"Where's Upton?" a perplexed Jay Bailey wondered out loud to a bystander at Thursday night's reorganizational meeting of the Shelby County Democratic executive committee. After all, it was an open secret that veteran party activist David Upton was the moving force behind Bailey's challenge to the reelection of party chairman Matt Kuhn.
For whatever reason, Upton was a no-show, and Bailey was left to fend for himself, making the case, as best he could, that the administration of chairman Kuhn was at least partly responsible for local Democrats' failure to win any countywide offices last week - one in which several races were, however, closely run.
By a convincing vote of 34-12, Kuhn survived the would-be purge, and most other party officers retained their positions by even more lopsided votes. Such opposition as was mustered came from committee member Del Gill, who appeared to have appointed himself leader of the charge in Upton's absence.
The famously obstreperous Gill carried on what for the most part was a solitary resistance, vote by vote, raising, as is his wont, a flurry of points-of-order, parliamentary motions, and demands for formal recounts..
Gill appeared to be trying to improvise his own competitive slate of officers - nominating various individuals for this or that office, who with rare exceptions, declined the nomination. In evident exasperation, Gill finally began nominating himself for each successive office - invariably losing by a vote of 40-odd to one.
At one point, the frustrated Gill extended his hand upward and popped his middle digit in the direction of onlookers. That prompted committee member Randa Spears to suggest that the chair censure Gill and even consider having him removed from the hall.
But that moment passed. And, after all, Gill might just have been holding aloft, for the record and for all to see, the number of votes he controlled on the committee.
Committee members were treated also to an atypical exhibition of volatile interruptions from Del Gill's brother Robert, whom they have known as a reserved police captain with no penchant (unlike his brother) for calling attention to himself. On Thursday night, however, Robert Gill - dressed atypically in gangsta shorts and bandana, raised his own incessant series of objections, and insisted on being heard, declaiming, when other members objected, "Y'all haven't heard anything from me for a year!"
As for Bailey, he continued to acquit himself well in the absence of his chief sponsor and in the presence of two other would-be sponsors he might not have chosen himself. After the vote on the chairmanship had been taken and one of the Gills was demanding a "division of the house" (a standing person-by-person roll count), Bailey came to the front of the room and said, "That won't be necessary. Matt is the chair!"
And he had another moment at the heel of the agenda when, as an attorney acting for the committee, he gave a detailed and apparently competent report on suspected irregularities in Thursday's countywide voting, which saw late ballots result in a near miss for several of the party's nominees.
Among other things, Bailey told committee members, apparently some 163 residents of Mississippi had managed to vote in the Shelby County election. "And, coming from Mississippi, they damn sure weren't Democrats!" He cited Election Commission chairman Greg Duckett as the source for his figures.
That was when Robert Gill had his moment, too - first demanding and then formally moving that the committee act to endorse Kuhn's decision to request a formal investigation by District Attorney General Bill Gibbons. That motion passed unanimously, as did Robert Gill's proposed amendment urging that authorities prosecute and incarrcerate any individuals found guilty of wrongdoing.
Even brother Del concurred, voting along with everybody else and for once keeping his peace.
UPDATE: Chairman Greg Duckett of the Election Commission subsequently denied that Bailey's information concerning out-of-state voters had issued from the commission. Duckett's statement: "As it relates to the comments attributed to Jay Bailey, the Election Commission has not found any such information....While I support reviewing any issue that impacts the integrity of elections, I do not want anyone taking a position based on what they believe the Election Commission has done, when in fact it hasn't. As Chair of the Election Commission, I have seen emails from others reporting similar issues, but the Election Commission has not made any such conclusions...."
For the record, the other party officers elected Thursday night were:
First Vice Chair: Cherry Davis
Second Vice Chair: Randa Spears
Third Vice Chair: David Holt
Secretary : Norma Lester
Asst. Secretary : Susanne Darnell
Treasurer: Harold Smith
At Large Positions:
Position 1: Nate Jackson
Position 2: Desi Franklin
Position 3: Boris Combest
Position 4: Ruth Davis
Position 5: Howard Richardson