Politics » Politics Feature

District City Council Races: Round One

Most district races appear bound for runoffs.



It ain't over 'til it's over, and the fat lady won't be singing in most of the following races until after mid-November runoffs.

District 1: Bill Morrison, going for a third term as councilman from District 1, which encompasses much of northern and eastern Memphis, might be vulnerable to a well-backed campaign of a well-known black candidate in this racially balanced district. He would seem to be less so against Wayne Roberts, an under-financed candidate with support from both labor and the loose populist coalition that has coalesced around mayoral candidate Mike Williams, and includes Tea Party, libertarian, and environmentalist elements.

A member of the council majority that cut employee benefits, but a backer of projects like the Raleigh Springs Mall overhaul, Morrison could prove something of a barometer regarding those hot-button issues. He would seem to have aggregated enough establishment support to prevail.

District 2: Give Jim Tomasik credit. This veteran of Republican/Tea Party politics is running hard for the vote of the same discontented populists (and proponents of de-annexation) that unofficial ticket mates Lynn Moss and Robin Spielberger are courting in two at-large council races. And Detric Golden, the former University of Memphis basketballer who drove around for nearly two years in a decorated car advertising him as a mayoral candidate, deserves credit for getting realistic and lowering his sights.

But the real race here would seem to be between the favored Frank Colvett Jr., a businessman and youngish GOP veteran who has significant Republican support, and Rachel Knox, a young Democratic newcomer, Orpheum employee, and defender of city employees' benefits, whose chances were dimmed somewhat by a last-minute transfer of predominantly black precincts to District 3. If Tomasik pulls enough GOP support away from Colvett, she could make a runoff.

Colvett stepped in after incumbent Bill Boyd announced his decision to retire (and was unable to pass the baton on to his chosen successor, Botanic Garden executive director Scott McCormick, who opted out in response to his board's wishes

District 3: There are seven official entries in this race to succeed mayoral candidate Harold Collins as council member from this Whitehaven-based district. Rhonda Banks is an inactive candidate, having decided to assist former Memphis School Board member Patrice Robinson, one of two favorites, along with former Memphis Education Association president Keith Williams.

Williams, who serves as MEA's executive director, is now apparently mired in a power struggle with the Tennessee Education Association, which has sanctioned a Memphis and Shelby County Teachers Association as an alternative to Williams' organization. Williams is a member in good standing of at-large candidate Kenneth Whalum's "education slate," however.

Coleman Thompson also has some decent name recognition from prior campaigns. He and Tanya L. Cooper, daughter of longtime state Representative Barbara Cooper, are factors. Others are Sherman (Perkins) Kilimanjaro and Kevin Mott, Sr. The odds heavily favor a runoff, probably between Robinson and Williams.

District 4: The eight-candidate scramble in this district comes down almost to a battle of name associations. Jamita Swearengen is the daughter of the late Circuit Court Judge James Swearengen, and she gets further resonance from her aunt, former Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware, one of whose previous election efforts she handled. She also managed Martavius Jones' economy-brand near-miss effort against Reginald Milton in a 2014 County Commission effort.

Donnell Cobbins is the brother of Darrell Cobbins, a well-known real estate broker and civic leader, and he works for Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir, who plans a county mayor's race in 2018 and is aggressively supporting his employee this year as a possible hedge to that effort.

Then there is Doris DeBerry Bradshaw, sister to state Representative John DeBerry and an environmental activist in her own right.

Among the other candidates, property manager and real estate broker John Cornes has waged an impressive and industrious campaign, and Kirstin Cheers is a member of the Whalum "education slate." Adrian JonesLouis Matthew Morganfield III, and George Walker fill out the roster.

There will be a runoff here. Count on it.

District 5: This, a race to succeed mayoral candidate Jim Strickland, is yet another seven-member contest, but one in which five candidates can be said to have real support.

They divide into two camps, roughly — the progressives and the conservatives. The former group is a trio, composed of longtime neighborhood activist and governmental veteran Mary Wilder; architect and urban designer Charles "Chooch" Pickard; and youthful lawyer and liberal activist John Marek.

All three have records of extensive involvement with numerous completed or ongoing civic projects — examples of which are the Greenway (Wilder), the Midtown overlay (Pickard), and the CLERB police-review board (Marek). Pickard was the first to declare; Wilder had the deeper and more seasoned bench of supporters; and Marek, who started last, got a nice bump from an endorsement by 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, his former boss.

There are two candidates with significant conservative support: One is Dan Springer, communications officer with Evolve Bank & Trust and a veteran of Republican political campaigns who served as an aide to county Mayor Mark Luttrell, a major booster; the other is Worth Morgan, scion of a major Memphis financial house, an insurance broker in his own right, and a newcomer to politics — albeit one with a major campaign bankroll, thanks to big-time backing from the city's business elite.

With this much competition, there is a virtual certainty of a runoff. The question is, which two candidates will survive? It would seem equitable for the inevitable showdown to be a one-of-each affair, matching a progressive against a conservative, but the mathematics suggest that dividing a constituent base by three yields a smaller dividend than division by two — especially when the lion's share of the money will have been spent on the conservative end of the spectrum. (Morgan, all by himself, is likely to set a record for spending in a council district race — given his TV advertising and blanket coverage of major mid-city thoroughfares with yard signs.)

District 6: Incumbent Edmund Ford Jr. would seem to be in good shape, both financially and by virtue of his impressively across-the-board political support. Both those factors should insulate him from any attempt to organize voter resentment against him on account of his siding with the majority council faction that voted for pension reform and benefit cuts.

Possibly hoping  to exploit any blowback from that — or, alternatively, from Ford's staunch full-tilt support of Mayor A C Wharton's reelection campaign — are Perry L. Bond and Delvin Lane.

District 7: Now, here's a true battle royale — with nine candidates seeking the seat that was held until last year by Lee Harris, who vacated it after being elected to the state Senate (where he serves as Democratic majority leader).

The interim successor to Harris was Berlin Boyd, who has twice been selected to fill in vacancies by council members and who has, perhaps understandably, tended to side with a majority that was both development-minded and open to fiscal austerities — a fact which, given the various political ferments of inner-city Memphis, leaves him potentially vulnerable to putsch efforts.

The most obvious challenger to Boyd is probably Thurston Smith, a Veterans Health Administration program manager who has been campaigning seriously for almost two years with consulting help from, consecutively, Liz Rincon and Rickey Peete. Smith has picked up some key endorsements.

Other candidates with some name recognition and possible followings are Anthony Anderson, a respected minister with some charter schools initiatives to his credit; Coby Smith, a vintage activist from 1960s civil rights struggles and a co-founder of the Invaders, a well-known militant group back then, and Michael Steven Moore, who, as he confessed to a crowd at a recent forum, is "known to a lot of people just as the son of [former Councilwoman] Barbara Swearengen Wade." The rest of the field is composed of Eric DunnAnthony Aimee Johnson, Alonzo Durell Lee, and David Vinciarelli.

If you're keeping score, five out of seven of these district races are likely to be settled in runoff campaigns, featuring the top two vote-getters in each race and ending on November 19th.

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