Much has been made of the fact that there is suddenly to be a gap in the consecutive service on the Shelby County Commission of members surnamed Ford.
Certainly that was the immediate consequence of Monday's vote on a successor to Joe Ford, who was sworn in as interim county mayor earlier this month. The surprise victory of the unheralded Edith Moore on the sixth ballot over interim mayor Ford's son Justin Ford broke a connection that had existed since the early 1990s, when the late James Ford began his service on the commission.
Upon James Ford's death in 2001, Joe Ford, who was then serving as a city councilman (as his brother had before him), was appointed to the seat by vote of the commission. (Historical footnote: One of Joe Ford's defeated rivals on that occasion was sister Ophelia Ford, who went on to serve in the state Senate, succeeding ... another sibling, John Ford.)
In any case, the bid of Justin Ford, an employee of his father's funeral home, fell short despite a late resurgence of his hopes of the fourth and fifth ballots of Monday's voting. What made things interesting Monday was the fact that no fewer than four of the declared applicants for the seat had real support and bona fide chances for election.
Besides Ford and Moore, they were two applicants with educational backgrounds — Ike Griffith, an activist and sometime candidate for public office who teaches broadcast journalism in the city school system; and retired educator James Catchings, who had a near-miss in 2007 as a candidate for the City Council's District 6 seat, losing to yet another member of the extended Ford family, Edmund Ford Jr.
Moore is a retired IBM employee whose public and professional career in Memphis was interrupted for almost 20 years by a move to Atlanta, where she served in several positions with county and state governments. Since the early 2000s, when she returned to Memphis, she has been edging into local activism and decided fairly late in the game to apply for the vacant District 3, Position 3 seat.
She spoke succinctly and well Monday, when she and the other candidates were asked to make statements about themselves, and she got another boost from Commissioner George Flinn, who nominated her and commented favorably on the fact that she had been the first applicant to actually visit with him and discuss her credentials.
"I was impressed by her," he said.
Besides Flinn's vote, she garnered three others on the first ballot — from Henri Brooks and commission chair Joyce Avery, whose votes may have owed something to gender solidarity, and from Mike Ritz, who may have been seconding fellow Republican Flinn. (Moore had testified to having had both Republican and Democratic connections.)
That made Moore the surprise co-leader on the first ballot, tied with Griffith, who had bipartisan support. Catchings, with two votes, and Ford, with one (from nominator Sidney Chism) trailed.
Despite impressive credentials, Catchings did not catch on beyond his original support base of Democrat Steve Mulroy and Republican Mike Carpenter.
Ford, though, would make his bid on later ballots, getting switchovers from Catchings and Griffith, who finally began to fade. When Avery gave him her vote on the fifth ballot, after voting for Moore and Griffith, Ford looked to be a possible winner.
But, early on the sixth ballot, new switchovers to Moore from J.W. Gibson and James Harvey, both previous Griffith voters, along with a "pass" vote from Wyatt Bunker, who has been sensitive to recriminations from a few fellow Republicans concerning his vote last month to name Joe Ford mayor, signaled to Avery that Justin Ford could not win. So she made one last vote change — the decisive one that made Moore a winner.
It ain't over yet. During the course of his statement before the commission, Ford had made it clear that, win or lose on Monday, he intended to seek the District 3, Position 3 seat in next year's regular election cycle. Moore, too, will almost certainly be on the ballot, having told commissioners that she was likely to run again if she decided she'd done "a good job." The probabilities are high that she will decide just that.
Moore's incumbency will give her an edge in the rematch, but Ford's family connections will give him serious clout. And, though both Griffith and Catchings had vowed not to seek reelection if granted appointment by the commission, that promise may be null and void, since neither prevailed on Monday.
One other outcome of Monday's commission session: It has become something of a cliché that when vacancies are being filled, applicants for them should make some pro forma statement about being willing to forgo running for reelection upon expiration of the interim term.
That shibboleth may be on its way out. Besides the disinclination of Ford and Moore to honor it, it took direct hits on Monday from several commissioners, Deidre Malone and Brooks being most vocal in suggesting that anyone willing to seek a temporary appointment should be capable of serving into the future.
• One thing is certain: No elected body has had more experience of late than the County Commission in making appointments to fill vacancies. The commission will have two more opportunities in the near future.
On January 6th, it will interview candidates for two positions, the District 4, Position 3 commission seat vacated earlier this month by Matt Kuhn, now serving as interim mayor Ford's policy adviser; and the District 85 state House seat, which became vacant with the recent death of longtime state representative Larry Turner.
Local NAACP head Johnnie Turner became the odds-on favorite to succeed her late husband with her announcement last weekend that she would both seek the interim appointment and run for a full term in next year's election cycle. While indications are that lawyer Van Turner (no relation), the current chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, will drop his bid in deference to Johnnie Turner, the other previously declared applicant, code enforcement officer Eddie Jones, may still contest the issue.
• Going into the new year, both of Memphis' gubernatorial entries — Democrat Jim Kyle and Republican Bill Gibbons — are still live and kicking, though both have formidable adversaries in their respective fields.
Last week Kyle picked up several labor endorsements and the personal endorsement of Memphis mayor A C Wharton who, at a big-ticket local fund-raiser at B.B. King's on Beale, compared Kyle to the late former Tennessee governor Frank G. Clement, then made a striking analogy based on the towering Kyle's stature: "God has sent us a tall man and not by chance. This is a long state. We need someone who is not short on vision. We need someone who is long on vision, who is able to see across the length and breadth of this state."
Gibbons, who in the previous week called for an independent governing board for the University of Memphis, stayed in the policy arena this week, denouncing pending health-care legislation in Congress as a "train wreck" and associating himself with Governor Phil Bredesen's concern that the bill amounts to an "unfunded mandate" on state government.