POLITICS: More Adversity for Flinn



MORE ADVERSITY FOR FLINN, WHO PULLS OFFENDING ADS Reeling from adverse public reaction to its recent TV commercials and forced to deal with new setbacks, like the disavowal of GOP nominee George Flinn’s candidacy for county mayor by Young Republican chairman Rick Rout, the Flinn campaign indicated Friday it was pulling the controversial ads directly attacking Democrat A C Wharton

The ads being pulled, which concern alleged aspects of Wharton’s record, were due to be removed from rotation anyhow, said Flinn campaign spokesperson Cary Rodgers, who acknowledged that they had failed in the intended result of building support for Flinn’s candidacy and may have backfired. She defended the accuracy of the ads, however.

Rodgers had indicated that another hard-hitting ad would be returned to the airwaves -- the one charging that the NBA arena project was conceived through “back room” politics. That ad, which was controversial in its own right, was to be accompanied by another ad, newly cut, in which Flinn addressed viewers directly, pleading his case. Both the new ad and the arena ad were scheduled to start airing on Friday afternoon and continue through the weekend; later Friday, Rodgers and Flinn both said the arena ad was indeed playing and the new ad would be starting at some point in the weekend.

The difficulty of gauging just exactly what the Flinn campaign intended was compounded by the fact that the campaign had been receiving various different kinds of input from Republican sources all day Friday, in the wake of an unusually rowdy debate at WHBQ, one in which the two major candidates interrupted each other and each tried to blame the other for the specter of negative campaigning.

Flinn, who thought that Channel 13 moderator Steve Dawson had made a point of cutting him off and blunting his points but not doing the same to Wharton, had a set-to of sorts with the moderator after the program.

Flinn said Dawson pulled him bodily into a room at the station and told him dramatically, in front of one of the station's cameras, that WHBQ would be attempting to get unsealed the suits involving Flinn and two women that have been sealed and were the subject of a Commercial Appeal article last week. (A hearing on that request will be held before Circuit Court Judge George Brown on Monday.)

At a regular weekly meeting of county Republican candidates, the mayoral candidate received some advice from worried ticket members that his ads had been hurting not only his own chances but theirs, as well.

But Flinn and Rodgers both maintained late in the day that, while the campaign's approach might be tailored somewhat to meet this concern, Flinn intended to press his case against Wharton and "the power elite" aggressively.

"There's no quit in me," Flinn said. "Hey, if Ethridge is right [Steve Ethridge, the Commercial Appeal's commissioned pollster,who said in Friday's CA the race was "over"), then I've got nothing to lose.But I don't think it is over."

The renunciation of Flinn’s candidacy by Rick Rout, son of Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout and chairman of the county Young Republicans, was communicated indirectly via an email to YR members and affirmed directly in a Friday telephone interview.

In the email, Rout advised YR board members that their July meeting was being canceled and said, “We all are going nuts trying to get 95% of the Republican ticket elected and should focus on that." He said further that his father, saying his farewells to the group as mayor, would be the speaker at the regular YR August meeting. He continued: “The SEPTEMBER meeting, we will hopefully be able to get the new Shelby County Mayor to come and speak to us. So, I will give AC a call today and ask if he will do it.”

In the interview, Rout said it was only being realistic to assume that Wharton would be the mayor in September because of his current 23 percent lead in the CA's most recently published poll. “That’s pretty impossible to overcome,” Rout said, adding, “The tactics that George Flinn is using right now are backfiring greatly. People just don’t like negative campaigning. I for one am not endorsing anyone.” Flinn, he said, was “using smear tactics.” Citing the arena ad with its allegations of back room politics and “deals,” Rout said, “My Dad is the most honest public servant anyone has ever seen, and I don’t appreciate it.” (Mayor Rout, who has kept his distance publicly from the mayor’s race, was a firm advocate of the publicly funded arena project.)

Elaborating on his view of Flinn’s candidacy, Rick Rout said, “To be honest with you, I feel that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. As a member of the Republican Party, I’m actually embarrassed. I don’t think Dr. Flinn knows anything about running county government. It’s a shame we’ve got a nominee that won’t make speaking engagements and won’t make debates. I am really disheartened at the way this election has gone.”

To those YR members who had contacted him to express their disappointment with the invitation being extended to Wharton, Rout said, “That’s a little narrow-minded. We have to work with public servants across party lines.. And we’ve had Democrats, like [Memphis] Mayor Willie Herenton, speak to us before.”

Rout said he had not known that his sister Sherry, who was in the group accompanying Wharton to the mayoral debate at WHBQ-TV Thursday night, was taking an active role in the Wharton campaign, but said, “ We disagree on many things, politics being one. But if you have to choose between two candidates, you’ve got to pick the candidate you think will do the better job.” Most people look at “the man, not the party,” Rout said.

Rodgers denied that the arena commercial had impugned Mayor Rout’s integrity or suggested he was dishonest. “The whole point is that anything the voters don’t get to vote on is perceived as a backroom deal. Nothing more, nothing less.” Rodgers said that “numerous calls” had been received at Flinn headquarters from “people who are outraged at Rick’s approach.” She said, “They disagree totally with his reasoning, his conclusions, and his future as chairman of the party.”

This last was a reference to Rick Rout’s active campaign to become the next Shelby County Republican chairman to succeed the outgoing Alan Crone. Other names have been mentioned as potential candidates -- including those of businessman Kemp Conrad, who Flinn said had been an active supporter, and county commission member Marilyn Loeffel. Only Rout, who has already printed up campaign material, is declared, however. He said Friday he didn’t think his campaign would suffer from the current controversy nor from his position on the mayor’s race.

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