Before this issue hits the birdcage, a new mayor of Memphis will be sworn in, and other matters will find their place on the front burner. Let's get ready to play catch-up:
• On the same day that Memphis voters picked their mayor, a sliver of East Memphians joined voters in Cordova and Germantown in formally confirming a pair of nominees to run for the now vacant state Senate District 31 seat.
That's the seat that used to be held by Republican Paul Stanley, who seems to have done an advance run-through of a plot line involving Late Show host David Letterman: Sometime boyfriend of subject's paramour, a female subordinate, tries blackmail, picks up bogus payoff check, and gets stung by law enforcement.
The difference was in the outcome: Stanley was chased off his set, while Letterman happily remains on his. What's the difference, you ask? Well, Letterman wasn't elected on a family-values platform. And he has better gag writers.
In any case, Republican Brian Kelsey and Democrat Adrienne Pakis-Gillon, both of whom were unopposed in their primaries, will square off in the December 1st general election.
• Earlier this month, Governor Phil Bredesen did the expected thing, issuing a writ for a special election to fill the seat of Kelsey, who resigned his District 83 seat so as to facilitate the election of a like-minded Republican before the advent of a new legislative session in January.
The Republican and Democratic primaries for the vacated House seat will be held on December 1st, the same date as the general election for the District 31 state Senate seat. A general election will follow on January 12th, one day before the 2010 session of the General Assembly formally begins.
Filing deadline for the District 83 seat is Thursday, October 22nd, with the withdrawal deadline to fall a week later, at noon on October 29th. No Democratic candidates have announced firm candidacies, but two Republicans have — both previously unsuccessful candidates for public office.
The GOP hopefuls (one of whom must win the primary — and probably the GOP-leaning seat) are Mark White and John Pellicciotti.
White, a businessman whose company sells home theater cable and audio-visual products, was a candidate for the District 83 seat in 2004, the year Kelsey won it. He was also the Republican nominee for the 9th District congressional seat in 2006.
Pellicciotti, who works in high-tech sales, made two previous unsuccessful races against incumbent Democrat Mike Kernell in District 93, an all-Memphis district which adjoins the more suburban District 83 to the west.
Reportedly there is a move among Democrats to promote Shelby County commissioner Steve Mulroy as a candidate in District 83, which spreads across East Memphis and Germantown. Independent John Andreucetti has filed a petition to run for the seat.
• Ah, and who will be Shelby County mayor after A C Wharton resigns to become city mayor? In the short run — say, for the 45 days called for in the commission's freshly (2008) minted charter — it will be current commission chair Joyce Avery, a conscientious conservative who has concerns in matters of education and public health.
After that 45-day period, an interim mayor would need to be appointed, pending the outcome of the regular 2010 countywide election cycle. For all her occasional ecumenism, Avery's GOP status would likely prevent her from being named interim mayor.
At this point, the main candidates to become interim mayor are both commission members: J.W. Gibson, who has said that he wants the job, and Joe Ford, who also wants it but hasn't said so as explicitly. Both Gibson and Ford are Democrats.
Two other commissioners — Democrat Mulroy and Republican George Flinn — are known to be available as possible compromise choices in the event that neither Gibson nor Ford can garner the votes of 7 of the 13 commissioners. As is the case with Avery (who, as acting mayor, will be a nonvoter on the interim position), Flinn's Republican status will presumably have a hard time cadging votes out of a body, which, these days, is lopsidedly Democratic, by a margin of 8 to 5.
Gibson was not one of the four commissioners who nominated themselves as prospects for the newly named Metro Commission to explore consolidated government. (The four were Democrats Mulroy and Sidney Chism and Republicans Mike Ritz and Mike Carpenter.) But he was the only one of Wharton's 10 nominees, all approved by the county commission on Monday, to pick up nay votes, a distinction he owes entirely to his ambitions to serve as interim mayor.
Only two votes were recorded against Gibson at Monday's commission meeting. They came from Chism and Republican Wyatt Bunker. (Absentee Ritz would have been a third vote against him.) Publicly, the nay-sayers based their reluctance on the principle that, as they put it in committee last week, no pubic officeholders should serve on the Metro Commission.
One concession wrung from Gibson last week was his declaration that, if selected as interim mayor, he would resign his membership on the Metro Commission.
The real issue, however, may have involved complicated prior tradeoffs and commitments whereby Chism, Bunker, and Ritz were all committed to Ford's interim-mayor candidacy.
So far the candidate list for the regular countywide election for county mayor in 2010 seems limited to two Democrats: county commissioner Deidre Malone and Bartlett banker Harold Byrd.
• And, lest we forget, there's a governor's race on. Jim Kyle, the Democrats' state Senate leader, and Bill Gibbons, district attorney general for Shelby County, are the two Memphians running.
Kyle's rivals are state senator Roy Herron of Dresden; businessman Mike McWherter of Jackson; former state House majority leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville; and Nashville industrialist Ward Cammack.
Gibbons' primary opponents are Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, former Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp, and state Senate Speaker and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey.
Gibbons, who at this point trails his three GOP rivals in fund-raising, was scheduled to hold a headquarters opening on Wednesday.
• For a mayoral campaign whose outcome was reasonably certain long before the campaign even got started, the race ending this week contained its share of bitter charges and verbal bomb-throwing. Much of that was borne by frontrunner Wharton.
Toward the end of things, especially, Wharton's frustrated opponents ritually hurled invective at him for what was essentially distilled by one and all as the county mayor's "disrespectful" attitude toward public forums and debates.
To be sure, Wharton restricted his participation in these affairs and made it clear with the very first one, a televised debate in late August on WMC-TV that he would prefer to attach conditions. Some of that was doubtless good-faith objection to what Wharton saw here and there as an overly free-handed invitation to participants. Some of it, too, was undoubtedly a frontrunner's traditional reluctance to give his challengers too much of an opportunity to play catch-up (or do target practice on him).
Whatever the case, A C bit the bullet and committed to two crucial public debates in the campaign's waning days — one sponsored by the Memphis Rotary Club at Rhodes College last Tuesday and another held on election eve by WREG-TV.
An unusual criticism of the frontrunner came late in the game from candidate Jerry Lawler, who attacked Wharton for the very fact of announcing his dual endorsement by two different groups of policemen, the Memphis Police Association and the Afro-American Police Association.
"Why should we be encouraging separate racial organizations?" the wrestler and commentator said. "Why do we even need an 'Afro-American' organization?"
Asked his reaction to Lawler's statements after receiving the police association endorsements at his Eastgate headquarters, Wharton said, "That's just politics. It's a dangerous way to divide us."
The county mayor further described Lawler's complaint as "an attempt to deny reality," maintaining that the members of the Afro-American Police Association "had a hands-on feel" for crime in especially challenged neighborhoods and needed the special recognition that their organization provided.
Tyrone Currie, president of the Afro-American Police Association, responded to Lawler's criticism by saying, "It's very disingenuous to make a statement like that." Currie pointed out that young blacks in "disenfranchised" neighborhoods benefited from having role models they could identify with and that his association gave them a way of identifying with police officers and focusing respect for the law.
Wharton generally gave as good as he got — hitting opponent Charles Carpenter during the Rotary debate for association with "bond daddies" during a disagreement over who was ultimately responsible for the county's debt problems.
But signs of reconciliation may be around the corner: Reportedly, Jack Sammons, the former councilman who has been serving as CAO for Mayor Pro Tem (and Wharton critic) Myron Lowery is under consideration to continue in that capacity in a Wharton administration.