Longtime political figure denies complaints forced his hand.


It may have been inevitable, but there was still an element of surprise to the sudden resignation of Bobby Lanier, top administrative aide to two-term Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout as he was to Rout’s four-term predecessor, Bill Morris.

Without much preliminary ado, Lanier filed for his retirement benefits last Friday, climaxing weeks of complaints from political opponents concerning his alleged use of county facilities on behalf of his current political protégé, Shelby County Public Defender A C Wharton, a Democratic candidate for county mayor.

Lanier’s move was unexpected and was said to have been prompted by the aforesaid complaints, raised mainly by organization Republicans and by backers of one of Wharton’s Democratic opponents, Bartlett banker Harold Byrd.

Lanier made a perfunctory denial Monday that he had resigned due to pressure, but others close to the situation acknowledged that the move owed much to the volume of the criticism, turned up considerably once Wharton, for whose candidacy Lanier was something of a prime mover, made his formal announcement last month

The well-liked Lanier didn’t spend much, if any, time kicking back and relaxing after his “retirement.” He spent Monday in the company of fellow Wharton backer Reginald French setting up Wharton’s new downtown campaign office on Court and pushing ahead plans for the candidate’s forthcoming Thursday-night fundraiser at the Racquet Club.

(There was a mishap connected with the latter. A list of potential donors was mislaid Monday during or after a lunch meeting of Lanier and French at the Cupboard Restaurant on Union Avenue, in the hospital district.).

Neither Lanier nor French hold any titles at the moment, but they are two pivotal members of an ad hoc group that worked intensively -- in the aftermath of Rout’s decision some months ago not to run again -- first to persuade Wharton to run and then to launch his candidacy as a mainstream candidate, with appeal across both racial and political lines.

Some of that crossover involved Wharton supporters from the ranks of Rout allies _ a circumstance that caused Rout himself some discomfiture.

The incumbent mayor joined other key Republicans in the last several weeks in a search _ unsuccessful so far -- for a name Republican candidate to carry the party’s hopes.

As previously reported in the Flyer, radiologist/media baron George Flinn has developed an interest in running for county mayor as a Republican, and, though something of a political neophyte (and the father of a Democratic legislative candidate last year, Shea Flinn), he may end up as the party’s standard-bearer.

Meanwhile, a lively contest is expected in Democratic ranks between Wharton, Byrd, and State Representative Carol Chumney.

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