Politics » Politics Feature

November Bound

As the week began, some candidates were looking ahead to the next test.


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At a Saturday morning prayer breakfast held by the Shelby County Democratic Party at the First Baptist Broad Church, assorted Democrats made their usual exhortatory speeches on behalf of their candidacies and the party ticket at large.

The most telling of the speeches came from 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, who — consistent with a string of endorsements he had lately received from African-American personages and institutions and with apparent assurances from polls and pundits of an overwhelming reelection — couched his remarks in the spirit of a de facto party leader and inheritor of a civil rights tradition.

Warning of a November election season that would be difficult for Democrats and might threaten their control of Congress, Cohen said, "The 9th District is safe" but added that presumptive Democratic nominee Roy Herron in the 8th District would need help.

Castigating national Republicans for their "worship" of corporations and favoritism toward "the richest on this earth," Cohen said, "We can't go backward to the days of George Bush."

The congressman then took note of a bill honoring the 50th anniversary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee that he had co-introduced with Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a hero of the civil rights revolution. In a stirring conclusion, he characterized SNCC members, along with the cadres of the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. Martin Luther King's organization, as "the fighters and soldiers that made America's promise its practice."

And he cited local civil rights veterans Maxine Smith and Russell Sugarmon, who have been among his declared supporters, as "heroes" of the same historical struggle.

Cohen also made a point, as he had a week ago at a celebration in his honor at her home, of offering public praise and solidarity with former legislator and ex-Democratic Party chair Kathryn Bowers, who served a brief prison term as one of those involved in the government's Tennessee Waltz sting.

• Although most commentators were writing off his congressional campaign as a hopelessly failed effort, former Mayor Willie Herenton was not — à la a memorable line by poet Dylan Thomas — going gentle into that good night as the Democratic primary campaign neared its end.

At a spirited rally Saturday in a North Memphis office overseen by city councilman Joe Brown, Herenton assured some 40 or so supporters, "We will win this election!" Warning, "You got to watch these white folks," Herenton reminded his audience of past alleged irregularities in vote counting for black candidates.

And he promised to release information that directly contradicted the unfavorable finding of published polls, as well as the prevailing interpretation of early-voting statistics emphasizing a larger-than-usual turnout of whites and Republicans.

On Monday, Herenton followed through — releasing to the press a packet intended to show that blacks were voting disproportionately in the 9th District, as against in the county at large, and that voting from several of "our highest and best performing black precincts" had been outsized and presumably in his favor. Contending "I'm my own best pollster," he predicted a victory over Cohen of at least 3-to-1 proportions — the opposite of the ratio advanced by most political commentators.

• Democrats, many of whom have been unsettled by the relative invisibility so far of their gubernatorial nominee-to-be, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, got assurances this week from the candidate that all of that will be changed with the ending of the primary season.

In an e-mailed statement asking party members for what amounts to a pro forma vote (McWherter was unopposed in the Democratic primary), he said: "In the days running up to and following the primary, I will be traveling across this great state to speak to supporters and let voters know I am dedicated to creating jobs for Tennesseans."

Promising to "be stumping from the Mississippi River to the Smoky Mountains," McWherter released a schedule of consecutive events beginning with his election-eve appearance Wednesday night at a climactic Democratic rally at the Inn at Hunt Phelan restaurant for Shelby County candidates in the August 5th election.

McWherter's posted itinerary has him continuing with events in Nashville on Thursday night, Chattanooga on Friday morning, and Piney Flats (Piney Flats?), a northeast Tennessee community, on Friday night.

McWherter has also begun circulating a television ad that avoids ideological commentary and presents him as someone "more interested in fixing things than playing politics." In his relatively few public appearances and published statements to date, McWherter has emphasized the theme of tax incentives for Tennessee-based companies.

• Not all of the speeches made by Democratic candidates at the aforementioned Saturday prayer breakfast were characterized by optimism and uplift, nor by equanimity concerning unfortunate situations of the past. A few of the candidates made remarks which, essentially, were reactions to unflattering news reports about them in the course of the campaign.

Especially bitter was Coleman Thompson, the Democratic nominee for register of deeds, who protested what he said was unfair publicity given the pending eviction of himself and the Pyramid Recovery Center, a rehabilitation facility he has operated for some years, from a site on South Third, which served as an early-voting center.

Contrasting with Thompson's unabashed anger was the reaction of Corey Maclin, the Democratic nominee for Shelby County clerk, who has responded to reports of judgments levied against him by repeating that many of the reports were outdated — that, for example, he had long settled several of the mentioned claims, as well as an IRS lien.

Maclin strongly maintains that the charges about his finances derive from a vendetta being pursued against him by Joe Cooper and Jerry Lawler, partners in a newly formed wrestling venture and his antagonists in a series of suits and countersuits over ownership of Lawler paraphernalia. But in his speech to his fellow Democrats, Maclin exuded a cheerful defiance, avoiding acrimony and challenging opponents to "bring it on."

Another somewhat discontented soul at First Baptist Broad Church was Ricky Dixon, a police officer and the party's nominee for Circuit Court clerk. Privately, he professed himself concerned that he'd been identified in print as the brother of former state senator Roscoe Dixon, who was further mentioned as one of the Shelby County legislators nailed along with Bowers in the Tennessee Waltz sting and sentenced to prison.

The former legislator (an aide to then Shelby County mayor A C Wharton at the time he was busted) is still, like Bowers, a beloved figure in much of the Memphis Democratic constituency, however.

And more than a few observers attribute Ricky Dixon's victory in the May Democratic primary over two significant opponents, Carmichael Johnson and Steve Webster, to the public's awareness of his kinship.

Besides that, as the day developed, candidate Dixon discovered he had more to worry about than being publicly coupled with his brother. As an attendee, along with many other Democratic nominees, at a Joe Ford-for-mayor rally held on Saturday at the interim mayor's Whitehaven Plaza headquarters, Dixon had to have been startled by the presence of Jimmy Moore, the Republican incumbent Circuit Court clerk and Dixon's opponent.

Not only was Moore there, he stayed for the duration of things — shmoozing with one and all and especially with host Ford, who went so far as to give Moore a shout-out as an important friend and supporter in the course of making some obligatory acknowledgments during his public remarks.

For his part, Moore seemed unconcerned when party chairman Van Turner included Dixon's name along with other party nominees during obligatory get-out-the-vote exhortations. By then, the chagrined Dixon was long gone, and it was hard to blame him.

• Name recognition has its advantages in politics, but there are loopholes in its effectiveness. Win or lose in his race for Shelby County mayor, Sheriff Mark Luttrell would not be changing one part of his appellation. He is going to continue, as before, being Mark LUTT-rell, not Mark Lutt-RELL (as an astonishing number of people — supporters, opponents, and neutrals alike — have kept referring to him).

The confusion has persisted because various holders of the name have chosen to pronounce it differently. Which reminds me: If the English say "schedule" as "SHedule," with a sibilant diphthong rather than a hard sound at the beginning, why don't they also pronounce "school" as "SHool"?

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