Politics » Politics Feature

Ghosts of Xmas Future

Several hopefuls are rattling the chains for open political positions.

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As Thursday's filing deadline approached for two vacated legislative seats, some players were in and others were expected.

State Senate, District 30: As of Tuesday morning, the only candidate to have filed for the position vacated by 9th District congressman-elect Steve Cohen was Democrat Kevin Gallagher, who was Cohen's campaign manager this year. Former city attorney Robert Spence was still being talked up as a likely candidate for the forthcoming January 25th special-election Democratic primary, and it was likely that either state representative Beverly Marrero or longtime activist David Upton would also file.

On the Republican side, one Richard Morton had filed as a Republican, while local GOP chair Bill Giannini was redoubling his efforts to find a name Republican to run for the seat. Among those contacted have been former party chairmen Kemp Conrad and Alan Crone and former county commissioner Bruce Thompson, but all three have rejected the idea of running by now.

Two other Republicans have expressed an interest in making the race -- lawyers D. Jack Smith, who served in the state House of Representatives as a Democrat in the '60s, and Larry Parrish, a former federal prosecutor who ran for judge in this year's countywide election.

State Representative, District 92: As of Tuesday morning, only one candidate had filed for the position being vacated by Henri Brooks, now a county commissioner: veteran activist G.A. Hardaway, a Democrat.

Petitions have been pulled by the aforesaid Morton on the Republican side and by Democrats James Manning and Michael Saine, the latter of whom ran unsuccessfully against Brooks in this year's Democratic primary.

Again, the primary date for both parties and both positions is January 25th. The general election for both seats will be held on March 13th.

Meanwhile, the Shelby County Commission will name an interim successor to Cohen at its December 18th meeting and, toward that end, was scheduled to interview prospective candidates on Wednesday of this week.

Both Gallagher and Spence are considered possibilities for the interim position, as is Shea Flinn, son of Republican commissioner George Flinn but a Democrat who once ran unsuccessfully in a House race against the GOP's Paul Stanley.

Two other names floated this week (both, for what it's worth, considered congenial to Cohen) are those of state Election Commissioner Calvin Anderson and longtime political consultant John Bakke.

The rash of high-profile (and high-paying) job transfers in city government of late -- most recently, mayoral press secretary Gale Jones Carson to director of communications at MLGW and city council chair TaJuan Stout Mitchell to the position of intergovernmental relations director -- has fueled speculation that Mayor Willie Herenton has plans to close out his long tenure without what he has previously said would be a fifth election bid.

Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Matt Kuhn, whose two-year reign has been more than usually stormy, will not seek reelection when the local party reorganizes next April. Among the names that figure in speculation about a would-be successor are those of current committee member Desi Franklin and lawyer Jay Bailey, who unsuccessfully challenged Kuhn's annual renomination earlier this year.

Further in the matter of Mr. Thomas: It's always something, as Rosanne Rosannadana would say. There's a new zoning dustup involving mystery man/developer William Thomas, whose now-notorious zoning proposal to erect a billboard and storage facility in southeast Memphis was the focus of recent criminal complaints implicating two City Council members in alleged payoffs from a lobbyist.

The new issue involves a property farther north, on Summer Avenue, where Thomas managed to get a parcel owned by himself attached to an existing proposal for six commercial lots by another company, Grace Development, whose principals resisted the add-on but felt pressured to accept it by the city/county Office of Planning and Development (OPD).

As one result, council member Carol Chumney, a likely candidate for mayor next year, issued a weekend call for investigation of OPD procedures.

What happened was that when the Grace Development proposal came before the council at its regular meeting last week, council attorney Allan Wade was asked by Councilman Myron Lowery to explain an unusual aspect of the proposal. Wade then called members' attention to the inclusion of Thomas' solitary parcel, though it was unreflected in the written application itself.

When Brenda Solomito, who represented Grace Development, then pointed out that her client had reluctantly allowed the add-on at OPD's request, several council members cried foul.

The bottom line: The zoning matter was put off until the council could sort out things at its next regular meeting on December 19th -- even though, as Solomito told the council, the delay would be a serious inconvenience to her clients, whose six Summer Avenue lots were part of a larger, sprawling proposal that needed immediate closure.

Deputy OPD administrator Mary Baker tried last week to explain how Thomas' single parcel got attached, unwanted and uninvited, to the Grace application. In a subsequent letter to city CAO Keith McGhee, she went into greater detail.

Citing several provisions of the official regulations governing subdivision development, Baker noted that the lot owned by Thomas was technically too small to qualify for an independent proposal. In cases of that sort, she said, "we notify the owners of these parcels of their status and alert them that they are not eligible for a building permit. If they are adjacent to the subject site under review, we attempt to incorporate them in some way into the application."

The inclusion of Thomas' single lot within the proposal by Grace Development "was our attempt to follow our established office policy," Baker said. Significantly, she added:

"It was complicated, however, by the fact that the William H. Thomas parcel was discovered to be entirely covered by a drainage easement which apparently makes the property completely unbuildable."

In the end, the council approved Tom Marshall's motion for a two-week delay.

OPD's regulations had "muddied the waters," groused Barbara Swearengen Holt. And it could well be that the agency's rules could experience some house-cleaning, too, in the wake of "Operation Clean Sweep" and "Operation Main Street Sweep" and the resultant criminal complaints against council members Rickey Peete and Edmund Ford, both charged with accepting bribes from lobbyist Joe Cooper on behalf of another Thomas proposal.

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