An unexpectedly competitive District 29 race may signal new times.



The District 29 special state Senate race: For the second time in less than a year, the Shelby County Republican Party has put a major move on in a special election race taking place in a predominantly African-American, heavily Democratic district. For the second time in a year in such a race, the GOP has managed to out-poll its Democratic rivals in early-voting turnout.

Only this time, with election day itself coming up on Thursday, the cavalry may not arrive for the Democrats. Or so confided a ranking Democrat early this week – either out of legitimate concern for the outcome or in an effort to drive some additional election-day vote by sounding such an alarm.

In any case, Republican businessman Terry Roland suddenly seemed a real threat to steal the District 29 state Senate seat away from Ophelia Ford, sibling of John Ford, the Democrat who had held the seat for a full 30 years before being forced to resign this year in the wake of his indictment in the Tennessee Waltz scandal.

With early voting now concluded, Roland was generally thought to own as much as a 600-vote margin over Ford. “And that’s a lot to make up on election day,” said the Democrat, in a convincing show of concern.

Store-owner Roland has campaigned hard in his own bailiwick of Millington, one of the district’s few Republican enclaves, but he has also made a point of showing up at traditional Democratic stops, even taking Sunday-morning turns in various black churches, where his down-home self-professed “country-boy” manner has found some unexpected resonance.

Roland has been assisted by the virtually invisible campaigning mode of Ophelia Ford, whom many Democrats privately see – both literally and figuratively -- as a weak sister. At what should have been a climactic rally on Saturday at her Southgate headquarters, Ford attracted a small crowd of supporters – containing no office-holding members of her well-known political clan.

Former state Senator Roscoe Dixon was on hand, though – maintaining, when asked, that he would not join the parade of fellow Tennessee Waltz indictees changing their pleas from not guilty to guilty. “I’m going to stand trial,” insisted Dixon, who left the Senate early this year and was succeeded by former state Rep. Kathryn Bowers, who was later indicted, along with Dixon, John Ford, and four others, for extortion in the Tennessee Waltz scandal.

In her own special election race, back in May, Bowers faced a full-court press from GOP contender Mary Ann McNeil, who finished with considerably more than a third of the vote on election day after leading during early voting – in that case, largely on the strength of Republican ballots in Collierville.

Ophelia Ford’s final vote total might still be dramatically boosted via intervention on the part of another brother, former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., whose last-minute district-wide robocalls on behalf of his sister are credited with having given her a narrow win in last month’s multi-candidate Democratic primary.

Even if something like that doesn’t happen and Roland should stage an upset, the aforementioned ranking Democrat found two silver linings: (1) that “he [Roland] would have to run again next year, and he’d lose;” and (2) Senate Republicans, even with a strengthened majority, would not have an opportunity to replace Democratic speaker/Lt. Gov. John Wilder of Somerville until January of 2007.

Two more special elections could be coming up in Shelby County, depending on (a) whether state Senator Bowers is able to finish her term; and (b) whether state Rep. Tre Hargett of Bartlett, who has resigned as House Republican leader, chooses to finish his.

Hargett recently ignited a storm by first accepting, then declining the position of head lobbyist in Nashville for the Pfizer pharmaceutical firm. When his current employer, Rural/Metro Ambulance Services, offered Hargett a substantial promotion, he decided to stay with the company but reaffirmed his resignation from his leadership post. After a spell of re-thinking, Hargett has apparently also stayed with his original decision not to seek reelection next year but hasn’t decided on whether to resign his seat before then.

Several Republicans have lined up as would-be successors to Hargett: teacher Jim Coley, Bartlett alderman Mike Morris, broadcaster Austin Farley, and, most recently, Shelby County school board member Anne Edmiston, who is thought to have the inside track on an interim appointment by the Shelby County Commission if one is called for.

Cohen vs. Bredesen (cont’d): State Senator Steve Cohen upped the ante in his ongoing verbal combat with Governor Phil Bredesen Sunday, accusing Bredesen of waging “a Katrina -- a war for political expediency on poor people” by his paring of the TennCare rolls, a process which, said Cohen, would “deprive 200,000 people of health care and cost many of them their lives.

Speaking at a seminar on “Rethinking the War on Drugs” sponsored by the Public Issues Forum of Memphis, the Midtown Democrat also took an indirect swipe at U.S. Senate hopeful Harold Ford Jr., the Memphis congressman whom Cohen unsuccessfully opposed in the 1996 Democratic primary for the 9th Congressional District seat.

Cohen noted that no Tennessee congressman had voted for a bill in Congress that would have prevented federal law enforcement authorities from arresting medical-marijuana users in states where they were entitled to use marijuana by law. “And I submit to you that it’d be a popular thing for one of our congressmen to do, because it would say to the state of Tennessee that we had a congressman who had a brain and who had a vision and who had a heart and was trying to make a difference and not just to promote themselves to another office to do nothing except at a higher level.”

Said Cohen: "There’s a purpose to being in office and that’s to try to do things to make your society better and not just to advance yourself. Basically what I’ve seen in my life, most politicians are just there for the next office. They’re there for the next fundraiser, for the next round, for the next whatever. And I see it when I look to Nashville, and I see it when I look to the 9th District. And it’s very, very disheartening."

The full context of Cohen's remarks about Bredesen went this way: “The people are so far ahead of the politicians on so many issues, it’s a shame, and you don’t see a whole lot of politicians put their neck out on issues to make society better. I have a lot of despair right now…when I look at our president. To be honest, when I look at our governor, who is bringing about a Katrina in Tennessee. It’s just that the 200,000 people he’s depriving of health care aren’t put in front of The Pyramid for the public to see it. They’re spread out throughout this state. That is a Katrina – a war, for political expediency on poor people who can’t afford health care themselves and for the political agenda of a multi-millionaire who wants to be something else in life rather than the provider and giver of health care and a better, more progressive society, but wants to advance himself.

“He’s going to deprive 200,000 people of health care and cost many of them their lives. That’s cruel, and it’s Katrina in Tennessee, and it’s happening now at our governor’s level.

Cohen, the sponsor of pending legislation that would legalize medical marijuana use for specified classes of patients, appeared at the Forum meeting along with Dr. Ethan Nadleman, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which opposes the federal “War on Drugs” as both a wrong-headed policy and a failure.

Saying, “…[W]hy am I the only council member asking questions?”, city council member Carol Chumney issued a statement late last week demanding that the administration of Mayor Willie Herenton “stop playing games” and respond to a detailed inquiry which she submitted concerning budgetary shortfalls.

Chumney also defended her attendance record compared to that of other council members, lamenting that,“If I show up and speak; I’m grandstanding. If I don’t show up one time for a good reason; I’m singled out for criticism.”

Full text of Chumney statement:



When the City Finance Director disclosed the new budget shortfall last month, I called for answers on the record to the questions attached to this press release. At his request for more time, Councilwoman Tajuan Stout Mitchell, chair of the Council budget committee, scheduled a meeting for Thurs., Sept. 1. I put it on my schedule and planned to attend.

            Councilwoman Stout Mitchell, then cancelled the meeting without explanation on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 30th; and the Mayor sent a letter advising that he was nominating a new Finance Director, creating the new position of Chief Financial Officer at total salary of $187,000, and reassigning the current City Finance Director.

When Councilwoman Stout Mitchell did not schedule a budget meeting for Tues., Sept. 6, a regular Council meeting day, I sent her an e-mail asking when the questions would be answered. She responded on Fri., Sept. 2, resetting the meeting for Thurs., Sept. 8, without any inquiry as to the availability of any council member to attend, or explanation as to why it was not scheduled on the regular council day.

            On Tues., Sept. 6, the Mayor made an impromptu appearance at the City Council Executive Session. In response to my direct inquiry as to whether we would get the facts and accurate numbers on the budget for Thursday’s budget meeting, the Mayor unequivocally stated that he would not provide numbers until they were accurate, and that would not be for some time.

Based upon the Mayor’s response that no answers would be forthcoming, I kept my prior commitments of a court appearance, and speaking to community leaders about  government, and resubmitted my questions in writing to the budget chair. As reported on several newscasts, the administration did not answer the questions at yesterday’s meeting.

Ironically, a few weeks ago, much ado was made of a Public Services & Neighborhoods meeting chaired by me on ethics reform, which no other Council member attended, and the spin was that council members did not attend in an effort to embarrass me. Yet, when no other council member but the chair attends the Budget meeting, the spin with some is that Carol Chumney wasn’t there? Seems like a double standard to me, and more of the petty politics which is why government is not run efficiently and professionally at City Hall. As one of the few Council members who attended nearly every budget hearing this year, I’ll match my council committee attendance record against any other Council member’s any day, and to imply otherwise is ludicrous.

If I show up and speak; I’m grandstanding. If I don’t show up one time for a good reason; I’m singled out for criticism. And why am I the only Council member even asking questions? But once again, the administration gets to walk away from the real story without having to answer the real question: when will they stop playing games and answer these simple questions attached to this press release today?


TO:      Tajuan Stout Mitchell, O & M Budget Chair

            Members of O & M Budget Committee


FROM:            Carol Chumney


DATE:             September 8, 2005


RE:       Report on Budget from Administration


            Due to two previously scheduled commitments, I am submitting my written questions for the hearing today on the current status of the budget. I will be delayed in attending the meeting, and will look forward to listening to the Committee hearing tape to hear the administration’s response to these questions:


1.         At the July 26, 2005 City of Memphis Healthcare Committee Meeting, 3rd Quarter 2005, the administration presented a Financial Report that showed an 11% (over 4 million dollar) savings in comparing the city’s health care costs for the 2nd quarter of 2004 versus the 2nd quarter of 2005, which includes both active and retiree employees. (see chart attached). Now the administration says that 4 million of the 10.3 million deficit is that the pensioners insurance is “over budget by 4 million”, with an “unfavorable variance due to under budgeting. Assumption-by switching healthcare provider, we felt at the time there would be savings for General Fund”. (see page 6 from City of Memphis FY 2005 Operating Update August 16, 2005 attached). These appear to be inconsistent statements, where one report states a 4 million dollar savings, and the other states a 4 million dollar unfavorable variance. Please explain.


2.         Since the administration admits that most of the 10.3 million dollar shortfall was known before the proposed FY2006 budget was presented to the Council, please explain why these shortfalls were not addressed in the proposed budget at that time.


3.         What is the total amount of shortfall at the present time?


4.         On page 12 of the City of Memphis FY2005 Operating Update August 16, 2005, the shortfall coverage identifies three categories: (1) Personnel Attrition/Vacancies 4.3 million; (2) Operating Cost Savings- 5 million; Amnesty Program- 1 million. Please provide specifics on (1) what positions will be eliminated;(2) a list of the operating costs that will be saved for each department with the amount of savings projected; and (3) the financial documentation supporting the projected 1 million in savings from the Amnesty Program.


cc:  press/media

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