Politics » Politics Feature

One More for the Road

P.R. maven Ron Redwing depends on a populist message and a late-game strategy.

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Democrat Ron Redwing was the early bird in the congressional race, declaring his interest in 2005 before anybody else was ready to commit. He began fund-raising in earnest too, and his events attracted a number of figures prominent in local Democratic circles. Most of them stayed on the fence though, biding their time while the field of contestants expanded to its current double-digit dimensions.

Redwing operates a consulting/public relations company and has expertise in that area, as well as a connection to the city's Catholic community by virtue of having served the Memphis Diocese as a spokesman. He also has a considerable grass-roots base, and, at several well-attended rallies, his highly rhetorical style and commitment to bread-and-butter issues have resonated with his audiences. Redwing has the active support of prominent African-American industrialist Willie Gary, who has made several local appearances on Redwing's behalf.

An early aide to current mayor Willie Herenton as far back as 1991 when Herenton was considered a long shot to be elected, Redwing picked up valuable experience as the mayor's action-center director. Redwing is enough of a realist to know that his chances depend on waiting out the current logjam of candidates and earning a perception as one of two or three top African-American contenders.

High Side, Low Side

If state senator Steve Cohen (profiled last week) should succeed in his current bid to represent the 9th Congressional District, he can give part of the credit to musical worthies Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther, who showed up at attorney Leslie Ballin's house for a well-attended fund-raiser on Cohen's behalf last Saturday night.

The senator, as we hear it, won't be "Running on Empty," having raised upwards of $50,000 on the occasion. Cohen chimed in on a chorus of his late friend Warren Zevon's song "Werewolves of London." A valiant enough effort, but if he wins, Cohen would be well advised to hold on to the congressional seat as his day job.

The last week saw two other interventions less to Cohen's liking, by the way.

Numerous 9th District households were the recipients of a telephone "push poll" which, among other things, reportedly asked whether non-Christian religious sentiments on the part of a congressman would be regarded as acceptable. (Cohen is Jewish.) The poll apparently originated from the campaign of opponent Ed Stanton Jr.

And another 9th District hopeful, Nikki Tinker, was the intended beneficiary of a press release proclaiming Cohen as "a quixotic state legislator of questionable effectiveness." It went on to say, "Cohen's legislative priorities rarely align with his constituents' needs, and his political tactics have often left his colleagues bewildered. He has carefully cultivated a reputation as an iconoclast. While not a good fit for this district, Cohen is a strong fund-raiser who can tap long-standing resources for his campaign."

The description infuriated many of the senator's supporters, who see him as a steadfast supporter of the kinds of women's rights that Emily's List promotes.

Cohen himself, regarded by many as the current front-runner, declined comment on the two opponents' stratagems, except to say, "It goes with the territory."

Still the One

Last week saw a generous number of Flyer hands on deck in Little Rock for the annual convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. A feature of the event was a tour of the Clinton Museum on the Arkansas River, and to top that came a luncheon address from the man himself on Saturday, the last day of the convention.

As is virtually always the case with Clinton appearances, the former president spoke at length on a number of subjects, foreign and domestic, and gave detailed, even wonkish, answers in a Q-and-A session later on. He then indulged the visiting journalists, who more or less mobbed him, for an hour and a half of one-on-one conversation and autograph-signing. (He's probably the only public person who can simultaneously sign someone's baby picture while analyzing the "concentration of wealth" in America with someone else.)

In the Q-and-A, Clinton opined, inter alia, that Ralph Nader may have launched his independent presidential candidacy in 2000 for the express purpose of wrecking then-Vice President Al Gore's own hopes. "He wanted George Bush to be president!" Clinton declared.

Ironically enough, Clinton declined to offer anything resembling harsh criticism of Bush himself, acknowledging that one reason was a growing personal closeness to former President George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, with whom he has collaborated in a number of charitable undertakings (a post-Katrina fund-raising effort, especially).

But while expressing strong disagreement with George W. Bush on a variety of policy matters, he also credited the president with sincerity in his beliefs.

Clinton was also somewhat guarded in answering a question about the presidential ambitions of his wife, New York senator Hillary Clinton. She hasn't decided on a run, Clinton said, but if she did, she'd run well and, if elected, would serve well. His own role? "Whatever she wants me to do."

Earlier in the day, Susan McDougal, one of Clinton's former partners in the failed Whitewater real-estate enterprise, addressed conference participants on her refusal to testify during Special Counsel Kenneth Starr's ultimately futile investigation of that affair. McDougal served a year in prison for "civil contempt" as a result, and one questioner wondered if she harbored ill will toward the then president for his failure to pardon her until after her incarceration.

"Not at all!" McDougal answered, declaring her belief that Clinton, by presiding over an era of peace and prosperity, was "the greatest president this country has ever had."

Informed of her comment, Clinton -- who has not met with McDougal, by her reckoning, in 20 years -- appeared moved. "She may have undergone the same kind of ennobling experience in prison that [former South African premier] Nelson Mandela had," he said.

(Our profiling of 9th District congressional candidates continues next week. Due to the late-breaking story by my colleague John Branston, two profiles intended for this week have been deferred until the series resumes.)

Michael Hooks Jr. Indicted

Former Memphis City School Board member Michael Hooks Jr. was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury. The four-count indictment alleges that Hooks was paid at least $5,000 by Tim Willis, who later became an undercover operative for the FBI in the Tennessee Waltz political corruption investigation. Willis billed Juvenile Court $60,364 for public relations in 2001 and paid some of the money to Hooks.

The indictment says Hooks, assisted by Willis, submitted false invoices through Darrell Catron to the Juvenile Court clerk's office. Catron has pleaded guilty to federal charges but has not been sentenced. When Catron made his plea, prosecutors referred to an unnamed contractor who apparently was Hooks.

Hooks is also charged with making a false entry in a document on April 17, 2003, "with the intent to impede the investigation of a matter" within federal jurisdiction. A fourth count charges him with making a false statement to FBI agents last month.

The indictment makes no mention of E-Cycle, the fictitious company set up by the FBI in Tennessee Waltz. Prosecutors have said the Tennessee Waltz investigation grew out of an investigation of Willis and the Juvenile Court clerk at that time, Shep Wilbun. Willis testified earlier this month against former state senator Roscoe Dixon, who was convicted.

Hooks is the son of Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr., who was indicted last year on two counts in the Tennessee Waltz investigation. The trial of Hooks Sr. is pending. -- John Branston

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