Nashville outside the office of U.S. Senate majority leader Bill Frist.

The rally, which took place on Friday, drew "a thousand" people to hear his discussion of "this issue of illegals," Whitaker later reported.

Judge Donald's ruling on the District 29 matter was promised for this Wednesday. At issue were at least three aspects of the dispute: her own jurisdiction over the issue; continuation of an injunction prohibiting further action by the state Senate to void the election; and the prospect of further judicial review of Democrat Ophelia Ford's allegations of due-process violations. Should Donald allow the Senate to vote, it is expected to ratify (probably this week) a previous vote nullifying last year's special election, in which Ford was the provisional 13-vote winner over Republican Terry Roland, who has alleged various irregularities in the voting.

If the Senate ends up completing action this week, the burden will then be on the Shelby County Commission, to choose between Ford, Roland, or a third party as an interim senator, pending this fall's general election.

David Pickler, the perennial chairman of the Shelby County School Board, this week became the first board member to announce his candidacy for reelection, advising that, if reelected to a four-year term, it would be his last.

There could be a change of plans, however. Pickler remains a possible candidate for the District 31 state Senate seat (East Memphis, Germantown) held for decades by Curtis Person, if Person should decide not to run for reelection. Other prospective candidates for an open District 31 seat would be state representative Paul Stanley and former state representative Larry Scroggs.

Person's name has been mentioned frequently of late as a possible candidate for Juvenile Court judge, and his candidacy for that job, if he goes on to consider it, would also be conditional -- dependent on the reelection plans, so far unannounced, of longtime incumbent judge Kenneth Turner, whom Person serves as a part-time aide.

In other developing races:

Juvenile Court Clerk: A showdown is brewing in the Democratic primary between Memphis school board member Wanda Halbert and former clerk Shep Wilbun. Halbert has already filed for the position, while Wilbun, who has been making frequent media appearances to stoke a return to public life, hasn't as of yet. He has, however, pulled a petition from the Election Commission.

Probate Court Clerk: The on-again, off-again struggle between incumbent Republican Chris Thomas and employee Sondra Becton, a Democrat, may be on again. Becton last week drew a petition to run again for the job, which she has sought before. Some years back, she also filed charges of harassment (nonsexual) and discrimination against Thomas, which were settled out of court.

Criminal Court Clerk: Kevin Gallagher, formerly an aide to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, has company in his Democratic primary race. Gallagher, who had a well-attended announcement party late last year, will be opposed by veteran activist Vernon Johnson Sr. Republican incumbent Bill Key is seeking reelection.

Shelby County Commission, District 3, Position 1: Incumbent Deidre Malone has already drawn two primary opponents in this traditionally Democratic district: James Harvey and Adrian Killebrew.

Shelby County Commission, District 3, Position 2: "It would be a shame if the people of this district should lose so effective a spokesman." That ringing endorsement of the incumbent, Cleo Kirk, comes from a prospective candidate for his seat, businessman Bob Hatton, who is, in fact, something of a protégé of Kirk. Hatton, who is also considering a run for two other commission seats, will not run for Position 2 if Kirk's appeal of the county's current term-limits provisions is upheld by the state Supreme Court.

Another declared candidate for the District 3, Position 2 seat is former Teamster leader and interim state senator Sidney Chism, who may also choose another seat to run for if Kirk's appeal is sustained.

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