What Two GOP Commissioners Say Now About Their Votes Back Then to Make Joe Ford Interim County Mayor



Interim county mayor Ford
  • Interim county mayor Ford
When Republican Mark Luttrell this week challenged interim county mayor Joe Ford about his decision to run for the full-time job of Shelby County Mayor despite a pledge to the commission colleagues who appointed him that he wouldn’t, the incumbent Democrat responded as usual that voter approval of his tenure had changed his mind.

When WMC-TV reporter Andrew Douglas, who was moderating that mayoral debate at Advent Presbyterian Church in Cordova, persisted in wondering how Ford’s former commission colleagues could trust his word in the future, Ford called the question “unfair” and continued that he didn’t know “what colleague I served with on the county Board of Commissioners” might have reacted adversely to his decision.

No commissioner who had voted for his appointment had reproached him for the change of mind,” Ford insisted. “I haven’t’ had one. If you can name one tonight, then maybe we can talk about it, but most of my colleagues have urged me to run.”

But one of the commissioners who was in the debate audience that night, Republican Mike Ritz, begs to differ. “I voted for him then, but I never would have if I’d known he intended to run for the full-time job,” Ritz insists. “He gave me repeated assurances, both publicly and privately, that he wouldn’t run for election as mayor.”

Ritz was one of two GOP members whose votes for Ford, who was deadlocked with fellow commissioner J.W. Gibson through 27 ballots, had, more than anythi9ng else, determined the final outcome. “If I hadn’t voted for him, someone else would be mayor today,” said Ritz, who noted that, besides Gibson, other hopefuls, including g former Judge Otis Higgs and former city councilman John Vergos, were in the commission audience that day, making their availability known.

The other Republican who was instrumental in holding the fort for Ford throughout the multiple ballots was Wyatt Bunker. But Bunker still maintains that, among those who sought the interim mayor’s position, Ford had the voting record that was most agreeable to his own conservative views. He had voted with the body’s Republicans on numerous fiscal issues, including proposals to hold the line on taxes or even to lower taxes, said Bunker. “And he was the only Democrat to vote with the Republicans on replacing David Lillard.”

That latter reference was to a vacancy that occurred when Republican Lillard resigned his commission seat to become state treasurer. A Democratic majority broke with tradition and chose fellow Democrat Matt Kuhn over the GOP’s favorite son, Tommy Hart. But Ford had kept on voting with the Republicans most of the way.

So Bunker, though he agrees with Ritz that Ford should not have changed his mind about running for mayor, isn’t sure he wouldn’t have voted the same way as he did in December, had he known that Ford would go on to run.

As for the forthcoming August 5 election, Bunker will join with Ritz, a member of Sheriff Luttrell’s finance council, in voting for the Republican. “But I still think that, faced with the choices we had, I did the right thing,” Bunker says.

He would even go so far as to mete out a letter grade to Ford, who is always rhetorically suggesting to audiences that they do so. “I’d give him a B-minus or a C-plus,” Bunker says. “He’s worked hard and kept up with things. You have to say that.”

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.

Add a comment