Democratic county-mayor candidate A C Wharton, who, along with all his surrogates and supporters, has been baiting opponent George Flinn about skipping debate venues, got an answer of sorts from the Republican nominee Wednesday night. But to get it he first had to respond to a Flinn charge that he was a big spender.

In a fund-raising letter that went out to potential donors last month, Flinn had stressed his campaign themes of fiscal solvency and accountability and suggested that “my opponent in the August 1st election has proposed new government spending that will cost you millions and result in additional tax increases [bold in the original].”

Wharton was at first moved to call a press conference for Tuesday morning to deal with “distortions” in the letter but later canceled it. After appearing at a forum in Southeast Memphis Tuesday night, however Ð without Flinn but with Libertarian candidate Bruce Young serving as something of a foil Ð Wharton said he intended to reschedule the press conference and promised a “rapid response strategy” henceforth to any and all charges made by Flinn “a la Larry Scroggs.”

(This last phrase was a reference to some mailouts, sent out by the Flinn campaign during the Republican primary, that characterized the voting record of state Rep. Scroggs, Flinn’s primary opponent, as being too friendly to tax increases.)

Wharton , who at one point in Tuesday night’s forum said he could achieve his governmental aims “without hiring a single new employee,” denied having proposed any new spending for Shelby County government.

Apprised of this later, Flinn responded, “I based my statement on all the concepts and programs and strategies and what-have-you that I’ve heard him talk up during the many times we’ve appeared together during this campaign, which has been something like eight to ten times.”

That was two-responses-in-one from Flinn, who was also indirectly addressing the Wharton camp’s accusations that he’s been ducking debates with the Democratic nominee.

Wharton made repeated references Tuesday night to Flinn’s absence from a number of possible joint appearances, including a forthcoming one sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

After arriving at Asbury United Methodist Church on Mendenhall, site of Tuesday night’s debate, Wharton was told by the debate moderator that the program would be delayed somewhat so that Flinn, who had a prior engagement, could appear.

“Don’t hold your breath,” Wharton responded. “I don’t think the good doctor is going to show. Flinn is not in. The doctor is out.” And he made repeated references during the evening to the importance of “give-and-take” between candidates and audiences at such forums, challenging “my opponent to show up in public and take his chances with real people.”

The two are scheduled to appear together at a televised debate on Fox Channel 13 later this month.

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