DOGS, PONIES, AND DEMOCRATS “Political bullshit,” scoffed Willie Herenton about some of the machinations going on during the Shelby County Democratic Party’s preliminary caucuses at Hamtilton High School Saturday. The caucuses were to select delegates for the party’s April 12th convention, which will elect a chairperson and new executive committee, and His Honor was on hand to show the flag for the current chair, Gale Jones Carson, who doubles as his press secretary. A few minutes later, however, Herenton was prompted to a more sober assessment by an encounter with an angry attendee, whose support for Carson’s opponent, State Rep. Kathryn Bowers, was fueled , as she made clear, by her anger toward the mayor himself. Sitting down on a ramshackle row of auditorium seats (two of them had collapsed only minutes before), Herenton shook his head and repeated several times, “If somebody wants to get at me, they can get on a ballot.” Around him and throughout the school auditorium, clumps of would-be delegates -- some for Carson, some for Bowers, some discreetly keeping their own counsel -- were jockeying for positions in their district delegations. A red-dot sticker meant Carson, a yellow rectangle meant Bowers, and the state rep, who was reported to have wide support from her delegation peers, seemed to have something of an edge. There was a large third force of formally uncommitted people brought to the event by State Rep. Carol Chumney, current chair of the Shelby County legislative delegation and a stated neutral. Chumney thereby positoned herself to be a power broker on April 12th -- and thereafter -- and conceivably could end up being a compromise candidate herself. If Herenton was prominent by his presence, another major political figure was prominent by his absence. This was U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr, who figured as a luminary on both sides of the contest. Virtually every one of the congressman’s better-known cadres was employed on Bowers’ behalf--and three, David Upton, John Freeman, and State Senator Roscoe Dixon, functioned as the principals of her command-and-control center. Not only was the Ford organization so deployed, word was that the congressman himself had, early on, encouraged Bowers. Indeed, it was hard to imagine any of his prominent supporters taking on such a conspicuous political mission on their own tack -- especially not Freeman, a loyal factotum who has, he acknowledged, been on the congressman’s campaign payroll for lo, these last several weeks. Notoriously, the Ford arsenal doesn’t contain loose pistols. But, in an astonishing development -- connected, it would seem, with the onset of war in Iraq and Ford’s preoccupation with that -- the congressman made a point in the last few days of dissociating himself from the local contest. He even became sufficiently alarmed at early media reports of his people’s efforts for Bowers as to exert himself -- despite the fact that no reporter had ever even mentioned his name -- to deny his own involvement. That took the extreme form of calling up Carson and offering her his support and making explicit statements to The Flyer to that effect. It is fair to say that Carson’s people were grateful and Ford’s own supporters were mystified -- though the latter, once they had regained their breath, predicted that no votes would be turned by the congressman’s nominal assurances to Carson and then renewed and even redoubled their effort on Bowers’ behalf. It certainly remained the case that Ford loyalists were a major component of Bowers’ support. Others backing her were several fellow legislators from Shelby County, other public officials like County Assessor Rita Clark, Democrats still smoldering over Herenton’s support last fall of Republican senatorial candidate Lamar Alexander, and perhaps a few potential delegates out of sorts with the mayor over some issue like his open feud with the city school board. To be sure, the political cleavages were too diverse to justify treating the showdown which commenced Saturday and will culminate on April 12th as some narrow Herenton-Ford struggle -- especially in light of the congressman’s unusual actions. Still the rosters were familiar, and the mayor’s people -- Sidney Chism, Chuck Taylor, Nate Jackson, and Rich Fields, among others -- had tactical duties for Carson that were similar to their Ford counterparts’ effort on Bowers’ behalf. For all the new dogs and ponies of this show -- and irrespective of Harold Ford Jr.’s curious tightrope act -- it was to large degree the same old same old, the familiar political circus. And that, to appropriate Mayor Herenton’s vernacular of Saturday, is no bullshit.

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