The already convulsed election situation in District 5 of the Shelby County Commission took another unexpected turn Thursday when incumbent Republican commissioner Bruce Thompson withdrew just before the 12 noon withdrawal deadline at the Election Commission.
Thompson's immediate explanation was that he had decided to withdraw for both personal and business reasons. "I wasn't married when I ran the first time, and that makes a difference now that I am," the first-term commissioner said, adding, "I have business opportunities that just couldn't be attended to in a part-time way."
But Thompson said he would be "on the job for another six months and very much committed to it during that time." Reportedly he had been contacted recently by representatives of Democrat Steve Mulroy's campaign about withdrawing but did not resolve to break off his race until after attending a preliminary court hearing Thursday on Mulroy's residential situation.
Thompsons withdrawal left the race for District 5, a swing district, temporarily confined to three Democrats apparently increasing the chances of an overturning of the current 7-6 Republican majority on the commission after this falls elections.
Pending Thursday afternoons scheduled certification of candidates by the Election Commission and a follow-up March 9th hearing on Democratic candidate Joe Cooper's challenge of Mulroy's eligibility, perennial candidate Coopera member of the old Shelby County Court back in the 70s -- suddenly saw himself -- at least temporarily -- on the threshold of a possible return to public office.
Cooper had challenged the residency qualifications of primary opponent Mulroy, and the resulting Chancery Court hearing on the issue was continued until the March date after a brief hearing before Chancellor Arnold Golden Thursday morning. The continuation was based on several factors, including the entrance into the case of Shelby County government on the grounds that, as county attorney Brian Kuhn explained, a provison of the county charter was at issue.
Should Mulroy be excluded by legal means, Coopers only opponent of record for the moment would be Democrat Sherman Perkins Kilamanjaro
But the prospect of that continuing to be the case is now unlikely because of state legislation passed in the '90s that governs last-minute withdrawals like Thompson's; the so-called "anti-skulduggery" law of 1991 prompted the Election Commision to extend the filing deadline for a week, until March 2 -- thereby giving the local Republican Party time to field a substitute candidate. The new withdrawal dealine will be March 6.
Before all that became known for sure at the Election Commission's Thursday afternoon meeting, Cooper had reacted to news of Thompson's withdrawal this way: "Without an incumbent, that makes me the favorite in anybody's reckoning."
That reckoned without the anti-skulduggery law, however -- passed by the General Assembly after then incumbent state Representative U.A. Moore withdrew on the last day back in 1990, a circumstance allowing friend Ed Haley to inherit Moore's legislative seat without opposition.
By the time the March 2nd deadline comes and goes, Cooper may well find himself not only with Mulroy's District 5 residence securely grandfathered in but with a formidable new Republican opponent as well.
In any case, Mulroy's lawer, David Cocke, expressed confidence that the new filing deadline rendered his client, who has already moved into the district, eligible beyond the possibility of further legal challenge. And Memphis lawyer John Ryder, who ran unsuccessfully against Thompson in the 2002 GOP primary, indicated Thursday that he'd been asked about making another run for the seat this year and was giving "serious thought" to the prospect.