Primaries 2002

Primaries 2002


Vote For Who?

by Janel Davis

Candidate DeAndre Forney: Republican and proud.
DeAndre Forney proudly held up his campaign sign, which read, "Republican Forney County Commission." The election was three hours over, the votes tallied, and Forney's primary bid was over. But Forney was not discouraged. His signs have no date on them, he said, so that they can be reused during his next run for office.

Forney was one of four candidates for the county commission in District 4, Position 2. While he only garnered about 4 percent of the overall vote, nothing could diminish his optimism.

"I am very pleased with the 4 percent I received. I ran in a 92 percent Caucasian district. I ran as a Republican," said Forney. "Every single one of my opponents has held an elected office, and with that comes name recognition, something I didn't have. When I started out, only two people knew my name. To get 4 percent of the vote is great."

The 19-year-old University of Memphis political science student, who graduated from Houston High School last spring, got interested in politics back in fourth grade. After a series of school-related voter-registration and education drives and a congressional summer internship, Forney decided to run for the commission seat on a platform that included no property-tax increases, no consolidation of schools and governments, and no increase in county commission salaries.

While he raised only $1,000 and spent about $7,000, Forney believes next time will be different. "[During this campaign], I made mistakes daily," he said. "Next time around, I won't be the new kid on the block. I guarantee, if we were starting out today and I had the support that I have now, our conversation would be totally different."

Although he doesn't plan to be a career politician, Forney says his future will definitely include more campaigns. Ultimately, he hopes to run for the 9th District congressional seat currently held by Harold Ford Jr.

Forney was just one of last night's unheralded losers, candidates without a big name or bank account. While winning candidates were busy posing for photos and doing television interviews, the losers went door-to-door meeting people, standing on street corners holding posters, and passing out pamphlets.

During a Republican gathering hosted by incumbent Bill Key, who himself was unopposed in the primary election for Criminal Court clerk, several lesser-known Republican candidates gathered to watch election results.

Key, whose campaign slogan was "If It Isn't Broke, Why Change It?," has held the position for eight years and presides over 100 employees. "The office is not a fee-collecting office," said Key, "but during my tenure, we have returned $7 million to the county in indictment charges." Key's résumé includes positions as teacher, coach, and athletic director in Memphis City Schools, former Memphis police officer, and CEO of Juvenile Court. Key will face Democrat Ralph White in the August general election.

Mary Taylor-Shelby was one of the more unusual Republicans present. She is a former Cleveland, Ohio, welfare mother who ran for Shelby County mayor.

"Where [a situation] might appear to be a negative, if you extract the good stuff, that can empower you to be a better person," said Taylor-Shelby. Although her mayoral bid ended in defeat with only 2.2 percent of the Republican vote, she calls her campaign a victory.

"I ran to get the African-American community to get more involved with the issues going on in their communities and to get them to see that they don't have to be stereotyped into one political party," she said. "I wanted them to see that they could make a difference in any political party."

A grandmother, Taylor-Shelby is no stranger to politics. Since 1986, she has run for various positions and is also a candidate for Fred Thompson's U.S. Senate seat. When not running for office, Taylor-Shelby works nights at Federal Express and is a part-time U of M student.

Beverly Farmer closely watched the results of her county commission race. After her first political run, she said she was beginning to understand the system. Although unopposed in the Republican primary for the District 3, Position 1 commission seat, Farmer will face a tough challenge in August against Democratic incumbent Michael Hooks. "I don't feel like I will do well [in the general election]," said Farmer. "It seems like the people are determined to keep the same candidates in position regardless whether they are doing anything or not."

Her platform includes community and economic development through establishing and assisting small businesses. If elected, she hopes to provide community residents with knowledge about how the government works and improve on weak areas like education and voting procedures.

The August election will be the final one for Jayne Creson. The incumbent county clerk has held the position since being appointed in 1993. Her political background includes stints as campaign manager for several other candidates and membership in the Young Republicans.

If elected, Creson's main objective will be to fully update her office's computer system to integrate online automobile registration for Shelby County residents. Creson will face Democratic candidate and radio personality Janis Fullilove. The Republican post-election party was abuzz with candidates, each with his or her own platforms, agendas, and hot topics. The losers congratulated the winners and pledged their full support for the August elections, but all of them seemed to be keeping their options open. "If I am not successful [in August], I have no plans," said Chris Thomas, incumbent Probate Court clerk. "I'm going to take it a day at a time."

Day In the Life


At 6 a.m. on May 7, 2002, John Freeman begins one of the longest days in his life. The Democratic candidate for county register starts bright and early, having slept at a desk in his campaign headquarters. Wearing shorts and a white T-shirt with his name emblazoned in bright red, Freeman is out visiting polls and pressing the flesh of early voters by 7. By 10 a.m., he is back in his Midtown office, where red-and-white streamers hang from the ceiling, the walls are hung with campaign posters, and the radio plays classic rock.

Around 10:30 a.m., Property Assessor Rita Clark stops by. She and half a dozen of Freeman's friends and campaign workers are abuzz with discussion of county commission District 3 candidate Tori Noel's ballsy ballot switch. They explain that African-American candidates often align themselves with other candidates on promotional ballots distributed to voters. Noel, who did not receive the endorsement, altered the "official" ballot so that it showed her, not Cleo Kirk, receiving endorsements from Joe Ford and A C Wharton. They say that this is typical of last-minute election-day behavior.

By 11 a.m., Freeman is behind the wheel of his red Dodge Ram and driving from polling place to polling place. The truck elicits a few good-natured Fred Thompson campaign comparisons from Freeman's friends. Thompson, a Republican, made news when he drove a pickup truck across the state and then to Washington, D.C., in his successful effort to win a Senate seat. Freeman is quick to remind everyone that he owns his pickup and that Thompson's was a rental.

As he drives, Freeman says he's worked on lots of campaigns, but being the candidate is a totally different experience. Having spent 10 years working on various Ford family campaigns, he knows where all the polling places are because he's had to visit them so many times. At each polling place, Freeman passes out campaign materials and bottles of water to voters and poll workers, entreating each person to send their votes his way. At polling places in New Chicago and Frayser, he hears that turnout has been extremely low, with only 20 or 30 people having voted thus far. Freeman takes this to mean that he needs to personally greet each person who shows up. As cars stop and voters approach, he introduces himself, asks for votes, and casually informs each person that he is the chosen candidate for the Democratic Party, that he has the official endorsement of the Ford family, and that he currently works for Bishop William H. Graves, a prominent African-American religious leader.

Freeman knows it's important that black voters realize his affiliations because he's in a race that will likely be decided on race. The voters he needs are black, and Freeman is white. One of his African-American campaign workers says that when she called black voters to ask them to vote for Freeman, many asked her if he was black. When she said no, they told her they wouldn't vote for him. Otis Jackson, who is Freeman's biggest competition and is running as an independent, is black and a former University of Memphis basketball player. Freeman doesn't say so explicitly, but he worries that pigment will be pivotal in this race.

So he keeps making stops and passing out Cokes and bottles of water. In Melanie's, a soul-food restaurant on North Watkins, he meets every single employee and customer, asking all for their votes. The only white man in the building, Freeman is often met with skepticism.

Talking about the impact barbers and hairdressers can have on the outcome of an election, he stops by Warren's Original Hair Styles on Thomas near Chelsea. Warren Lewis, the proprietor, knows Freeman well, and as the mayor of Warrentown -- the community the city council named after him -- Lewis makes sure all his customers know Freeman too.

At 4 p.m., Freeman is back at his headquarters and decides to make a quick run to pick up bags of ice to cool the drinks for the planned celebration party. But on the way back from the store, he receives word that Otis Jackson is still out soliciting votes. Not to be outdone, Freeman heads out to hit more polling places.

At 6 p.m., he's at Corry Middle School in South Memphis talking to a young woman who says she's excited because this is her first time voting. At 6:20 p.m., he's at the Graceland Community Police Substation working the voters. With the polls set to close at 7 p.m., poll workers for all the candidates are making last-ditch efforts to scare up votes, yelling candidates' names and practically begging. Freeman manages to drop by two more polling places before they close, then he stops by Ophelia Ford's campaign headquarters on South Third Street. Ford's not there, but her campaign workers are trying to stay optimistic.

Back at his own headquarters, Freeman's supporters gather around a rented television set, sipping wine and beer and nibbling at the huge spread of food laid out for the celebration. But as the early returns come in, the mood darkens. Jackson is leading by a considerable margin. Over the next hour, the margin will close somewhat, but it soon becomes clear that Freeman has lost. Gracious but tight-lipped, he smiles and says he'll get it done next time. But his friends and campaign workers are not so diplomatic. All are clearly frustrated, with some even remarking that Freeman, a long-time friend and supporter of Harold Ford Jr., had not been shown the same courtesy by the congressman. They believe that if Ford had been more vocal in his support, Freeman would have won.

As the hours creep by, candidates and campaign workers from other races appear. A tired and somewhat dejected-looking Carol Chumney expresses her belief that Tennesseans are hesitant to vote for women and remarks that we are behind the rest of the nation in that regard. A jovial E.C. Jones, who faced no primary opposition in his bid for the county trustee's office, arrives and chats with others present.

Eventually, the party moves on to Zinnie's East, where upstairs in the Full Moon Club a young woman is squeaking out '80s pop tunes. Joe Cooper arrives to cheers from all. He has just won by the narrowest margin imaginable -- one vote -- and has taken to calling himself "Landslide" Joe Cooper. Pat Vander Schaaf calls to congratulate him and express her disbelief at the evening's events. Her ex-husband and close friend Clair Vander Schaaf has just lost the county commission seat he held for nearly 26 years; Joe Cooper has won the primary after running for various offices unsuccessfully for years. And Freeman, despite receiving the endorsement of many of Memphis' top politicians and the Democratic party, has lost.

But nobody wants to dwell on that. As the clock turns to the wee hours, Freeman supporters take the karaoke stage to sing. E.C. Jones croons an impressive rendition of Sinatra's "My Way." But no song was more fitting than the duet Freeman and local Democrat David Upton sang -- Elvis' "All Shook Up."

All shook up, indeed.

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