Is the struggle for power among local Democrats to be a regular monthly ritual?


TAKING TURNS In one sense, the continuing controversy in local Democratic leadership ranks is nothing unusual. The American political system, which somehow manages to reconcile a multitude of viewpoints within a two-party system, kindles controversy the way an automobile’s engine runs on internal combustion. Normally, such a system’s outward manifestations are smooth, but sometimes the internal knocking gets out of hand and there’s a bit of a racket. That continues to be the situation of the Shelby County Democrats. The real problem is that the party is about as evenly divided into halves as can be imagined, and as the party prepares for a final showdown Monday night on its month-long effort to elect a new chairperson, the lineup is still 21 votes for State Rep. Kathryn Bowers and 20 votes for current chair Gale Jones Carson, who doubles as press secretary to Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton. That’s how it was at the biennial party convention on Saturday, April 12th, when a Bowers supporter on the newly elected party executive committee took ill and had to leave, creating a temporary stalemate, and that’s how it has remained ever since. That’s how it was again last Thursday night when the Carson faction, taking advantage of the temporary absence of three other Bowers supporters, elected its own slate of officers under the level of chairman. The Bowers faction had protested that election and abstained from voting in it, preferring to elect the new officers along with the chairman at the May 12th meeting, but Carson insisted that party precedent mandated such an election Thursday night, on what she said was the accustomed post-convention meeting date. She also noted that her side made an effort to elect some members of the Bowers faction, all of whom, however, declined to let themselves be nominated. Indications are that the full complement of members from both sides will be on hand at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union hall Monday night -- a fact that should result both in a Bowers victory and, since her faction has pledged to rescind the results of last’s week balloting, in the selection of new officers. But that’s not the end. The chief strategist for the Carson faction (as for most of Mayor Herenton’s campaigns) is ex-Teamster leader Sidney Chism, and Chism holds out what will doubtless seem to many Democrats an unnerving prospect. “What they can rescind one month, we can rescind the next,” Chism said last week -- meaning that the two factions could theoretically take turns voting each other’s officers out of power, the outcome for any given month depending entirely on which side gets more of its supporters out to this or that monthly meeting of the party executive committee. Whether the party bylaws permit such reversals by a majority of those present at a meeting or whether they require an absolute majority of the committee membership (21 votes out of 41) and whether the chairperson is also subject to such recall are issues that are already being debated (and researched) by members of both party factions. Again, contention is a necessary part of the democratic (and Democratic) process, but so is compromise, and the prospects of that other shoe ever dropping are beginning to look doubtful indeed.
  • Candidate interest in the 5th District city council seat being vacated by two-term incumbent John Vergos continues to accelerate. Or so one would conclude from the sizeable number of hopefuls who lined up at Shelby County Republican headquarters Monday night for possible endorsement by the party. Among the familiar political names were physician/radio mogul George Flinn, who was the GOP nominee for Shelby County mayor last year; Jim Strickland, who once chaired the Shelby County Democratic Party but has numerous connections with Republicans (notably, in his law partnership with former local Republican chairman David Kustoff), and John PellicCiotti, who ran a stoutly competitive race last year as the GOP nominee against Democratic state representative Mike Kernell. Still mindful of the less-than-unanimous support he received from his fellow Republicans in last year’s unsuccessful outing against Democrat A C Wharton, Flinn is said to be reserving decision on making the race, depending on whether he gets the party endorsement. Of all the potential candidates, no one is so far organizing more busily than lawyer Strickland, who was the honoree at a Friday night meet-and-greet at the East Memphis home of Wes and Becky Kraker, co-hosted by banker Joe Evangelisti. The Kraker affair was well-attended, especially by members of Memphis’ Catholic community -- a sometimes overlooked source of potential bloc support, as several of the attendees, mainly communicants of St. Louis Church, pointed out. Former Memphis mayor Dick Hackett, who was successful in three elections before being upset by current incumbent Willie Herenton, also enjoyed considerable support from Memphis Catholics in his heyday.
  • Old pros Winslow “Buddy” Chapman and Joe Cooper ended up out of the running as the Shelby County Commission voted Monday to complete its internal staff positions -- naming as deputy administrators Steve Summerall, deputy administrator of the Shelby County Election Commission, and Clay Perry, district director for U.S. Rep.Harold Ford Jr. Summerall and Perry will make $64,500 each to assist chief administrator Grace Hutchinson. Though Perry’s selection had been long foreshadowed, support for Summerall’s candidacy was late-blooming. An issue all along had been the prospect of the commission’s ending up, as Joe Ford said in a commission committee meeting Monday, with “too many chiefs.” That criterion was evidently decisive in the commission’s ultimate turn away from Chapman, who had served as Memphis police director, and Cooper, who has long been a fixture in local politics.
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