Politics » Politics Feature

Back to Pumpkins

With the conventions over and fall upon us, it’s back to the normal political grind.



The two national political conventions are now in the record book, and, though President Obama appears from pollsters' accounts to have gotten more of a bump from his party's conclave at Charlotte than GOP opponent Mitt Romney got at Tampa the week before, it still looks to be something close to a 50-50 race from here on in.

By all accounts, the president performed reasonably well in his acceptance remarks, which largely repeated the catalog of talking points repeated by other Democratic orators earlier.

But it is doubtful that anyone would reckon the president's speech as possessing the power, eloquence, factual reach, and sheer charisma of the monumental 50-minute address by former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday night of last week.

That speech, which set out to buttress Obama's case for reelection and to debunk virtually every claim and accusation made by the opposition Republicans concerning this year's set of issues, was a genuine marvel. Who could remember ever hearing a speech containing so much wonky data — and one longer than a month's worth of Baptist sermons — coming off with such humor, panache, and persuasiveness? • In the absence, as was documented in last week's Flyer cover story, of a galaxy of political stars, a shining light for the Tennessee delegation at the Democratic National Convention was movie star Ashley Judd, who perked things up at the Tennesseans' breakfast on Tuesday morning with an upbeat forecast for success in the presidential election. Judd turned up again on Wednesday night when it came time for Tennessee's votes to be cast. Judd did the honors, flanked by 9th District congressman Steve Cohen and state party chairman Chip Forrester, both beaming to the gills.

A backstory had it that at some earlier point a photographer of some quasi-official sort had asked Cohen to move away from his position of proximity to Judd in the delegation to make way for a shot of Judd and Memphis mayor A C Wharton. That didn't sit well with Cohen, who is famous for his ability to make aisle connections with presidents on their way to and from the podium on the occasion of State of the Union addresses, once making a widely televised appeal to George W. Bush to sign a baseball cap, which Cohen subsequently auctioned off on behalf of a charity. The congressman would stand his ground in the Time Warner Cable arena, telling the photographer that he wasn't moving until he was ready to leave the arena.

Like everybody else in the Tennessee delegation, Cohen was charmed and uplifted by Judd's presence.

He had only one objection: In her remarks to the delegation Tuesday, she had made it clear that she was happy to root for "UT and Vanderbilt, except when they play Kentucky," the state of her birth. Cohen pointed out in his own remarks to the delegation on Thursday morning that Judd had omitted the Big Blue, the University of Memphis, "the best basketball team in the state."

In those remarks, the Memphis congressman was colorful and distinctive, as always. Among other things, he said, "We have to be bipartisan. We have to thank Mitt Romney for passing Romneycare in Massachusetts, which was the basis for Obamacare. Thank you, Mitt Romney!" Cohen also had kind words for Richard Nixon and Bob Dole, among other Republican precursors of the Tea Party era.

Cohen predicted that, as a result of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the presidential campaign would feature "all kinds of distortions and a lot of outright lies." Before things were over, he said, the American people would be told that Barack Obama would be having secret meetings with the Taliban in Afghanistan and that "people are going to think that Barack Obama is a hermaphrodite having sex with and being married to all kinds of people," continuing, "There are going to be all kinds of things said about Barack Obama, and they're not going to be a lot nicer about me."

Cohen's predecessor, former 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr., who now lives in New York and works on Wall Street, took no part in convention activities as such but did daily stints on MSNBC's Morning Joe program.

With Memphians David Upton and John Freeman in tow, Ford spent one afternoon at a table at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, near the Time Warner Cable Arena. The former congressman still has some magnetism with both media and political types, and the trio found themselves being joined by the likes of interview host Charlie Rose, Senator John Kerry, and David Gregory of NBC.

At one point, Gregory launched into a spot-on impersonation of NBC icon Tom Brokaw — with improvised lines, in the longtime commentator's distinctive baritone brogue, like, "I was down at the Carolina Festival with James Taylor, doing some wack crack" — when Brokaw happened by.

"Hi, guys," he said, effectively ending the show.

("Or was it me that had the 'crack' line?" wondered Upton, who said, well after relating the tale, that he had been vying with Gregory for best-Brokaw honors. Aw, c'mon. Just be glad you were there, David.)

• Mayor Wharton had a moment to cherish at the convention. Last Wednesday, he received the Susan Burgess Memorial Award from the board of directors of the Democratic Municipal Officials. The award, given annually to "an outstanding Democratic Municipal Official committed to improving public education," was presented to the mayor in a well-attended ceremony at E-2 Emeril's Eatery in Charlotte.

On the day of her husband's honors, lawyer Ruby Wharton, a personage in her own right, shared a rickshaw ride in Charlotte with John Freeman, who has served her husband and various other local political figures as an aide.

• So what comes next? It's back to pumpkins for us Cinderella pol-watchers. For one thing, there is the ongoing trial, presided over by U.S. district judge Hardy Mays and now in suspension, testing the legality of the municipal school districts in six Shelby County suburbs that intend to hold school board elections for them on November 6th. (My colleague John Branston's column on the subject in City Beat, p. 12, should not be missed.)

That issue, and the legal opposition to the munis brought by a majority of the Shelby County Commission, continues to simmer in meetings of the commission, where Millington Republican Terry Roland, one of five dissenters from the legal action, has launched a series of attacks against the Baker Donelson law firm formally representing the commission in letters to U.S. attorney Ed Stanton III, charging the firm with "conspiracy" in attempting to profit from the litigation and with holding meetings in secret.

On behalf of Baker Donelson, Sam Berry Blair wrote to Stanton denying Roland's contentions, saying, "[H]e makes these allegations in an attempt to obtain personal publicity. Also, he appears frustrated that he cannot garner enough votes to have the Shelby County Commission take actions which he personally supports."

Astonishingly, the oft-contentious commission needed only one ballot to fill each of two vacancies on the Shelby County Unified School Board. The new board members are Oscar Love in District 3 and Mary Anne Gibson in District 5.

The commission reverted to form, however, in failing to agree on some rules changes relating to the choice of a new commission administrator to replace the now departed Steve Summerall. One change would alter the selection date for administrative staffs from the beginning of a commission term to midway in such a term. Another change would allow the new administrator to name the rest of the commission's support staff. As of now, both the administrator and an assistant administrator are independently elected by the commission.

With Commissioners Roland and Henri Brooks expressing misgivings, evidently of a political sort, action on the procedural changes, brought by Commissioner Steve Mulroy, was deferred for two weeks.

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