Politics » Politics Feature

Seasonal Reflections

On Rickey Peete, Janis Fullilove, and two frequent adversaries on the county commission.


Say what you will about the duo in the photo above, each of whom has gone through some hard, hard moments over the years. "Self-inflicted," would say the naysayers, and they would be right.

Yet this picture — unposed and spontaneous and unretouched in any way — is illuminated by more than the small power of a camera flash. There is an internal light that belongs to all members of the human species, and it shines here in this embrace of two survivors of the human condition at a pre-Christmas political get-together Thursday night.

The occasion was a fund-raiser at Mulan's at Cooper and Young for Memphis City Council member Janis Fullilove (above right), who has gone through more than her share of torments and humiliations, all very public. Busted at Tunica, embarrassed on a steamboat, hauled into court on a domestic dispute: Those are just some of the recent circumstances.

And Rickey Peete (left), a latecomer at the affair, has had it worse. And yes, of course, he brought ignominy and disgrace on himself and caused a shadow of doubt to fall on the entire council, on which he used to be a pillar. Not once but twice he was caught in law enforcement stings — the first time soliciting a bribe, the second time accepting one.

Each time, he forfeited a position of power and respect and trust. Each time he was tried, convicted, and locked away. After the first time, he was able to regain his rights and run again. After the second time, he was the proximate cause of a change in state law that made it difficult, if not impossible, for a demonstrably felonious official like himself ever to serve again in public office.

All as it should be, most people would agree. And most people would also agree that Fullilove's serial difficulties are not only her own fault but are needless distractions to the conduct of necessary public business.

Yet it is she whom one colleague — himself of irreproachable character — describes as "the most beloved member of the council" to her fellow members.

And it was she who had the moral strength and perseverance to insist, not once but repeatedly, for an official affirmation by the council of workplace rights for gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals. That this goal as achieved this past year through the efforts of others besides herself does not diminish her role as first mover.

Participants in the Tennessee Equality Project were prominent attendees at Fullilove's Thursday night fund-raiser, but so were representatives of other parts of the local gestalt. For every Jonathan Cole there was a Karl Schledwitz or a Ron Belz or a Billy Orgel, all exemplars of longstanding mainstream culture. All there in recognition of Fullilove's potential to effect desirable change — as, in all honesty, many of them might well be also for some future-tense opponent of equivalent skills and potentiality.

Peete, too, always had his admirers. As a councilman, he was a hard worker with a keen sense for possible compromise, and his agreeable personality often served as a conduit from one point of view to another, seemingly its intractable opposite. Not everything he got done in public service was self-serving. Were he still serving and in good standing, he, too, would attract well-wishers and respectable donors from the far corners and forward-looking vanguards of local society.

And, like Roscoe Dixon and Katherine Bowers, two former legislators who were snared in the Tennessee Waltz sting, did their time, and reemerged to perform, as they do, various kinds of unsung public service, so does Rickey Peete still have a contribution to make. And John Ford, recently returned to society, as well.

The point I am making is summed up in the Nietzschean phrase Menschliches, Allzumenschliches ("Human, all too human") and by the Hindu text which translates "I am that," meaning all that we behold in the outer world of being, exalted or reprehensible, is a mirror image of ourselves. We are all sinners, according to the sacred text which is at the heart of the current holiday season. One more? "Judge not, lest you be judged."

Rejoice. 'Tis the season. Embrace everyone. We are that.

• Elections have consequences, and one of them is that losers must pay. To the victor belong the spoils. And so forth.

All of this came to bear on Monday when it was settle-up time for two members of the Shelby County Commission who had put their money where their partisan mouths were and made a bet on the outcome of the November 6th presidential election.

The wagerers were Democrat Steve Mulroy who opined, correctly, as it turned out, that President Barack Obama would be reelected, and Republican Terry Roland, who was equally convinced that Republican nominee Mitt Romney would win.

In a brief ceremony, held upstairs in the commission offices before Monday's meeting downstairs in the county building auditorium, Roland made over Mulroy's winnings: a bottle of Maker's Mark, a premium whiskey. Be not alarmed, citizens: Nothing was consumed on the premises; for all we know, Mulroy's prize will remain on a trophy shelf at home, forever unopened.

Had Romney been the victor, Roland stood to get a bottle of Patrón tequila, an equally premium brand. And this, too, would no doubt have served as a mere ornament — to be observed and not partaken of.

For what it's worth, though, this particular brand of tequila has a certain cachet. The online Urban Dictionary takes note of a frequent misspelling of the brand name in defining the term "petrone" and illustrating it with this definition and example: "Top shelf brand-name tequila: 'Take a shot of this here Petrone and its gon' be on.'"

A secondary example of the term, as applied to a person, is provided by urbandictionary.com: "It means the person has big balls and is a true man. He is solid and [can] stand up to anything that comes his way. Just a average day Hercules [sic]."

Just saying.

As is reasonably well known, liberal Mulroy and conservative Roland have had their differences — famously resulting, on one occasion, in Roland's suggestion that the two should go "settle things outside." Facetious and in good fun, Roland said later; Mulroy wasn't too sure.

And they had differences on Monday, exchanging words privately about Mulroy's proposal for a county ordinance to address the problem of wage theft, whereby certain corner-cutting employers allegedly deprive workers of their properly earned wages.

The ordinance was scheduled for a third and final vote on Monday, but Mulroy asked for and got a deferral until January 14th, for purposes of preparing an amendment. Roland disapproves of the proposal in any form, amended or otherwise, and said so.

But the two frequent opponents found common cause on another matter on Monday.

Both voted with the majority for a resolution that the county commission should hire its own lobbyist to deal with the Tennessee General Assembly, rather than, as has been the custom, deferring to lobbyists working directly with the county administration. This was an outcome of a feeling among several commissioners that Mayor Mark Luttrell has been less than avid about consulting with the commission before preparing his annual wish list for the legislature.

Relations between Luttrell and the commission have never been exactly hand-in-glove, and the lobbying issue is but the latest example of it. The situation bears watching as the New Year approaches.

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