Shelby County Republicans on Tuesday night formally hitched their train to the 5th District city council hopes of George Flinn, the radiologist/broadcast mogul who ran unsuccessfully for county mayor last year.
The GOP steerng committee, which gave its unanimous nod to Flinn at a meeting at the home of activist Annabel Woodall, is likely also to endorse county school board member Wyatt Bunker for the District 1 council race against longtime incumbent E.C. Jones.
"We think Jones is vulnerable, and we think Bunker has good support against him," said party chairman Kemp Conrad, who noted that Cordova resident Bunker, arguably the county board's most conservative member, had filed his petition for the seat this week.
The party will withhold any official action on the race pending formal interviews of the sort held last week with District 5 candidates, but Bunker'e entry was acively sought by the party's candidate-recruitment committee and thus is almost certain to be endorsed.
Bunker is a resident of Countrywood, a portion of Cordova annexed by the city of Memphis since he was last elected to the county school board. His position as a current Shelby County office-holder (who could not, however, run for relection to the board next year) running for a citywide office stamps him as unique.
Flinn, a novice candidate last year, won the Republican nomination for Shelby County mayor with a well-financed and Ð said his critics Ð abrasive media campaign against then State Representative Larry Scroggs. Resultant party division was one factor in FlinnÕs lopsided loss in the general election to Democratic nominee A C Wharton.
ÒI think he intends to run a different type of campaign this year,Ó said GOP party chair Kemp Conrad of Flinn's bid for the District 5 seat being vacated by two-term councilman John Vergos.
After formally receiving the party endorsement Tuesday night, Flinn said, "I feel like I won the primary tongiht , and I very much look forward to the election campaign and working with Kemp Conrad the Republican Party."
Aboaut his well-funded but ultimately unsuccessful political experience last year, Flinn joked, "I'm older, wiser, and poorer. This will be a grass-roots campaign." Flinn, who later confided that out-of-state consultants may have done him a disservice in last year's race promised that he would work only with local consultants this year and would keep his expenditures more or less in line with what is customary for a city council race.
Conrad said the party would act quickly on other races. Upon taking office this year he promised that the local GOP would endorse candidates for selected seats and aggressively promote their candidacies. In the morrow of Monday nightÕs Democratic meeting [see separate story], he could not resist this dig at the rival partyÕs highly public difficulties: ÒItÕs uinfortunate that the Democrats seem to be more consumed in power struggles and personal agendas than they are in the lives of Shelby Countians.Ó
Among other hopefuls so far acknowledged as seeking the District 5 seat are Jim Strickland, Mary Wilder, Jay Gatlin, and John Pellicciotti. Pellicciotti, Gatlin, and Strickland, like Flinn, had preliminary interviews last week with the GOP candidate-recruitment committee, but each had handicaps to overcome in gaining the endorsement of the full Republican committee.
Gatlin's was that he is a relative unknown; StricklandÕs was that he served a term as chairman of the Shelby County Democrats; PellicciottiÕs was, ironically enough, that he ran a tight race against Democratic state representative Mike Kernell last year and is counted to do so again next year. Several leading Republicans have said they would prefer that Pellicciotti keep his powder dry until then.
Another race which the Republicans may endorse in, said Conrad, is the race for the Super-District 9, Position 1 council seat now held by long-term incumbent Pat VanderSchaaf. Numerous candidates -- Repoublican, Democratic, and independent -- are expected to try their luck in that one.