ASSESSING THE FUTURE Although the field of candidates is sure to proliferate beyond the two of them, both incumbent Shelby county Assessor Rita Clark and former Assessor Michael Hooks will be on the ballot next year when the office is up for election again.. “I’m running,” Clark made a point of volunteering last week. And Hooks conceded as much for his part. “I’ll be running,” he said, “not against Rita Clark but for the office of assessor.” Presumably, both Hooks and Clark will be candidates in the 2004 Democratic primary. Three years ago, Hooks was one of two independents opposing Democrat Clark and Tom Leatherwood, then the Republican nominee for assessor and later the winner in a special election for the office of Shelby County Register. Back then, there were rumors -- of the sort that proliferate in any multi-candidate race -- that Hooks’ purpose in the race was to divert Democratic votes away from Clark in Leatherwood’s interest. It was, of course, at least as arguable that Hooks, who had held the office before losing it in 1992 to Republican Harold Sterling, harbored legitimate hopes of winning himself, should the vote spread fall just right. By and large, Hook’s fellow Democrats opted for the former theory and shunned his candidacy -- one reason being another set of rumors concerning his unstable emotional condition and reported cocaine use. He had been the principal in a widely reported traffic altercation, which some said was really about a drug deal gone wrong. Hooks would alter be arrested and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. He made what amounted to a public confession of his cocaine habit, took a tearful leave from his role as Shelby County Commissioner, and underwent what was both a highly public and, seemingly, highly successful rehabilitation. Hooks has long since returned to full and active service on the commission, and no one has seriously questioned his bona fides or recovery. “This time my head is on straight. I just want to prove I can do the best job for the people of Shelby County,” Hooks said last week.
  • Council-Race News: Another well-known member of the Hooks family, Ben Hooks, indicated last week he might enter the political process, but not as a candidate himself. The eminent former jurist, currently president of the National Civil Rights Museum board, said he intended to support the candidacy of Jim Strickland, one of several candidates for the District 5 Memphis city council slot being vacated by two-term incumbent John Vergos. That would be the second big-name endorsement picked up by Strickland, who was endorsed by Vergos on the occasion of his formal announcement for the post last Thursday. Other candidates for the seat include State Representative Carol Chumney, veteran pol Joe Cooper, and physician/business George Flinn, last year’s unsuccessful Republican nominee for Shelby County mayor and this year’s GOP endorsee for the council post. The local Republican steering committee is conducting pre-endorsement interviews this week with potential candidates in two other council races -- for District 1 and Super-District 9, Position 1. Retiring Shelby County school board member Wyatt Bunker is expected to get the party nod against incumbent E.C. Jones in District 1; businessman Scott McCormick is the likely GOP choice against incumbent Pat VanderSchaaf in the super-district race.
  • The Standoff Continues: Meanwhile, Shelby County Democrats continued to play at the game of Hatfield vs. McCoy. The faction which won the recent chairmanship race -- by a party executive-committee vote of 21-20 for State Representative Kathryn Bowers vs. Gale Jones Carson, the defeated incumbent -- staged a unity meeting at the Racquet Club Saturday, ostensibly in honor of both Bowers and Carson, as well as the former and newly elected party executive committees. That meeting, formally hosted by 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, was called by emailed invitations toward the end of last week, and the Bowers supporters who organized it acknowledged that it was put together virtually overnight. In a heated exchange of emails with the organizers, Carson contended that she had not informed beforehand of an event which clashed with a Saturday “workshop” she was already committed to. Charges and counter-charges flew back and forth Carson’s simultaneous meeting on Saturday seems to have involved all or most of the 20 executive committee members who had voted for her and who continue to keep their distance from Bowers and her 21 supporters. One of the attendees at the event hosted by Ford and Wharton was Democratic state chairman Randy Button, whose office had just issued an opinion formally validating the results of the local party election, which was under challenge from the losing side. If bad feelings persist between the two factions, they could affect the District 5 council race. Though neither Strickland nor Chumney have evinced any personal interest in taking sides, and both attended the Racquet Club event, Strickland has long enjoyed close relations with the faction close to Carson, and Chumney’s candidacy has the active support of some of Bowers’ core group of supporters. The party executive-committee meeting at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall on Madison on Thursday night of this week could end up shedding light on relative degrees of party harmony and disharmony.
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