ÒThings are moving fast now. This mayorÕs race is getting a shake-up. ItÕs kind of like an earthquake.Ó: That sentiment, expressed Wednesday night by Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, a Democrat and one of the already declared candidates for Shelby County mayor, is, if anything, something of an understatement.
Just within the last 24 hours [editor's note: original post date 12-12-01]all of the following facts became known:
The devil, as usual, is in the details. Here, then, are the details, case by case:
It is rare but not unprecedented for members of the Ford clan to take divergent paths during an election year; in 1994, as one example, State Senator John Ford ran for county mayor without the endorsement of his brother, the then congressman, who supported independent Jack Sammons, then as now a Memphis city councilman, for the position.
But the former congressman is also a master of elaborately orchestrated scenarios whose purpose does not fully reveal itself until fairly late in the game. One immediate theory of the Isaac Ford candidacy (if it turns out that Ford Sr. did indeed condone it, at least tacitly) is that the former congressman would use his sonÕs candidacy as a means to force specific concessions from Wharton in return for the withdrawal of Isaac Ford, whose independent candidacy presents the specter of a split in Democratic and African-American ranks that would threaten all Democrats, including Byrd and State Representative Carol Chumney, another candidate, but would impact Wharton most seriously.
Another theory was that Isaac FordÕs venture is only a shadow candidacy, a temporary one meant to immobilize other possible opposition to Wharton.
One thing for sure: if there is method to this madness, it is subtle stuff indeed.
ByrdÕs partisans, who once held out hope that the congressman might at least keep neutrality, concede that the ex-congressman will be an active force behind Wharton, FordÕs former college roommate at Tennessee State University, but express a hope that his move will somehow benefit Byrd. ÒHeÕll drive away votes from A C in the white community,Ó insisted former Teamster leader and current Byrd campaign kingpin Sidney Chism. Wishful thinking? Perhaps.
Other than his former relationship with Wharton and perhaps an honest belief that Wharton would be best for the county, what factors are behind the ex-congressmanÕs campaign plans? Probably foremost is the fact that the political allies of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, FordÕs historical arch-rival for political leadership, though split somewhat between the candidacies of Byrd and Wharton, are still primarily in the camp of the former Ð Chism and lawyer Richard Fields being cases in point. (Another Herenton heavy hitter, Reginald French, is with Wharton.)
Moreover, Scroggs, a serious legislator who has harbored ambitions for higher political office for some time, reflected on the fact that his position as one of the junior House Republicans in the Shelby County delegation (senior only to Paul Stanley) makes him subject to the vagaries of legislative redistricting, a process which will be accomplished during the next few months under Democratic domination and in the wake of census results that call for elimination of one of the countyÕs seats.
A scenario agreed upon Tuesday by such GOP stalwarts as Rout, Ryder, and former county Republican chairman David Kustoff calls for the following schedule: an anticipated flattering column about Scroggs in the Sunday Commercial Appeal, one which would reveal his decision to run; a formal announcement of candidacy on December 20th, during which Scroggs will be flanked by former mainline GOP mayoral prospects Bill Gibbons and John Bobango; a $1000-a-head fund-raiser to be held on January 7th, the eve of the 2002 session of the General Assembly, during which ScroggsÕ ability to raise funds will be suspended by state law prohibiting legislators from raising money during session.
Scroggs will faithfully complete the 2002 legislative session, taking advantage of weekends and other breaks to do active campaigning for mayor. Meanwhile he may file some sort of legal challenge to the statute freezing his fundraising ability, and he will avail himself of a loophole in that law that will be activated in the event of a special session (on taxes or whatever) midway in the regular session.
A factor here is that a condition of mutual estrangement exists between VanderSchaaf and members of the GOP establishment. There are several factors accounting for this -- two of them being a history of disagreements with Rout and the anger of several Republicans close to lawyer David Lillard and former deputy Juvenile Court clerk Steve Stamson over VanderSchaaf's role in commission horse-trading that kept Lillard and Stamson from getting to fill vacancies, respectively, on the commission and for the office of Juvenile Court clerk.
VanderSchaaf is not alone; he could count on allies among other dissident Republicans weary of what they see as the long-term domination of party affairs by an establishment cabal.
Though VanderSchaaf would have to sacrifice a reelection bid (which is currently opposed by GOP activist Joyce Avery), he may have reached a point in his political career at which he would just as soon shake the pillars of the temple as try to live meekly within it.
Then again, it may be a simple case of his math telling him he can win.