Politics » Politics Feature

Mayoral Shuffling

Plus: Cohen gets some ministerial defense; Richard Fields rides again.



Memphis mayoral candidates continued to campaign, as is their wont, over the weekend:

Incumbent mayor Willie Herenton, who is eschewing formal debates with his opponents, spoke briefly to a rally at a Frayser mall Saturday but mainly spent his time there autographing campaign T-shirts and demonstrating his prowess at the "Cupid Shuffle" as a sound system blared out some music.

Opponent Carol Chumney held a well-attended opening at her Poplar Avenue headquarters on Sunday, once again chiding Herenton for being willing to spar with Joe Frazier while ducking debate, but she seemed to broaden her attack to include rival Herman Morris as well as Herenton: "My opponents love to walk you through their humble beginnings, but their actions both in political office and as executives demonstrate that they have long forgotten where they came from."

Morris held at least one major fund-raiser over the weekend, while John Willingham presided over a headquarters open house that spread over Sunday and Monday.

Present at Mt. Olive C.M.E. Church for an all-candidates forum Sunday were Chumney, Morris, and Willingham, but not Herenton. A wide representation of other mayoral candidates also attended, including Laura Davis Aaron — who cited as two reasons for running the fact that "Mayor Herenton reads my mail" and that she needs a job — and Dewayne A. Jones Sr., who shouted so loudly as to temporarily short out his microphone.

• With Congress in recess, 9th District congressman Steve Cohen is much in evidence locally. Among other things, Cohen presided (along with Tennessee senator Lamar Alexander) over a ceremony formally changing the name of the Federal Building to the Clifford Davis/Odell Horton Federal Building, in honor of the late U.S. district judge Odell Horton.

Cohen also proposed to President Bush that he appoint former deputy attorney general James Comey to succeed the disgraced and now resigned Alberto Gonzales as U.S. attorney general. (Comey, along with the bedridden John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, had resisted as unconstitutional a Bush wiretapping plan aggressively pushed by Gonzales, then White House counsel.)

Cohen addressed a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored banquet as the first of its Frontline Politics speakers this year and took part in a panel on crime sponsored by the Public Issues Forum. The congressman's remarks at the Frontline dinner at the Ridgeway Center Hilton struck a new note, in that Cohen, a longtime critic of the Iraq war, acknowledged for the first time that residual U.S. troops might need to remain in the war-torn country for some time to come.

Cohen also scheduled a meeting, tentatively set for Tuesday of this week, with members of the Memphis Black Ministerial Association, one of whose leaders, the Rev. LaSimba Gray, has led an assault on Cohen's support for a congressional Hate Crimes Bill.

There are several anomalies associated with the ministers' protest — among them, that Cohen's predecessor, former congressman Harold Ford Jr., had consistently supported such legislation without drawing criticism from the association.

Pointing out further inconsistencies this week was an association member, the Rev. Ralph White, who originally expressed solidarity with the protest but later satisfied himself it was based on misconceptions. Said White: "I've read the bill, and I'm satisfied that it does not restrain a minister from expressing opposition to homosexual conduct or anything else that might be offensive to his conscience or Christian doctrine. The language of the bill specifically guarantees such freedom of speech."

Turning the attack back on its maker, White said, "What LaSimba Gray has to answer to is whether he is consciously trying to aid the congressional campaign of Nikki Tinker. Nobody seems to be wondering what her attitude toward the Hate Crimes Bill is."

Actually, many people have so wondered, but a Washington, D.C., spokesman for the elusive Tinker, a 2006 Cohen opponent who has already filed to run a reprise of last year's congressional race, has publicly said she will, at least temporarily, distance herself from discussion of such issues — as she did at an equivalent period of last year's race. White, who also sought the 9th District seat last year, is holding open his options for another run of his own.

• Senator Alexander, just back from an extended fact-finding trip to Iraq in tandem with Tennessee Senate colleague Bob Corker, seems, like Cohen, to have moderated his stand on Iraq somewhat. Alexander continues to push for a bipartisan resolution, co-authorized with Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar, based on the findings of the Iraq Study Group and calling for an end to U.S. combat operations.

But the senator indicated in Memphis last week that he had been impressed by progress made by the ongoing U.S. troop "surge" in Anbar Province and other points and, pending a scheduled report to Congress next month by General David Petraeus, was keeping an open mind on continued troop commitments in Iraq.

• A casualty of County Commission voting Monday was Susan Adler Thorp, a former Commercial Appeal columnist and consultant who had been serving as public relations adviser to Juvenile Court judge Curtis Person but whose position ended up being unfunded. Somewhat later, a commission majority would authorize equivalent sums for a new "outreach" position, yet to be filled.

• The 2007 recipient of the Tigrett Award, funded by FedEx founder Fred Smith in honor of the late John Tigrett, will be former U.S. senator Howard Baker, it was announced last week. The award will be presented by the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation at a gala later this year.

Next week: a systematic look at this year's City Council races.

Him Again


Richard Fields was back on the attack, battling his foes by means of publicly circulated letters.

To be sure, one of the epistles was written not by Fields but by Lambert McDaniel, an imprisoned ex-club owner, to Gwen Smith, the point person in Mayor Willie Herenton's accusations concerning a lurid blackmail plot against him orchestrated by lawyer Fields and other alleged "snakes." In the letter, McDaniel, who was incarcerated on a drug charge, refers to Smith by pet names and advises her to stay in touch with "the Mexicans" — presumably drug connections. What relevance the letter has to Herenton's charges against Fields — who, according to the mayor, urged Smith to seduce and entrap the mayor — is uncertain. Clearly, it does milady's reputation, already sullied, no good. But, by association, it wouldn't seem to entitle Fields — or Nick Clark, his acknowledged confederate in the purported topless-club investigation — to any merit badges, either.

Fields is a textbook illustration of the adjective "unabashed," however. Confirming reports that the lawyer's own poison pen had been unsheathed for yet another epistolary crusade, Shelby County commissioner Sidney Chism denounced Fields in the commission's public session Monday, during a debate on whether to assign Head Start children to the non-profit Porter-Leath Children's Center.

In one of Fields' widely circulated broadsides, Chism, a child-care provider himself, was taken to task for his initial opposition to the Porter-Leath arrangement and was told, among other things, he should be "ashamed" of himself.

Chism's response was scornful. Citing a variety of allegations against Fields that have been insistently put forth by blogger Thaddeus Matthews, Chism challenged Fields' bona fides, saying that, if all that was said about Fields was true, "he shouldn't be anywhere around children, anyhow."

Whatever the accuracy of the charges and counter-charges swirling about Fields, there was little doubt about one thing: With an election happening, the odds were better than even that there will be, in some guise or another, a Richard Fields ballot this year, as there was in each of the last two local election cycles. If so, would this be good or bad for Fields' endorsees? This, too, remains to be seen.

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