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Flinn vs. Wharton

The 2002 county mayor's RACE may have the middle playing itself against both ends of the spectrum.

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PHOTO BY JACKSON BAKER
Though at various points it involved most of the famous names, both Democrat and Republican, touted for higher office locally, the race for Shelby County mayor in 2002 came down to two almost diametrically opposite types. They were Democratic nominee A C Wharton, the Shelby County public defender who had been the subject of election-year speculation for almost two decades, and Republican nominee George Flinn, a radiologist/broadcast magnate whose advent in politics almost nobody saw coming.

Wharton, a genial and polished African American who ran once for district attorney general and claimed experience on numerous boards and commissions, has always possessed a crossover potential that for many people over the years (Republicans and independents as well as Democrats) made him a potential model candidate. His many connections -- as roommate to former congressman Harold Ford Sr. at Tennessee State University; as campaign manager twice for Memphis mayor Willie Herenton; as political appointee of a series of county mayors, including incumbent Republican Jim Rout -- both enhanced and, in unforeseen ways, hindered his prospects.

Flinn's path to political prominence was lonelier and reflected the scenarios of his two prior careers -- as a pioneering doctor and as entrepreneur of a broadcast empire consisting of some 38 TV and radio stations, including many in Shelby County. A medical colleague (and supporter of Flinn's GOP primary opponent, state Rep. Larry Scroggs) recalled late last year, "George was never a member of the club. He always did things a different way." Flinn, who owns several patents in the field of ultrasonic diagnostics, established a thriving medical practice by, in effect, competing with the existing radiological establishment. After becoming successful in medicine, he then used his wealth to acquire his broadcasting stations, the highly diverse formats of which he proved willing to experiment with endlessly.

Flinn first considered running for city mayor in the crowded field of 1999 and then thought better of it, telling a Flyer reporter that the race, which eventually resulted in Herenton's reelection to a third term, had come to resemble "a three-ring circus."(Ironically enough, Herenton would, in the aftermath, use a similar term to describe the contest, in which he defeated such foes as then city councilman James Ford, county commissioner Pete Sisson, and wrestler Jerry Lawler.) Although he gave unstinting support to a race for the state legislature in 2000 by his son Shea Flinn, who ran as a Democrat, Flinn did not consider another race of his own until last year, when Rout announced he would not seek reelection and the Republican Party, looking for a consensus candidate to carry the party standard, kept coming up short with the name-brand candidates which the GOP hierarchy courted.

First, District Attorney General Bill Gibbons said no, as did lawyer and former councilman John Bobango. So did Probate Court Clerk Chris Thomas, state Sen. Mark Norris, former Memphis Redbirds executive Allie Prescott, and a host of others. Late in the year, Flinn, almost demurely, proffered his own name and was offended when party leaders kept looking past him and eventually recruited Scroggs, a respected legislator from Germantown.

Though, as events were later to demonstrate, Flinn had no experience with the routines of Shelby County government and no preconceived programs in mind for it, he had confidence in his own ability to master a new field and declined to back Scroggs, filing as a rival candidate early this year after a period of indecision. Most of the party rank and file remained loyal to Scroggs, but the legislator, who felt himself committed to service throughout the 2002 session of the General Assembly, was frequently absent from the county and was prevented, by state restrictions that were relaxed only in mid-spring, from raising money on his own behalf.

Flinn suffered from no equivalent handicap and would eventually spend almost half a million dollars in the primary -- five times as much as Scroggs and almost all of it Flinn's own money. Some of that money went to hire Tom Pardue of Atlanta, a consultant known to have a preference for bare-knuckle campaigning and the eminence behind Bill Frist's upset win over Democratic senator Jim Sasser in 1994. Late in the 2002 primary campaign, TV ads and mailouts appeared, attacking Scroggs for his alleged openness to higher taxes. Flinn would be the winner on May 7th but at the apparent cost of alienating not only Scroggs and his supporters but Rout and other members of the Republican establishment.

Meanwhile, Wharton was simultaneously establishing ties with some of the estranged Republicans while making short order of his Democratic opposition. Two of the Democrats' early leaders, state Sen. Jim Kyle and Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, had dropped out of the running -- Kyle as far back as the fall of 2001 and Byrd in March, on the very last day allowed for formal withdrawal. Both had come to the same decision by different means and according to a different timetable, but each had seen credible polls showing Wharton's strength to be formidable -- to blacks, especially, but to white voters as well, even non-Democrats.

The supporters of Byrd, whose tightly knit family had kept the Democratic faith in highly Republican Bartlett for decades, thought that -- in a year in which the county electorate would be roughly balanced between blacks and whites -- he was the superior choice to lead a party ticket otherwise dominated by black candidates. Some of Byrd's African-American backers -- notably former Teamster leader Sidney Chism and legendary civil rights figures Maxine and Vasco Smith -- were angered by Wharton's candidacy, as was Byrd, who thought the public defender had encouraged his own campaign before entering the field himself in the wake of Rout's withdrawal. Byrd, the Smiths, Chism, and others also looked askance at what they considered the undue influence on Wharton of Republicans and of such establishment figures as Bobby Lanier, a ranking aide who was an early Wharton booster.

By and large, however, Wharton was able to consolidate his party base and to keep his hopes of electoral outreach alive. He was kept on his toes through the primary season by his only remaining Democratic opponent, state Rep. Carol Chumney, who took firm stands on such issues as city/county consolidation and the question of countering urban sprawl and pointed out, accurately, that Wharton himself, though demonstrating his knowledge of most subject areas, was reluctant to take fixed positions.

Part of this was the result, no doubt, of political calculation, but part of it also stemmed from Wharton's own cautious makeup. State Democratic chairman Bill Farmer of Lebanon, where Wharton grew up (he ended up in the Memphis area by virtue of attending law school at nearby Ole Miss), recalls that Wharton's father, also known as A C (as with the son, the letters were the whole name, not a pair of initials), was a widely respected community figure who was similarly circumspect in expressing his judgments.

For whatever reason, candidate Wharton has continued to avoid attaching himself to hard and fast positions. Since Flinn, too, seems disinclined (or unprepared) to articulate specific positions on public issues, both major-party nominees appear content to campaign via exhortatory rhetoric and horse-race politics. Both have eschewed radical new spending, disdained taxes, deplored the $1.4 billion county debt, favored education, and opposed crime. In principle, both are open to single-source funding for city and county schools and to a degree of "functional" consolidation, but neither has committed to the more explicit versions espoused by Mayor Herenton. Nor has either tumbled to a specific remedy for sprawl or the need to preserve undeveloped areas like Shelby Farms.

For a while, the mysterious (and still not quite explained) independent candidacy of Sir Isaac Ford, a scion of the famous political family, complicated matters, but U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. made his support of Wharton public, and brother Isaac eventually ceased a campaign that had the potential to adversely affect Wharton. Another problem -- Herenton's anger at being, as he saw it, cold-shouldered by a campaign bent on pursuing white suburbanites -- was allayed by Wharton's belated invitation to the mayor to take a more visible role in the campaign.

Flinn has campaigned on the basis of "accountability," while Wharton has relied on a theme of "trust" (which, ironically, was the name of a public-relations firm he engaged to help spread his message). With only days to go, the temperature of the campaign has been raised by a Flinn TV commercial that attempts to rouse opponents of a publicly financed NBA arena against a controlling establishment presumed, or so the ad and follow-up press releases implied, to have handpicked Wharton. That was followed by a disclosure of suits against Flinn by two women who had received sealed settlements; Flinn's campaign people pronounced their man blameless and called the effort to publicize the suits a "smear."

In the few days left until the August 1st showdown, other inflammatory incidents and issues are likely to fester. In the end, though, the race will likely be decided by a shift of undecideds along the middle of the political spectrum -- either to Wharton's rhetoric of conciliation or to Flinn's unadorned conservatism.


Life Of the Parties!

Partisan issues matter more in key races for Congress than in the contest for the governor's office.

Al Gore boosts the morale of local Democrats at a recent gathering.
Tennessee, as former Governor Lamar Alexander observed this year in a phrase that ended up causing him some grief, is "not a Republican state." Nor is it a Democratic one but a pendulum, the vote swings of which have often been reliable indicators of national changes in political direction.

That's one explanation of why the Volunteer State has so often produced figures with a claim to national office or media prominence. Frank Clement, Estes Kefauver, Howard Baker, Albert Gore (Sr. and Jr.), Harold Ford Jr., and Alexander himself are a few instances of the phenomenon, which goes back to Andrew Jackson and others during the Republic's first decades.

Geography is one reason why Tennessee is so often poised at the confluence of differing views. The longitudinal dimensions of the state take in the racially mixed flatlands of the west, the rolling hills of the state's yeoman center, and the outright hillbilly homesteads of the east. Ancestral Democratic and Republican voting habits persist in much of the state (though hewing to a unifying conservative tendency). It is the relative turbulence in the cities and their ever-transforming suburbs that increasingly determines which way the state leans.

This year, by virtue of a Senate race that could well determine the balance of political power in the next Congress, of several congressional and legislative contests that could alter the state's profile, and of a governor's race that will, at the very least, determine the titular control of an increasingly tormented state government, Tennessee is being closely watched elsewhere for what signals it provides.

The Senate race developed when the state's senior senator, Fred Thompson, decided in March not to seek reelection. Thompson's decision, made in the aftermath of his daughter's unexpected and untimely death, reversed an earlier one, reached during the mood of national rededication that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Prior to either circumstance, Thompson, at one time one of the Republican party's congressional eminences, had let it be known that he was sated with government service and wanted to move on -- possibly to the job of head lobbyist for the movie industry.

During that first rush to positioning in mid-2001, the ultimate GOP rivalry would display itself in the persons of 7th District congressman Ed Bryant and Alexander. Bryant's interest in both the Senate and the governorship had been known for at least two years. In early 2001, he had made a crucial decision of his own: At the time, Thompson was under pressure from his partymates to run for governor, and Bryant, believing like most Republicans that the senator would comply, made a show of renouncing the governorship, leaving that prize open to his congressional colleague Van Hilleary, who like himself had been interested in both a Senate race and a gubernatorial one. In effect, the two congressmen had divided up the turf, though -- to Bryant's chagrin -- Hilleary proved the enabled one when Thompson decided not to run for governor. Then the senator let it be known that he might not run for anything at all.

The first indication of how the 2002 GOP Senate primary would play itself out occurred before that September 11th watershed, when Alexander -- encouraged by Sen. Bill Frist, head of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee -- leaked his interest in the Senate race. Learning of this, Bryant was unable to contain his fury and privately mocked Alexander's motives, though he quickly backed off from overt criticism of the former governor.

When the Senate seat finally opened up with Thompson's surprise announcement in March, Alexander and Bryant quickly declared their interest in running. The congressman adroitly bestowed public praise on Frist for his "neutrality," an act of verbal gamesmanship that probably helped create a de facto state of neutrality when both Frist and the White House had been thought to support Alexander.

Once the two candidates began their run, it became obvious that former presidential candidate Alexander possessed advantages in name recognition, private wealth, and fund-raising potential. He was endorsed in short order by longtime party leaders and well-known Republican moderates. But Bryant went about his game of catch-up with advantages of his own -- most of them rooted ("grass-rooted," in fact) in the zeal of Tennessee's proliferating new breed of suburban conservative.

The long story of the subsequent GOP primary campaign made short: Both Alexander and Bryant have campaigned relentlessly and indistinguishably along the same True Believer lines -- pro-life, anti-taxes, pro-tax cut, anti-intrusive government, pro-Bush, anti-"death tax," etc.. But they have found endless material to malign each other with -- be it Bryant's espousal of "solid" Republicanism in contrast to the "plaid" history of his putatively moderate opponent or Alexander's accusation that his opponent has somehow victimized taxpayers by leasing a car to reach the far corners of his sprawling 7th District. Not a day goes by on any political journalist's computer without the receipt of an attack e-mail from one or the other.

The truth is that Alexander's record as governor, during which he requested and got relatively modest revenue increases to pay for his education program, places him closer to moderate on the political scale than you would find the more consistently conservative Bryant. But, as the former governor explained candidly during a visit to the Flyer, one performs differently as an administrator who must work with the leadership of two parties than he would as a legislator voting a personal preference or a party line. On the record of their campaign statements, there is no reason to assume that either Republican would deviate very much from the line set by the White House or the GOP Senate leadership.

There is every reason to believe, however, that either would differ significantly from Bob Clement, the consensus Democratic candidate, who has been able to quietly go about amassing a campaign war chest while the two Republicans have been dissipating theirs in mortal combat. By Democratic standards, Clement is a moderate, even a conservative. As a congressman, he voted with Bush on a number of key issues, including the president's tax cuts. (And Clement, too, has weighed in against the "death" tax, which once upon a time was described, more accurately, as an estate or inheritance tax.)

But Clement has made it clear that he would find fault with the current administration line, especially on matters relating to prescription drugs, an area in which he has proposed a number of consumer reforms -- such as requiring domestic pharmaceutical companies to charge no more for their products in America than they do abroad.

Over the years, Clement, son of legendary Tennessee governor Frank Clement, periodically floated gubernatorial candidacies which, after a public brooding spell, he never followed through on. His attitude toward the Senate race has been at once more lighthearted and more determined. As the senior eligible Democrat, he faced down both Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr. and Tipper Gore, wife of former Vice President Al Gore, for the right to make the race.

Bryant's vacated seat is being sought by two like-minded party-line Democrats, Tim Barron and Omer Hayden, and the survivor of their primary will have little chance in the 7th, which is, by design of both parties, about as heavily Republican a district as can be found outside the GOP homeland of East Tennessee.

Although there are other Republicans running, the next member of Congress will come from a field of five candidates -- David Kustoff, Mark Norris, and Brent Taylor, all Shelby Countians; state Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County; and lawyer Forrest Shoaf of Davidson County. As a recent Mason-Dixon poll in which she finished first demonstrated, Blackburn has transcendent name recognition as a highly public anti-tax activist (she is the one whose e-mails from the Senate floor ultimately prompted an angry crowd to show up at the state Capitol in July 2001, whereupon a potential income-tax agreement was aborted).

Finishing second in that poll was Kustoff, a Memphis lawyer who directed George W. Bush's successful (and crucial) Tennessee effort in 2000. Ranking third and fourth behind Kustoff, respectively: Memphis city councilman Taylor, who has been working the sprawling Memphis-to-Nashville district assiduously for two years, especially its rural sections; and state Sen. Norris, a southeast Shelby Countian and a smooth customer whose votes match those of Blackburn and Taylor on the lower-taxes/less-government scale but who manages to get along with virtually everyone. Late entrant Norris was many observers' pick as frontrunner, but his well-heeled campaign has not yet delivered. For some weeks, Taylor engaged in a running feud with Norris, but both men have disengaged of late and fixed their fire on Kustoff, whom they targeted this week for such sins as claiming an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association rather than the simple A, which Kustoff, as a nonincumbent, would be entitled to from his perfect score on the NRA's candidate questionnaire.

Aside from demonstrating that their competitive jealousies might have the effect of dividing up the Shelby County vote so that Blackburn could in the end prevail, the back-biting and in-fighting among the local candidates -- especially over such minute differences -- signifies, as does the Republican Senate primary, just how dominant the party line is this year and how little room exists for individual differences of policy or theme. Indeed, one of the mysteries of the race so far has been why the respectable ads and public appearances of Nashvillian Shoaf, a graduate of both West Point and Harvard Law School, have not boosted his stock appreciably; he has, after all, pointed out that his military background gives him a potential edge in the kind of geopolitical matter that September 11th should have made important.

The third major race confronting Shelby County voters on the state ballot is that for governor. Both major parties have contested primaries, although it is unlikely that former state legislator Jim Henry of Kingston, who is thought to be supported by current Governor Don Sundquist and other Republican moderates, can overcome conservative party regular Hilleary, who is vacating his 4th District congressional seat to make the race. The major ostensible difference between the two on policy matters is that, while he disavows the income tax, Henry is open to all revenue solutions as a way of circumventing the state's long-term fiscal malaise, sure to return after a season or two in which this year's quick-fix sales-tax increase might stem the tide. Increasingly over the past year, former Gulf War pilot Hilleary declared war on the income tax, promising ever more draconian revenges upon it, including a threat to repeal it if it had passed the General Assembly this year. He has made education his policy priority but has made few specific proposals concerning it and none that involve large financial outlays.

Phil Bredesen, the former Nashville mayor who, as the Democratic nominee in 1994, was beaten out by Sundquist, is almost certain to win the party nomination this year on the strength of an early start, superior financial resources, and the backing of virtually every major Democratic pol statewide. As a former health-care executive who made himself and other Tennesseans wealthy while reconstructing down-on-their-luck HMOs, Bredesen has obvious credentials to deal with such issues as TennCare, the promising but problematic state-run insurance system. In general, he has promised to bring superior management skills to state government, but, while few Democrats doubt his ability, many are somewhat estranged by his insistence on keeping step with Hilleary in his disavowals of an income tax to the point that, as one wag had it, if the Republican had promised to lock up Sen. Bob Rochelle of Lebanon, the legislature's number-one income-tax proponent, Bredesen might have chimed in with "Yeah, and his wife too!"

Both Randy Nichols, the Knoxville district attorney, and Charles Smith, the former Board of Regents chairman and former state education commissioner, have loyal followers among dedicated Democrats, and each has some impressive endorsements. Nichols has been bold enough to espouse a state income tax, and Smith, too, has been open-minded about fiscal solutions. But neither has the funds or the network to give Bredesen a real challenge.

One thing is certain: Though there will be much partisan breast-beating in the expected race between Hilleary and Bredesen (a philippic delivered against the incumbent state administration by ex-veep Gore over the weekend being a case in point), the relative unimportance of party in state politics is best demonstrated by the fact that it was the Republican Sundquist who in recent years waged the valiant if ultimately futile crusade for tax reform that most rank-and-file Democrats favored, while likely 2002 Democratic standard-bearer Bredesen has been as hold-the-line on tax-reform issues as any post-Gingrich Republican or tax-baiting radio talk-show host would ever dare to boast.


The Under-ballot

Though not as noticed as the high-profile races, some key local positions are up for grabs.

Legislative Races

There are a few contested legislative primaries, most of them nominal affairs.

One race, which should have been a standout, never quite developed into anything other than a statement of principle on the part of challenger Richard Fields, a well-known civil rights lawyer, who took District 29 Senate incumbent John Ford to task for various alleged misdeeds in their Democratic primary.

In ads and isolated appearances, Fields made an effort to scourge Ford for trade-offs to special interests and, in particular, for questionable involvements in the child-care industry that, he said, made Ford a de facto obstacle to reform in that field.

But aside from the fact that Ford is a long-established fixture in his heavily African-American South Memphis district (one which he may not actually reside in), the senator is a figure of some significance in the legislature. Though he cuts an eccentric figure in Nashville as well as locally, Ford is known as a man to see for various kinds of legislation, particularly the health-care variety. And he was one of those who took the lead in tax-reform legislation.

Given the case Fields makes against Ford, the depth of his problem can be measured by the fact that state Rep. Carol Chumney, a central figure in child-care reform, maintains good working relations with the senator, who, late in the session, made this jocular remark to Chumney about his opponent:

"That Richard Fields, he's been married to five different black women. He thinks he's a black guy. He ain't no black guy. I'm a black guy. And I want to marry you."

In the House, among Democrats, state Rep. Larry Turner (District 85) is opposed by Paul Lewis; Rep. Barbara Cooper (District 86) is opposed by Berlin Boyd; Rep. Kathryn Bowers (District 87) faces Alonzo Grant; Rep. Carol Chumney (District 89) is paired with Mary Wilder; and House Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry faces Hanalei "Lay" Harris.

Grant, a local entrepreneur who, along with his brother Greg, is becoming a fixture on ballots during election season, has posed an unusual situation this year, if not exactly a major challenge. Granted a franchise by the Shelby County Democratic Party to drive early voters to the polls, he was discovered handing them prepared sample ballots with a check by his own name and was made to desist. He'll need more than that gambit to have a chance against the popular and respected Bowers.

Chumney's "opponent," Wilder, is actually her chum, who filed at her suggestion when the incumbent was running in the Democratic primary for county mayor. As soon as that race was over, the stand-in stood down and announced her support for Chumney, who will get a real challenge in the fall from Republican Ruth Ogles.

There are two Republican races of significance. In District 83, incumbent state Rep. Joe Kent normally draws at least one opponent who claims that Kent, who owns a house in Nashville and an apartment in Memphis, actually lives in the state Capitol. This year's version is newcomer Chuck Bates, who is backed by an impressive coalition of social conservatives but will have hard going against the well-liked Kent.

The other GOP race, in District 93, is for the right to challenge Democratic incumbent Mike Kernell. Vying for the honor are John Pellicciotti, Jack Redden, Jon Stevenson, Bill Wood, and Mary Taylor-Shelby. Newcomers Pellicciotti and Stevenson have made some waves among district Republicans, Redden has some following, and Wood has developed a name as an anti-tax crusader, ferrying protesters back and forth to Nashville during the legislative session. Taylor-Shelby, the only African American in the group, is a perennial candidate.

Commission Races

There are seven contested county commission races:

* In District 1, Position 2, Republican incumbent Linda Rendtorff is opposed by two independents, Howard Entmann and Rebecca Hannon Treace. Entmann, a physician who works in tandem with Republican mayor nominee George Flinn, is making a serious effort against Rendtorff, who barely survived a GOP primary challenge. He has pulled off something of a coup in getting the endorsement of the Shelby County Democrats while simultaneously making an appeal to the embittered insurgent faction of the county's Republicans.

* In District 2, Position 3, Democratic nominee Deidre Malone faces three independent challengers: Clarence Ferguson, Tony Rush, and Scott Banbury -- the last of whom, a Green Party mainstay, has made a respectable race. But Malone should have little difficulty.

* In District 3, Position 2, incumbent Democrat Michael Hooks is under challenge from Republican Beverly Jones Farmer and independent Rex Hamilton. The latter got an endorsement from The Commercial Appeal, but Hooks, on the comeback trail from an admitted cocaine addiction, should easily overcome both that and questions about his special-interest voting record.

* In District 4, Position 1, Joyce Avery, the Republican conqueror of Clair VanderSchaaf in May's primary, is heavily favored over Democrat Bob Koenig, who has made a dogged if legalistic case against the validity of Avery's credentials to represent the district, and independent Henry Burchett.

* In District 4, Position 2, GOP nominee Tom Moss, a home-builder who overcame the aura of deal-making that surrounded his late 2000 appointment to the commission and became a respected spokesman for urban planning, should have little difficulty against Democrat Chester Charles.

* In District 4, Position 3, the oft-denied David Lillard, who lost out to Moss in 2002 but became this year's Republican nominee for a different position, should have no trouble with independent Brian Yaworsky.

* In District 5, the commission's only single-member district and the one destined to determine which party controls the body for the next four years, there are three candidates, all of whom have made serious cases and two of whom will fight to the wire. Libertarian Danial Lott, who has made impressive stump appearances, is the odd man out here. The winner will be either seasoned Democrat Joe Cooper or Republican newcomer Bruce Thompson.

For better or for worse, Cooper is identified with a controversial proposal to develop portions of Shelby Farms, while Thompson has defended the present arrangement for the 4,000-acre rustic habitat. Beyond this issue, each man bids to become a significant figure in his party's affairs. The dogged Cooper, who has a good working knowledge of Shelby County government, has survived a slew of adversities and opposition from the fastidious to become a potential partner in a Democratic coalition that extends from Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, an enthusiastic supporter, to a corps of existing party allies on the commission. Thompson, the giant-killer who knocked off GOP mainstay John Ryder in the primary, has backing from both highly establishmentarian and dissident Republican sources and is in a position to launch a major career if successful.

County Offices

Though Democratic turnout in early voting has been surprisingly competitive, Republicans are expected to dominate on August 1st because of the high-profile U.S. Senate and 7th District congressional races driving their vote. That fact governs all of the following races:

SHERIFF -- A Mason-Dixon poll taken a week before the election showed Republican nominee Mark Luttrell, who has taken to politics with relative ease for a straight-arrow newcomer, to be only single digits ahead and not the runaway candidate many had thought him to be. But he is still favored over Democrat Randy Wade, a Sheriff's Department administrator who -- controversially but perhaps wisely -- has made an issue late in the game of Luttrell's supposed strong suit: prisoner security at the county corrections institution, which the GOP nominee has headed. Both men have a surprising degree of crossover support from the other party.

COUNTY TRUSTEE -- The Democrats' best bet for an upset is city councilman E.C. Jones' bid to unseat Republican incumbent Bob Patterson. Jones, who has a base constituency in Frayser and Raleigh, has sporadically questioned the spending habits of Patterson, who, however, commands popularity on both sides of the partisan line and can claim to have netted the county considerable returns on his investments. The incumbent should prevail.

CIRCUIT COURT CLERK -- Democrat Del Gill has persevered through numerous setbacks to become a party nominee, only to discover that his Republican opponent, incumbent Jimmy Moore, has support from a number of key Democrats, including members of the Ford family. Moore is favored in a race that also includes independent Tommy Peoples.

CRIMINAL COURT CLERK -- Republican incumbent Bill Key has enough experience and staying power to overcome a challenge from otherwise deserving Democrat Ralph White and independent Stanley Shotwell. (White is a talented man who will sooner or later, but not this year, find his niche.)

JUVENILE COURT CLERK -- Incumbent Democrat Shep Wilbun, a 2000 appointee, had worked hard to build a record of public service before his underpinnings collapsed via an official investigation of questionable practices in his department. Under the circumstances, Republican Steve Stamson, a respected former employee of the clerk's office, looks like a better bet than ever. Independent Samuel Watkins is also running.

PROBATE COURT CLERK -- Democrat Sondra Becton has for years been pressing legal cases of various sorts against her erstwhile employer, incumbent Republican Chris Thomas. The voters will decide the issue, and indications are that Thomas, who has updated the office technology, has a fairly comfortable edge.

COUNTY CLERK -- There are few more popular figures in Shelby County government than incumbent Republican Jayne Creson, and former radio personality Janis Fullilove, the Democrat in the race, is expected to fall short in her challenge. Independent Angelo Jennings is also running.

REGISTER -- Incumbent Republican Tom Leatherwood is in a good position to be returned against Democratic challenger Otis Jackson, who won't have wall-to-wall backing from his partymates because of his independent challenge to then Democratic nominee John Freeman in 2000. There's an independent in this race too -- Willie Artison -- but he won't figure.

Judicial Races

Two General Sessions positions, both now occupied by interim appointees, are up this year.

* In Division 2 (Civil), Judge Phyllis Gardner has been industrious and has worked well enough with former ideological foes from her days as a criminal prosecutor to win plaudits and a better-than-even chance to hold off challengers Dan Brown and Derek Renfroe.

* In Division 12 (Criminal), incumbent Jim Robinson has the Republican endorsement and enough standing with county Democrats impressed with his ability and sincerity to have a commanding edge against Bryan Davis and Democratic endorsee Gwen Rooks, a deserving figure in her own right.

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