The candidates, who appeared in alphabetical order, were former County Commissioner Deidre Malone, current Commissioner Steve Mulroy, and the Rev. Kenneth Whalum, a former School Board member. All had their talking points, and all got them said.
As she has at previous events, Malone reminded the audience of her political credentials,including a prior run for mayor in 2010,, and her business ones (a former ALSAC-St. Jude administrator, she operates a P.R.company). And she looked past her current Democratic rivals to assail “the current Republican county mayor,” Mark Luttrell, for what she said was inattention to the needs of the less fortunate and for his refusal even to offer opinions on “things that are important to Democrats.”
She said her business experience would allow her to repair what was an “inefficient”: county operation under Luttrell.
Asked about the county’s shift of Title X funding for women’s health issues from Planned Parenthood, the traditional recipient of the funding, to Christ Community Health Services (CCHS), Malone pronounced it a “mistake” and vowed, as County Mayor, “to do something about it.”.
She may have felt that Mulroy was vulnerable on that score, in that he had voted in 2011 with the majority to award the Title X contract to CCHS.
Mulroy, though, was able to address the issue from what he felt was a position of strength. Earlier in the week, he had held a press conference announcing his dissatisfaction with Christ Community Health Services for, among other things, allowing its service level to drop precipitately for two years in a row from the level previously maintained by Planned Parenthood.
He said at the press conference and repeated on Saturday that he had voted in 2011 to switch from Planned Parenthood to CCHS only after realizing that there were already 9 votes on the Commission to approve CCHS (two more than needed) and that he used his position on the prevailing side to insist on strict monitoring to assure that CCHS (a) engaged in no religious proselytizing and (b)didn’t attempt to steer patients away from abortion.
Because of CCHS’s sub-par service levels, said Mulroy, he was insisting that the county re-bid the contract, using independent medical experts to score the bidding agencies for expertise.
Thus did the commissioner attempt to solidify his position with pro-choice Democrats who felt that Planned Parenthood, identified by the political Right with the abortion issue, had been targeted by state and federal sources for separation from its historic Title X role. Mulroy described himself, with some justice, as the Commission’s chief progressive activist on a variety of hot-button issues.
Whalum continued, as in the past. to burnish his maverick credentials, proclaiming,”I am the underdog candidate for Shelby County Mayor. All of the pundits, all of the professionals are saying, ‘Whalum doesn’t have a chance. He doesn’t have any money. He can’t get the support of the political professionals.’. I don’t need it and I don’t want it.”
Whether the eloquent minister is protesting too much can be debated, in that his personal abilities and grass-roots appeal have been amply noted in most public commentary, as has his leadership in the successful recent effort to turn back a proposed sales-tax increase to fund city Pre-K programs.
“The city of Memphis is the county seat of Shelby County, not the toilet seat,” said Whalum, who described the imminent closing of several Memphis schools as symptomatic of serious community crisis and promised to address that problem “if we have to move all the county departments into the buildings they want to close.”
He promised to raise the pay of women in the county administration to a level commensurate with men and to bring in young people with fresh governmental ideas.
Asked if he were pro choice, Whalum answered as follows: “I am pro choice. I represent the ultimate pro choice person. ‘ Choose ye this day.’"