Dont think for a moment that the old Ford-Herenton political wars are over. The main parties -- former congressman Harold Ford Sr. and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton -- may be keeping a nominal peace, but you can measure the depth of their continuing struggle by what their key surrogates are up to.
Case in point: Sidney Chism, the ex-Teamster leader who in recent years has been the mayors chief political lieutenant, is not content merely to figure as the key strategist in three 2002 political races, two of which are direct contests with Ford choices; he is now determined to take on a Ford himself, head on.
Chism says he intends to oppose former city councilman Joe Ford in the race to succeed the late Dr. James Ford, the well-regarded Shelby County Commission member who died recently from the effects of cancer.
The former councilman, who ran unsuccessfully against Herenton in the city mayors race of 1999, is the choice of the Ford family and various others to succeed his brother, and county commissioner Michael Hooks, not necessarily a fulltime Ford ally, pledged at a recent commission meeting to do what he could to get Joe Ford appointed to the seat.
(The commission has advertised the vacancy but has not yet resolved whether or at what point to appoint someone to succeed Dr. Ford; the position will, in any case, be on the 2002 primary and general election ballots, like all commission seats,and Joe Ford is indeed expected to be a candidate.)
Chism protests that he will be running for the commission, not against Joe Ford, but he makes a point of saying, A seat on the county commission shouldnt be regarded as an inheritance or the property of a family. We dont need to be creating -- or sustaining -- any dynasties in Shelby County.
The confrontation between Chism and Ford, if it comes to pass, will be a major theatre in a combat which already includes the Shelby County mayors race and one more commission seat. Chism is backing Bartlett banker Harold Byrd for mayor, and former Rep. Ford has indicated through allies and family members that he will offer vigorous support in the Democratic primary to Shelby County Public Defender A C Wharton, his former college roommate. (A third Democratic candidate is State Representative Carol Chumney.)
Chism is also supporting Deidre Malone in a District 2 commission race against Bridget Chisholm, who was appointed to fill a vacancy last year with strong support from the Ford family. A third Chism-backed candidate, Randy Wade, a Sheriffs Department official running for sheriff, is not at the moment confronted by an obvious Ford-supported candidate. City councilman E.C. Jones is a candidate in the Democratic primary, however, and former Secret Service agent Henry Hooper may enter it.
It is uncertain as of yet what role be taken in the various 2002 races by current U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who saw his momentum for a senatorial race in 2000 set back by his involvement in uncle Joe Fords losing 1999 mayoral race. The current congressman, whose future horizons are primarily statewide and national, is nevertheless a family loyalist and will doubtless conduct himself accordingly.
Likewise in some doubt is the exact role to be played by Mayor Herenton, who was early on presumed to be in sympathy with Byrds candidacy but has also been close to Wharton, who headed up two of his mayoral election efforts. Herenton may find himself forced out of his current position of de facto neutrality by the unexpected twists and turns of a Chism-Joe Ford race.