Even though 2009 happens to fall in that part of the cycle (one year out of every four) in which no major elections are scheduled in Memphis and Shelby County, politics is, in the Palin-esque phrase, rearing its head. Big-time. Already the race for county mayor is drawing serious interest.
It has long been understood that current Shelby County Commission chairman Deidre Malone, a Democrat, is a certain entry in the 2010 mayoral race. Various other Democrats may also hazard a run, but the one most likely to give her a serious contest is a recently rumored entry, Bank of Bartlett president Harold Byrd.
Byrd is a former state representative and sometime candidate for major office; he made two races for Congress in the 7th District, in 1982 and 1994, and was organized to run for Shelby County mayor in 2002 when the entry of ultimate victor A C Wharton, who drew upon much the same constituency, caused a re-thinking and Byrd's reluctant withdrawal.
Before, during, and after that abortive 2002 run, Byrd has consistently been one of the major forces in civic affairs and local politics - providing financial assistance to candidates and causes and carrying prodigious amounts of water for the University of Memphis, its athletic arm in particular. He recently survived a serious illness and seems eager to resume his political career, having told friends he's once again eyeing the job of county mayor, which Wharton must vacate in 2010.
A key player in what shapes up as a potential Malone-Byrd showdown is Sidney Chism, a fellow county commissioner who usually finds himself in common purpose with his colleague Malone. But Chism is also one of the county's key political brokers, especially in Memphis' inner city, and he and Byrd have long been de facto allies. That's the bad news for Malone: Chism has lately given several friends the impression he would favor Byrd in a primary battle.
All other factors being equal, Byrd is regarded by Chism and others as far more likely than other Democrats to put together a healthy war chest to run on.
The shape of the Democratic field could also influence the lineup in Republican ranks. For years Sheriff Mark Luttrell was regarded as an almost certain Republican candidate for county mayor n 2010. In recent months his resolve had slackened off as he became engrossed in challenges confronting law enforcement in general and the sheriff's department in particular. (And, for that matter, as demographic shifts in the electorate seemed increasingly to favor Democrats.)
But, for whatever reason, Luttrell seems to have re-activated his interest in the mayor's job. Word is going around, however - no doubt nudged along by partisans of Byrd -- that the sheriff could go lukewarm on running again if Byrd, whom he respects, becomes a candidate.
It's still early, but the coffee has already started to percolate.