One More for the 5th

State Rep. Carol Chumney joins a suddenly crowded field of city council hopefuls.



The field of candidates for the 5th District city council seat being vacated by John Vergos has grown by one more well-known political name.

State Rep. Carol Chumney, who represents Midtown in the Tennessee legislature and who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for Shelby County mayor last year, picked up a petition for the race on Tuesday morning, making the trip downtown in the company of activist Mary Wilder, a close Chumney friend who had previously indicated her own intention to run. After her stop at the Election Commission, Chumney then headed to Nashville, where the legislature is expected to adjourn this week.

"There are a lot of good candidates in the race," Chumney said Monday night, "but I'm the only one with experience in some of the most important issues the council will be dealing with." Others who have declared for the seat include lawyer Jim Strickland, businessman/physician George Flinn, and frequent candidate Joe Cooper.

Chumney said that she felt her 13 years in the state House have been successful and that she wanted to "come home and work every day in the community," applying her expertise. She said that she already represented "40 percent" of the council district as a legislator and knew the rest of the district well, having grown up in the East Memphis portion of it, where she now also maintains her law office.

She named child care, an issue on which she led reform efforts in Nashville, and "smart growth" as significant local issues.

If successful, Chumney said, she would finish out her legislative term but would not seek reelection to it next year. Meanwhile, any overlap in state pay would be donated to "neighborhood groups," she said.

Chumney's entry into the race -- coupled with the presence of Cooper, who has run several times for various offices as a Democrat -- became an instant red flag to the campaign of lawyer Jim Strickland, a former local Democratic chairman who has been actively running for several weeks and has a major fund-raiser scheduled for early next month.

"She's got more name recognition, but I'll raise more money and I have broader support," maintained Strickland, who said further, "I'm supported by Democrats, Republicans, independents, neighborhood leaders, and business leaders." (The list of sponsors for his forthcoming fund-raiser ranges from Democrats like Shelby County commissioner Joe Ford and Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, a major Strickland ally, to former local Republican chairman Alan Crone.) Strickland said his campaign would emphasize the issues of "good schools, safe streets, and strong neighborhoods."

™ It has been just under 63 years since the 19th Amendment, or women's suffrage, became law, thanks to a narrow 49-47 vote in the Tennessee state House, and it's been almost exactly five years since a priceless text commemorating that moment was published in the state that made the franchise gender-neutral.

Both moments were commemorated Tuesday in a moving presentation before members of the downtown Memphis Rotary Club at the group's weekly luncheon at the Convention Center. Janann Sherman, who with the late Carol Lynn Yellin was a co-author of the 1998 book The Perfect 36: Tennessee Delivers Women's Suffrage, and Paula Casey, a close friend of both authors who is widely credited with being the moving force behind the publication, made the presentation.

Once again, Sherman and Casey relived the story of how the mother of a 24-year-old obscure Tennessean named Harry Burn wrote her son, advising him to be a "good boy" and do the right thing, in a letter received by Rep. Burn the very day of the vote, on August 18, 1920, that made Tennessee the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the vote.

Burn's aye vote made it 49-47, but, as Casey pointed out, much credit for the final result was due to the preliminary work of Memphis' Joe Hanover, the floor leader who carefully shepherded the pro-suffrage votes. (Unmentioned from the dais Tuesday and amply credited in the book was the total support given the suffrage cause by Ed "Boss" Crump, whose control of the Shelby County delegation was virtually complete.

"It was the greatest bloodless revolution in Tennessee history," noted Casey, who added, tongue presumably in cheek, "The suffragists didn't kill anybody -- but they could have." Casey told the Rotarians about the determination of herself and Sherman to make sure the book was published when it was, on May 21, 1998, so that Yellin, who would die in 1999 from the effects of breast cancer, would have a chance to see her handiwork received by the world.

"When Paula Casey makes up her mind, get out of the way," said industrialist Jim Fri to his fellow Rotarians.

Amen to that, and to the efforts of Sherman and Yellin, and to the anniversary.

™ An achievement which, in its own way, was as impressive, was also noted to the Rotarians Tuesday, with the announcement on the group's annual Teacher Initiative Grant, given this year to Dawn LaFon, a Latin teacher at White Station High School.

LaFon, who is a first cousin of former Vice President Al Gore, used the grant -- of some $240, awarded to her project on "Ancient Coins in Education" -- to expand her students' knowledge of Roman history, as she put it, "through all 400 years of the Empire." That, as someone noted, was enormously cost-efficient, at less than a dollar a year.

™ Shelby County mayor A C Wharton's efforts -- noted here last week -- to downsize his budget proposals to the level of an anticipated 25-cent property tax increase, may not be thorough enough, in the opinion of several Shelby County Commission members who met last week, as they meet every week, to pare the county's fiscal commitments down to manageable size.

"I want to see if we can lower that 25 to zero," said Commissioner David Lillard, who was promptly seconded across the committee-room table by Commissioner Tom Moss, who made a "0" with the thumb and fingers of his right hand.

The mood was bipartisan. Democrat Deidre Malone joined her Republican colleagues in the wish that such economies could be effected.

Whether they can or not remains to be seen. But, as Lillard pointed out, if cuts of that magnitude are to be found, they are most likely to be found in personnel lists. Confirmation of a sort came from General Sessions Court clerk Chris Turner, who was one of several clerks and judges to testify last week on behalf of holding on to as much of their prerogatives as possible.

"I've got some folks," Turner said frankly, "that I wouldn't miss if they stopped showing up."

Ironically, Lillard defended the recent expansion of the commission's own support staff, now consisting of director Grace Hutchinson and aides Clay Perry and Steve Summerall. "It's going to take all those folks to really look behind the budget and see what we can cut out of it," Lillard said.

Correction and amplification: The Politics column (May 15) reporting on state Rep. Kathryn Bowers' election as new Shelby County Democratic chairman, should have referred to one of the Bowers supporters mentioned as Randle Catron, not Darrell Catron, a cousin and former staffer at Juvenile Court who has pleaded guilty to charges of embezzlement.

Randle Catron, who has no relationship to that legal action, is involved in a challenge of another sort. He recently picked up a petition at the Election Commission to run for mayor of Memphis against incumbent Willie Herenton. ™

A Clinton Revival (of sorts)

He came, he saw, he schmoozed. And he even offered qualified praise for his successor in the presidency, George W. Bush, did former President Bill Clinton. Clinton appeared Friday night at a fund-raiser at the East Memphis home of Gwen and John Montague for fellow Arkansas Democrat Jimmie Lou Fisher, last year's unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in the state next door.

Addressing a full house -- overwhelmingly composed of Arkies, with a scattering of Memphis Democrats -- Clinton skated over the recent Iraqi war and in general commended Bush's conduct of the war on terrorism, cautioning that Americans should maintain vigilance against future terrorist attacks like that of 9/11. "They'll hit us again, but they'll never beat us," Clinton said.

The former president, who in his remarks to the crowd at large did not mention either his vice president, Al Gore, or any of the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates, said the economy and the growing national debt would be and should be major issues against Bush in next year's presidential election.

"The national debt doesn't mean anything to the average person because the recession has kept interest rates low," Clinton elaborated to an attendee, adding, "but if and when the economy picks up, rates will go sky-high. When that happens, people will focus on it and see that the national government is competing with the private sector in the money market."

Earlier, Clinton had boasted to the crowd that he had actually been "more conservative" on fiscal matters than Bush and recalled that he had balanced the budget and actually had a surplus.

Prominent Tennessee Democrats in attendance included former Governor Ned McWherter and state Senator Roy Herron, both of Dresden. Among the Memphians on hand were Strickland, Janice Lucas, and Sarah Hohenberg. ™

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