Keith Norman, the immediate past chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, wants to make one thing clear: He isn’t through with the game of politics. But he leaves a lot of other things unclear.
Will he, as blogger Thaddeus Matthews has repeatedly suggested in recent days, run against incumbent Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy for the commission’s District 5 seat next year? Norman’s answer points in several directions at once.
“I consider Steve Mulroy to be a good friend, and I think he has done a very good job for the district on the commission,” said the hulking but affable pastor of First Baptist Church on Broad Street. Then reports of his wanting to run against Mulroy were wrong?
“I didn’t say that. I might make that race. I might run for something else,” answered Norman, who indeed has floated trial balloons for a variety of political races in the past, including one for city mayor. He pointed out that he considered running for the District 5 seat in 2006, the same year Mulroy contended for the seat and won it.
Well, had he taken exception — as more than one black minister had — to the ordinance recently proposed by Mulroy banning discrimination in the county against gays, lesbians, and transgendered people?
“No, let me make one thing clear. I don’t think there should be discrimination against anybody,” said Norman. Pressed further on the issue of Mulroy’s ordinance, which was eventually amended by Commissioner Sidney Chism (and passed) in the form of a simple resolution opposing “non-merit” discrimination of any kind, Norman said, “I do not take a position on the ordinance.”
For all the friendship professed by Norman for Mulroy, the two had at least one serious personal rift — occasioned by an unauthorized recommendation on last fall's official party election guide calling for the defeat of all referenda on the November general election ballot. One of those referenda, providing for "instant runoff" election results, had been shephereded into being by Mulroy, who was understandably vexed. On behalf of the party, Norman declined to issue an amended ballot, though he acquiesced in Mulroy's affixing corrective labels, at his own expense, on such ballots as had not yet been distributed.
The chairman also insisted on an apology from Mulroy for calling a press conference about the snafu. In the end, all referenda on the ballot passed anyway, but the incident left something of a cloud over Norman's tenure and the two men's relations.
Since Norman was making a point of keeping his political options open, how would he deal with criticism from several members of the county Democratic executive committee who had served with him that he had been an indifferent, absentee chairman?
Acknowledging that there had been such criticism and that he had in fact missed some six regular meetings of the committee during his two-year term that ended in March, Norman said, “That’s six out of 24, and of those six, I missed three because of obligations having to do with more important political matters.” He indicated, without explicitly specifying, that those matters concerned support activities for the 2008 presidential race of Barack Obama.
Regarding the six absenteeisms, Norman continued, “I designated that they be handled by party vice chairs.” There were two such who did so — Desi Franklin and Cherry Davis. “Desi had a hard time dealing with it, and I heard about some free-for-alls, but Cherry, I think, was able to handle it all pretty well,” he said.
As for the alleged “free-for-all” meetings, Norman suggested that they made the case for his chairmanship having been a strong one. “Nobody got out of line when I was presiding,” he said. “I was able to control things and keep the party’s attention on the business at hand.”
All in all, Norman said, he thought he had made a record as chairman that he could proudly run on.