Politics » Politics Feature

Out of the Past: Joe Cooper Mulls a Re-emergence

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Joe Cooper is a name from the political past: He called this past week to suggest that he was thinking seriously of running for the Shelby County Commission next year. Most of us, myself included, had lost track of Cooper, who was a squire on the old Shelby County Court back in the 1970s, and once considered a player.

That was before a run of bad luck and/or bad conduct that would see him bereft of his first wife and his office and, temporarily, of his freedom. At that time, Cooper received the first of two felony convictions, this one for acquiring bank loans circuitously, in the names of influential friends. That mischance, arguably, may have owed something to simple politics. Cooper, then a nominal Republican when the GOP controlled the Justice Department, had ostentatiously tried to do some impolitic public brokering on behalf of Democrats.

Joe Cooper in 2012 - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Joe Cooper in 2012

Though he thereafter attempted to regain his equilibrium in politics (this time as a Democrat) and as a businessman, Cooper never quite got back on his feet, though he maintained enough connections and savoir faire to be an advisor and back-room wheeler-dealer on behalf of other public figures.

If you needed an autographed photo of Grover Cleveland by 3 p.m. tomorrow, Cooper could get it for you. He proved useful in an administrative position here and there, and for years arranged an annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway on Beale Street for the homeless and indigent.

As the late state senator and Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person Jr., one of several prominent Memphians who had a soft spot for Cooper, used to say, "Joe has a good heart." In recent years, he partnered with Jerry "the King" Lawler in several valid commercial ventures.

But there were lapses. Cooper got nailed by the FBI in a money-laundering scheme and ended up having to shill for a federal sting against city politicians in order to reduce his own time in a new conviction. As he said in 2012, when he was mulling over a commission race: "I know I've got some baggage, but I also know how to get things done." If he follows through this time around, Cooper would likely be seeking the East Memphis commission seat now held by Republican member Brandon Morrison.

• In an online post last week, I noted that Shelby County Commissioner David Bradford of Collierville has the habit, which has been contagious to other members, of voting "yes" instead of the venerable "aye" in answering roll calls.

This week comes Bradford's explanation of the practice, which is worth repeating:

"I was wondering if anyone had picked up on my 'yeses,'" he wrote. "It was a conscious choice to use 'yes' instead of 'aye,' and honestly I thought I might get reprimanded by the parliamentarian the first time I used it. I've strived to stay with the 'yeses' throughout my term. I wish I could say my 'yeses' were some sort of stand against 16th century [parliamentary precedent], but, alas, they are not. 

"The reason I chose 'yes' over 'aye' is three-fold:

"1) About 20 percent of it is that I prefer the less formal. I think using 'aye' makes the whole system seem more complex, when the simple 'yes' conveys the same meaning. I hope less formal and less complex provides a system that is more approachable and understandable to all.

"2) About 75 percent has to do with clear communication. The buttons on our screens that we use to vote don't say 'aye.' They say 'yes' and 'no.' So the engineer in me that likes everything to be orderly, drives me to say what's on the screen before me. 

"3) That last 5 percent is just to see who's listening and who catches on. Bravo to you, sir!"

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