Politics » Politics Feature

Chumney Re-Examined

Being a correction, plus an amplification, plus brand-new analysis.




Some time back my esteemed colleague John Branston was taken to task in our home-page "Buzz" space (in a "bob," as we call these online items internally) for an error of reportage - some mistaken fact the nature of which I've forgotten. But the scolding was so intense that I was compelled to ask him if he knew who wrote it. "I did," he replied, an answer that commanded my immediate admiration.

Indeed, the decision by Branston - usually so scrupulously reliable a chronicler - to own up so vigorously and candidly to a misstatement, unprompted, was unquestionably the right way to go, and I am hereby following suit - even before the general public gets to see the boo-boo in question.

In this week's Flyer cover story on the Memphis mayor's race, "Four More Years?", a single sentence went awry, and I realized it after the article and the paper had (as we old-line journalists say) gone to bed. Happily if belatedly, some little scanning system inside my memory went off as I was driving from Cordova to Midtown Tuesday night to meet friends for dinner and a movie.

Here's the line, a propos city council member Carol Chumney's now famous refusal, some months back, to join with several of her colleagues in a formal resolution requesting the resignation of MLGW president Joseph Lee, then still serving. After noting that a previous resolution by Chumney asking Mayor Willie Herenton to accept an already proffered resignation had failed for lack of a second, the sentence I wrote said: "By contrast, a subsequent resolution by councilman Jack Sammons asking Lee to resign was approved without incident, Chumney declining to vote for it...."

It wasn't approved, of course, and much of the fuss that resulted from Chumney's position had to do with the fact that her abstention from that vote caused its failure. That was the fact, as was adequately and widely reported at the time, not least by our own Mary Cashiola. Not only did I know that, I had often mentioned the fact in discussions with other people about Lee's predicament, Chumney's chances in the mayor's race, and a few overlapping subjects.

It is bad enough to misreport something. It is worse when that something is ingrained in your own memory, as basic a part of your mental inventory as the names of your own children. Stuff happens, as our current president has reminded us, and who knows why this particular stuff does? A kink in a synapse somewhere, and, in the idiom of another American president, there you go again.

A correct sentence would have read something like this: "A subsequent resolution by councilman Jack Sammons asking Lee to resign encountered racial-bloc voting and failed of approval by a single vote - Chumney's."

The online account of the full article, when it appears this week, will be corrected. And, for that matter, I'm going to avail myself of the opportunity of this correction-and-amplification to expand on my previous analysis here and now.

Because not only did my true memory spontaneously free itself and float to the surface during that ride to Midtown Tuesday evening, it was probably assisted in doing so by news that had broken after I had finished the article.

I had just seen a report on Fox 13 News about a fresh poll taken by my friend Berje Yacoubian showing Chumney to be leading a second-place Herenton and a third-place Herman Morris. For this week's Flyer article, I had done a brief recap of our own article back in March breaking the news of a Chumney lead in early private polls and of a follow-up survey last week in The Commercial Appeal showing her to be tied with Mayor Herenton when the list of candidates excluded the name of Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, then still a potential entry.

Assuming the accuracy of Berje's new sampling - which reflected the absence of Wharton as a factor - I was forced to re-evaluate my own conclusions.

In common with several other observers - some of them well acquainted with political realities indeed and one or two of them, in fact, quite close to Chumney - I had supposed her level of grass-roots support to have either held steady or even to have retracted a bit in the wake of the aforesaid council vote concerning Joseph Lee, along with other impacting events, and I had wondered out loud if candidate Morris didn't stand a better chance than she did of becoming the default anti-Herenton candidate.

That may or may not be the case, but the Yacoubian poll results suggest either that Chumney had rebounded more than I and others had thought - or that no rebounding was necessary, as no dip in her acceptability had occurred.

And if that latter fact is correct, then the very fact of councilwoman Chumney's go-it-alone stubbornness, as demonstrated by the two Joseph Lee votes, begins to seem less pointlessly stiff-necked and more, er...Churchillian? Nah, let's not go overboard (though the councilwoman's admirers may do so, if they choose): The word "steadfast" will serve.

In any case, cyberspace has become a hole in the cocoon in which news has traditionally been packaged and transmitted, and I am grateful for the opportunity supplied by that opening to provide this additional bit of analysis along with a necessary correction. As for the rest of this week's Flyer article? Go read it. I stand behind it.

And, between now and next week's issue, anything new I find out will be reported right here. Online. That's how we can do it these days. And that's how we do it.

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