A definitive public exposure of candidates for office in 2018 still remains to be accomplished. But several preliminary efforts in that direction took place during the past week or so — a Thursday morning showcase of Democratic women candidates at the City & State coffee house on Broad; a Thursday night forum that attracted a decent-sized crowd and two Republican mayoral opponents at Mt. Moriah East Baptist Church; and a massive turnout on Saturday at the University of Memphis for candidates for virtually every position on the ballot.
At the Thursday night forum, WMC-TV anchor Kontji Anthony moderated a guarded discussion of issues by the two candidates for Shelby County Mayor — Terry Roland and Joy Touliatos — who answered an invitation to debate from Diversity Memphis. And on Saturday those two candidates and scores of others — most of those running for election this year — joined a throng of campaign supporters and attendees at large in the ballroom auditorium of the University of Memphis for a meet-and-greet affair co-sponsored by the Tennessee Nurses Association and the League of Women Voters.
- Touliatos and Roland at forum
The latter affair was basically a schmooze-fest that culminated in a parade of candidates across the UM stage as their names were called by moderator Greg Hurst of WREG-TV. Nobody got to speak to the entire assembly, but there was ample conversational opportunity out on the jam-packed floor. And the mere fact of showing up and being seen surely paid dividends — pointedly so for GOP gubernatorial candidate Diane Black, who arrived somewhat late but, to all appearances, unflustered, after her car was involved in a collision caused by an errant vehicle operated by the Tennessee Department of Transportation at mile marker 24 of I-40.
At the Thursday night forum, Roland, currently a Shelby County commissioner, and Touliatos, who serves as Juvenile Court clerk, are both candidates for the Republican nomination for county mayor, and while neither of them broke any new ground or made any waves in their remarks, they had the opportunity to present coherent profiles of themselves as they fielded questions put by Anthony and audience members.
Touliatos stressed what she said would be her ability to "build relationships" within county government and with other governmental entities, while Roland emphasized his experience as a "full-time commissioner with part-time pay" for the last eight years.
Both boasted of their roots with ordinary citizens, and both expressed a determination to buttress education and industrial expansion. Touliatos stressed a need to lay a strong foundation in pre-K education. Roland made his usual case for tax increment financing (TIFs) as an alternative to payments-in-lieu-of taxes (PILOTs). He got the most animated response from the crowd when he attacked what he called "a culture of corruption" in Shelby County, in which "the same 10 people have been getting all the sweet milk."
Anthony asked, "Why do Black Lives Matter?" And both candidates responded with variations on the statement that "all lives matter" — a generalized response that drew a buzz of disapproval from the predominantly African-American crowd and a precursor to a possible issue in the general election, when either Lee Harris or Sidney Chism, both African Americans, will be the Democratic opposition to the Republican nominee.
Further forums and debates are to be expected in the next few weeks, especially for countywide candidates, whose moment of reckoning with the voters will culminate in the May 1st party primaries, less than two months away.
(See also memphisflyer.com for slideshow of TNA-LWV forum.)