Really, it lasted less than five hours from beginning to end, but Monday's meeting of the Shelby County Commission — the core of which was an effort to name an interim county mayor to serve until the general election next August — had the feel of a marathon.
The wear and tear was such that even the two commissioners — acting chairman Sidney Chism and Henri Brooks — who had vowed midway of the event to continue all night if necessary to get a winner, were content by late afternoon to accept a postponement until a special meeting of Tuesday, November 17, when those members of the commission eligible to vote will try again.
Though commissioner George Flinn and county CAO Jim Huntzicker (both briefly) and erstwhile commission chair and acting mayor Joyce Avery (intermittently) were also candidates, Monday’s session was essentially an unyielding standoff between commissioners Joe Ford and J.W. Gibson.
Both are Democrats, though each would boast — and maintain — support across political boundaries. Their support was indeed perfectly balanced. Except on those few occasions when Avery or Flinn or Huntzicker could claim a vote or two, the final tally for each of the 24 ballots was an unvarying 5 to 5.
Ford was supported by Democrats Matt Kuhn, Steve Mulroy, and Chism and by Republicans Mike Ritz and Wyatt Bunker. Gibson's backers were Democrats Deidre Malone, James Harvey, and Brooks, and Republicans Flinn and Mike Carpenter. Not only was party not a major factor, neither was ideology, as each support group ran the gamut from right to left.
What did figure were complex personal relationships (both pro and con), paybacks for previous alliances, patently opportunistic calculations on the part of some commissioners, and suchlike. The only time the standoff became heated was when Huntzicker was nominated by Malone as an expedient to break the impasse.
In addressing the commission for the nth time on behalf of his candidacy, Ford denounced the "former administration" (current Memphis mayor A C Wharton's as much as Huntzicker's) for fiscal irresponsibility. In his turn, Gibon took verbal potshots at the "negative old politics," which he linked to Ford by name.
Malone was not the only one who tried to end the stalemate. At one point, Harvey implied unmistakably that he might consider going over to the other side if another Gibson advocate would go with him. None did. So Harvey, too, stayed put.
Former Memphis city councilman John Vergos was a presence in the county auditorium through Monday's session, and he made it clear that he hoped to be considered as a compromise candidate. His time didn't come Monday, and it may never.
Between now and next week, other third-party names will be considered, and the partisans of Messrs. Ford and Gibson (and mayhap of Avery and Flinn as well) will sound out their colleagues on such deals (Sunshine Law or no Sunshine Law) as may break the tie and produce a winner.