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POLITICS: Before I Forget...

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Since my colleague John Branston has -- as is usual with his year-end stuff -- cornered the market on wit and trenchancy and since the clock tells me we've got to close out this issue, I'll just lay down some matter-of-fact tracks. Call me Mr. Mundane.

Best New Political Face: Steve Mulroy, the University of Memphis law professor who, in scarcely more than a year's time, became instrumental in a variety of public issues and finally was elected a Shelby County commissioner. Reminded on election night that nobody had heard of him a year earlier, Mulroy replied, "I hadn't heard of me a year ago."

All he had done in the meantime was spearhead, with varying degrees of success, a drive to save the Libertyland amusement park and another to implement voting-machine reform that included a verified paper trail. He also contributed to the legal defense effort of state senator Ophelia Ford when her election was under challenge.

In a year of continuing intramural strife among Shelby County Democrats, Mulroy achieved the not inconsiderable feat of getting along with all factions. Once on the commission, that extended to the body's Republicans as well.

Speaking of which, commission chairman Joe Ford and county attorney Brian Kuhn have each independently called the version of the commission elected in 2006 to be the hardest-working ever. With eight new faces -- and five tried-and-true holdovers -- the commission has an opportunity to transcend matters of race and partisanship and to rethink a dozen major issues.

Best Old Political Face: 9th District Congressman-elect Steve Cohen, who finally has what he and his supporters have long believed he deserved: an opportunity to act substantially on the national political scene.

To get to his main chance, Cohen won a Democratic primary and a general-election race that were both hotly contested -- in the process, threading his way through minefields of potential contentiousness based on party, race, and gender. The former state senator's quip during a forum -- "If you'd look at my voting record, you'd think I was a black woman" (or words to that effect) -- ought to give you the idea.

The fact that Cohen won both races going away -- and pulled a majority of the district's black vote in the general -- gives him the opportunity to do his stuff on everybody's behalf.

Best New Political Force: The Blogosphere. Although operators of politically oriented Web logs came and went, there was a solid corps who were online all year, virtually 24/7, and managed to make a difference in what happened in politics and to politicians.

It is as difficult to list all the deserving here as it is for an Oscar winner on Academy Award night. But some are more equal than others: Former radio talk-show maverick Thaddeus Matthews became indispensable with his nonstop solid-gold news tips buried in a morass of conjecture, invective, and on-the-lip-of-libel accusations.

I've touted more than once the left-of-center sites that provided a beacon light generally and, in particular, helped Cohen's campaign along with independent opposition research, among other contributions. Their number grows constantly, but some of them are: River City Mud Bugle; LeftWing Cracker; The Flypaper Theory; Confessions of a West Tennessee Liberal; Freedonian; Polar Donkey; Memphis Blue; Daily Docket; Brassmask; Queer Notes, etc.

Conservative cheerleader Mike Hollihan's HalfBakered site flagged somewhat, but Mick Wright's Fishkite still operated; and John Farmer's Blue Dog Republican, and ... Oh heck, folks, it's a continuum.

Best Political Race of the Year: U.S. Senate race, featuring Republican Bob Corker, who won, and Democrat Harold Ford. Though this contest was disappointing in an ideological sense (both candidates mumbled right-of-center platitudes most of the way), voters do, after all, have to read between the lines.

And those who did could discern two men of talent who settled into a down-to-the-wire horse race that at the end had become a cynosure for the rest of the nation. That Ford lost should not discourage him from trying for the gold ring again; and Corker may end up (secretly) thanking his lucky stars that the Democrats took control of the Senate. Their narrow victory gives him the opportunity to perform like the pragmatic and conciliatory public person that he naturally is.

Best Political Race of Next Year: Mayor Willie Herenton (if he follows through) vs. Carol Chumney et al. Can't wait.

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