POLITICS: Staying Busy

Keeping up with the sports page, the political and public calendars begin to fill up, too.


Much has been made – and rightly so – about the sports opportunities that presented themselves to Memphians this past week. There was the nationally televised football game between the University of Memphis and UAB, two Grizzlies games (including the home opener with the vaunted Miami Heat), the basketball Tigers’ home opener against LeMoyne Owen – to mention a few significant scratches of the surface.

Things weren’t exactly lagging in the rest of the public sphere, either. Consider what was going on just one night last week -- last Thursday evening, when the UM-LeMoyne game was going on, with (you can be sure) an ample number of pols and office-holders in the crowd:  

The local executive committees of the two major political parties held their regular monthly meetings – the Democrats wandering far from their usual Midtown meeting site to huddle in Millington, home base (coincidentally or not) of Terry Roland, the Republican who racked up an unexpectedly large vote in his near-miss loss to Democrat Ophelia Ford in a special state Senate election. Millington is also the bailiwick of longtime Democratic patron Babe Howard.

The idea, as party chairman Matt Kuhn had announced it, was to initiate a whole series of such outreach meetings, bringing the party message to unaccustomed places in the hinterland. Last week’s meeting, which doubled as a fundraiser, was addressed by state Insurance Commissioner Paula Flowers.

On the same night, the Rev. Dwight Montgomery convened what he called Part One of a “Health Care Summit” at his Annesdale Cherokee Missionary Baptist Church on Kimball Avenue

Three legislators – state Representatives Barbara Cooper and Mike Kernell and state Senator Kathryn Bowers – were on hand to hear Montgomery and other panelists, including Dr. Sandra L. Gadson, president of the National Medical Association (a majority-black group) lambaste Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen for his paring of the TennCare rolls and to pledge continued opposition to Bredesen’s cuts – which, all the speakers said bluntly, would result in numerous deaths.

(While he was receiving all this attention in absentia, the governor was downtown at the Cannon Center, attending the National Civil Rights Museum’s Freedom Awards ceremony.)

Bowers, one of those indicted in this year’s Tennessee Waltz scandal, had a further vow, relevant to her uncertain legislative future. “I’m not going anywhere!” she proclaimed, to spirited applause.

Finally on Thursday night, this year’s impressive list of Freedom Award honorees were taking their bows at the Cannon Center – each of them, actress Ruby Dee, Rwandan hero/survivor Paul Rusesabagina (whose lifesaving courage was the subject of last year’s film Hotel Rwanda), and all-purpose celebrity Oprah Winfrey evincing enough of themselves onstage to confirm the good judgment of the National Civil Rights Museum board in conferring the awards.

Actress Angela Bassett, emcee for the ceremony, capably handled introductions honorees and corporate sponsors alike.

In good form, too, was the Rev. Ben Hooks, president of the Museum board, whose continued recovery from a disabling stroke that for some time confined him to a wheel chair seemed virtually complete. Hooks presided over the presentations and delivered a moving benediction to close the proceedings.

Judgment Calls: Candidates for the numerous judicial positions on next year’s ballot are beginning to start their campaigns. Among those who are having fundraisers in the next few days are Jim Lammey, an assistant D.A. who is seeking the Division 5 Criminal Court seat being vacated by outgoing Judge Joe Dailey; Chancellor Arnold Golden, who seeks reelection to his Chancery, Part Two seat; and Mark Ward, candidate for reelection as Criminal Court Judge in Davison 9.

n Other recent fundraisers for next year’s candidates included two at the new riverbluff home of businessman Karl Schledwitz, one for Shelby County mayor A C Wharton two weeks ago and another this week for 9th District congressman Harold Ford, a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Continuing his re-emergence as a mover in Shelby County politics is Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, who hosted a well-attended fundraiser for county commission candidate Sidney Chism recently at the Poplar Avenue branch of the Bank of Bartlett.

Ironically enough, this was on the same night as the Schledwitz affair for Wharton, whose entrance into the 2002 Shelby County mayor’s race would in the long run cause Byrd, an early declared candidate, to drop out.

At the time Byrd made no secret of his displeasure with Wharton for, as Byrd saw it, going back on a prior commitment not to enter the race.

Byrd stayed out of the public eye for some time thereafter, but, as he confided recently, he has decided to leave the bitterness behind him. A well-received commercial for the Bank of Bartlett featuring Byrd, a former legislator, has spurred recent speculation that he might seek public office again.

“No plans,” said the banker.

The name of Byrd’s brother, former state Representative Dan Byrd, was floated by hopeful Democrats some weeks back when it appeared that current state Representative Tre Hargett, a Republican, might vacate his seat. But Hargett, who recently gave up his post as House Republican leader, apparently intends to serve out his term.

Like his brother, Dan Byrd has indicated no intention of seeking public office again.

New Senate Poll: A Zogby-Wall Street Journal poll this week matches likely Democratic Senate nominee Harold Ford Jr. against two potential Republican opponents – former congressman Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant. For whatever reason, a third major Republican, ex-Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, was not included in the poll.

Ford, -- whose Democratic opponent, state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, was also omitted from poll results – trailed both Bryant and Hilleary by roughly the same margin. Hilleary led Ford 48.4 to 40.8, while Bryant’s margin was slightly smaller, 47.5 to 41.2.

Ford had made a point recent of issuing his own poll, showing himself running more or less even with his potential Republican opponents. His fundraising, reportedly totaling some $3 million and including funds in his pre-existing House campaign chest, is competitive with Corker’s reported totals of $3.2 million. Both Bryant and Hilleary are still looking for their first  $1 million.

County Commission notes: Just as maverick Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham predicted last week after a committee meeting seemed to clear the way for settling contingency funds to the Public Building Authority for settlement of various legal claims, the commission chose on Monday to postpone that reckoning one more time.

Willingham and Walter Bailey have led the fight to get more up-to-date accounting from the PBA. Both opposed the building of the FedEx Forum early on and have consistently questioned terms of the deal which created it and brought the NBA’s Grizzlies to town. But even they seem to be softening their resistance somewhat.

“We have the Grizzlies now,” Willingham said. “I still want to get all these answers, but like everybody else I want to see them move head and win a playoff game.”

Two other controversial matters dominated the commission’s attention at its regular monthly meeting. One was a proposed development, Gardens of Gray’s Hollow, which was widely praised by virtually all commissioners, who agreed with Ron Harkavy, a spokesman for the project, that it was a “model” of its kind.

But after some heated discussion, during which Harkavy complained that his client was being made the scapegoat for other, less worthy proposals approved previously, the commission deferred judgment on the project for 60 days. Though the Gray’s Hollow project was already in the pipeline before the commission’s recent passage of a yearlong moratorium on new development proposals in the outer county, it clearly fell victim to the new cost-conscious spirit of that resolution.

The other point of contention, a resolution urging the state legislature to impose caps on medical malpractice claims, drew fire from commissioners Bailey and Julian Bolton, both lawyers, but received a positive vote from everybody else. Bailey maintained that the commission should not even take a position on what was essentially a legislative matter  -- and, if it did, should favor the other side.

“We represent the people here,” said Bolton, who said the measure unduly favored a medical establishment that was in no need of special help.

That point was contested was commissioner George Flinn, a physician, who said at one point, “Johnny Cochran’s dead, I believe, and he’s still talking on TV about how you should sue your doctor.”

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