Cohen, Marrero, Vergos at early voting (left); Sullivan early voting right)
With scarcely more than a week to go until the December 16th Democratic primary to determine Carol Chumneys successor in state House District 89, the main issue continues to be that of residence. Of the two Democrats on the ballot -- Beverly Robison Marrero and Jeff Sullivan -- only Marrero is a current bona fide resident, insists one of her key backers. This is State Senator Steve Cohen, who got some choral support Friday from outgoing city councilman John Vergos, who accompanied Cohen and Marrero to early voting at Trinity United Methodist Church on Galloway. Sullivan, an early voter himself, is, needless to say, of another mind about the matter. Calling Marrero committed to this district, Vergos said, We have allowed politicians in this system to not live in the district or have some sort of sham seat, and we do it all the time, and that doesnt make it right. We shouldnt let them cherry-pick an area like that. He and Cohen agreed that current laws with relatively loose requirements regarding residence of public officials need to be strengthened. Cohen, noting that he, Marrerro, and Vergos were doing something that Ms. Marreros opponent cant do -- vote, said that Sullivan doesnt live in District 89, cant vote in District 89, and its really rather ridiculous to think that somebody who cant even take part in the election is asking you to cast a vote of their behalf when they can;t even cast a vote for themselves. Sullivan's response? He voted for himself at the Berclair Church of Christ early-voting site on Saturday, availing himself of the opportunity to make an official change-of-residence at the voting site. Cohen had disputed Sullivans contention that his current residence on Reese, a house purchased in 2002, was until recently, within the District 89 lines. In reality, that redistricting was the 1990 redistricting, not the 2000 redistricting, said the senator, who characterized the recent rental of a property on Graham St. within the district by Sullivan and his expectant wife Maura Black Sullivan as making it appear that hes a resident of the district when hes not. The Sullivans havent established utility service at the rental property, and they have a campaign sign, not a For Sale sign, in the yard of the house they own, Cohen said. The Sullivans have said that their personal lives and professional careers had both revolved around the Midtown area that comprises District 89, that the house they own is only blocks away from the district line, and that they do in fact intend to reestablish residence on Graham. Amplifying on that Saturday, after his vote at Berlclair, Sullivan said, "We do, in fact, have a For Sale sign in the yard." He then directed some return fire at Cohen. Im really beginning to wonder who Im running against here. My opponent never says anything," Sullivan said. "Steve Cohen does all her talking. I feel like I'm running against Steve Cohen. If Steve Cohen wants to be in the state House of Representatives, he needs to resign his seat in the Senate and run for State Representative, because there are plenty of qualified candidates who would love to represent the people of this district." Sullivan said that he had grown up in District 89 and lived here "for over 30 years ...fighting with other Democrats to win elections here in Shelby County" while opponent Marrero was "living the high life in Florida." He said, "This crap about my not being able to vote for myself is just a lie," and added, "My opponent doesnt know the issues. My opponent knows nothing about state government." To which Marrero says this: "When he [Sullivan] and I have appeared at forums, Ive talked as much as he has. Im a good listener, I know Im not lazy, and I know I can read. Im not a member of any group or clique. Anybody who knows me knows Im an independent person. Ill be the one pushing the butrton in Nashville, nobody else, and the people in the district are the ones who will tell me what issues are important to them, nobody else." Meanwhile, theres a third candidate to succeed Chumney as representrative from District 89. Making his move under the radar screen is Jay Sparks, campaign manager for Chumneys recent council race. Sparks isnt on the primary ballot and -- presumably -- wont be a write-in candidate on February 10th, either. What hes after is more limited -- an interim appointment by the Shelby County Commission that would let him serve only until Chumneys long-term successor, either Marrero or Sullivan, is certified after February 10th. Chumney, who reaffirmed her neutrality in the Marrero/Sullivan race, acknowledged Friday that she has talked up Sparks prospects with members of the commission. I wouldnt call it lobbying, she said. I would say that Ive made the case for Jay. I think hed do a good job. Hes used to fielding requests from people in the district and helping them out on things, and hed certainly be able to do that capably until the election process was concluded and the full-time representative was sworn in and could serve. Chumney confirmed the sense that many have -- for better and for worse -- that shes champing at the bit and ready to go as a council member from District 5 (Midtown, East Memphis). Though she wont be sworn in until the New Year, she isnt bashful about her attitudes or intentions. Mayor Herentons raise was too high, she pronounced on the late-night council vote this past week that upped the mayors salary from $140,000 to $160,000 -- reversing a previous vote turning down the raise. On the mayors proposed reorganization of the MLGW board, Chumney had this to say: We definitely need to shake it up. It obviously needs more people on it with a business background. Beyond that we need to look at pay issues. The rate of salary increases for rank-and-file employees has been well below that for upper management. And I think mid-level people need to have their benefits strengthened. The councilor-elect would prefer to see council committee meetings held on alternating weeks with the public meetings held in the counncil chamber, rather than on the same day, as at present. She also is dissatisfied with the current method of allocating a maximum two minutes per speaker to citizens who wish to address the council on issues. I think we need to do something about that, and I intend to open up the forum a bit by having open meetings around the district.