No Ordinary Joe!: Ford Elected Interim County Mayor as Votes Change Sides



Interim county mayor-elect Joe Ford
  • JB
  • Interim county mayor-elect Joe Ford
Criminal Court Judge Otis Higgs, who in past decades several times sought the office of city mayor, made the kind of lighthearted, warm-hearted, and stout-hearted speech that his friends from several decades of public life would have expected of him; yet when it was all over the unquestionably deserving public servant, ready to serve as a temporary county mayor during what he plans to be his retirement year, once again failed to get the bride, the bridesmaid, or the rice thrown at the wedding.

No rice and no dice either for John Vergos, the former Memphis city councilman who sat hopefully in the county building auditorium last week and did so again Tuesday. Nor for Jack Sammons, still serving as acting CAO for departed county mayor A C Wharton, now residing as the newly elected Memphis mayor over at City Hall across the way.

Nor for county commissioner J.W. Gibson or his once-and-future colleague, commissioner and acting mayor Joyce Avery, who once again let themselves be nominated and took front row seats, prepared to wait it out the as their fellow commissioners voted again on appointing an interim Shelby county mayor.

Only there was no wait this time Nothing like the marathon 24 separate ballots that took place Monday of last week as Gibson and commissioner Joe Ford deadlocked over-and-over again with repeat vote totals of 5-to-5, interrupted only by the occasional spurt of tentative votes for someone else — Avery or commissioner George Flinn or county CAO Jim Huntzicker. But the stalemate never broke.

It did this time around. On the second ballot, commissioner James Harvey shifted away from Gibson and, in the manner of the talented Gridiron Show thespian he is, delivered a properly cadenced and dramatic apologia for reversing himself, all in the name of ending the commission’s ordeal, then cast his vote for commissioner Joe Ford, and — Bingo! There was your new county mayor for the next several months, the first member of his politically illustrious family to hold the executive title of mayor.

And there was celebration and jubilation all around, as much because there would be no ordeal like last week’s as because of Ford’s victory over Gibson. The palpable mood of deliverance would doubtless have been there had the nod gone to Gibson — who, as if anticipating the outcome, had earlier, in obligatory remarks making the case for himself, had pointedly, almost concessively, expressed gratitude merely for having been nominated.

Also having an earlier moment had been commissioner Steve Mulroy, a dedicated Ford supporter (and no mean thespian himself), who also seemed to have seen what was coming, making a speech renouncing whatever hopes he might privately have nursed of being a fallback mayoral choice.

Standing off to the side of the post-selection hoopla, eschewing any dramatics whatsoever, was commissioner Henri Brooks, who had really been the decision-maker on Tuesday. It was Brooks, an immovable Gibson vote last week, who had made the first break toward Ford, from the very first ballot. All Harvey had done was follow through on the implied offer he had made during last week’s session to cross over if he had company.

Why did Brooks provide the occasion? “I just listened to my constituents,” was her only explanation.

When Ford made an impromptu acceptance speech, he promised as mayor to institute the same kinds of “task forces” on this or that governmental issue as he had while serving as the commission’s chairman a few seasons back. And he could hardly be blamed for expressing a bit of resentment at the public venting that had been given his several personal problems — mainly financial — during this last week.

Ford advised his listeners to believe “very little” of what they saw on television and “nothing” they read in “the newspaper.”

Ah well, now that this showdown is over, maybe there’ll be an easing up of the odd polarization on the commission — one that owes nothing to either ideology or political party but rather to the kind of personal motives and ad hoc alliances you could expect to find on any organized body of people. Maybe commissioner Mike Carpenter, a co-chair of Memphis mayor Wharton’s transition team and the subject of nonstop rumors that he’s City Hall-bound himself will feel free now to make his move.

As for Ford, he maintained a poker face, even in triumph.. That eased up for good only when somebody remarked to him that, after all those years of people conjecturing about there being a “Mayor Ford,” meaning his brother Harold Sr., a former congressman now doing high-stakes lobbying from a base in Florida, there is one such. And this Mayor-elect Ford is named Joe.

At that thought he finally smiled.

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