Politics » Politics Feature

POLITICS: Blogrolling

One way or another, the proprietors of Web logs are upping the ante in local politics.



Though there are still some local pols who discount the influence of Memphis’ ever-growing blogger community on elections and other circumstances, two active political figures have made it emphatically clear they take the bloggers very seriously indeed.

One was state Senate speaker pro tem Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, who, as noted in a previous column, recently made a point of meeting with several of the more prominent Memphis bloggers to communicate her views about legislative business and to offer her explanation of why she, though a Democrat, had voted back in January to make Republican Ron Ramsey Speaker of the Senate.

Now Herman Morris, the former MLGW head who has launched a serious campaign for mayor, acknowledges that he has sounded out the same set of bloggers, most of them on the “progressive” side of the spectrum, about a possible get-together in the near future to discuss the specifics of his campaign.

Gallagher vs. Richardson: The same group of bloggers is also playing a role in the developing special Democratic primary race for the state House District 89 seat recently vacated by Beverly Marrero, now a state senator. Longtime activist David Upton, who managed Marrero’s successful Senate campaign, is now the main sponsor of Jeannie Richardson, one of two Democratic candidates for the District 89 seat.

Circumstances have changed dramatically since last month when, as was reported here, the other candidate, Kevin Gallagher, was estranged from several members of his initial support base, many of them bloggers, for reasons essentially personal.

At the time, it appeared that Richardson would inherit their support. But Gallagher has patiently gone about the business of mending fences, and most of the alienated supporters are back on board — some of them, like Rick Maynard of the Freedonian blog (thefreedonian.blogspot.com), enthusiastically so.

“He’s been very conscientious about addressing all the issues, both personal and political,” said Maynard, who also said that a temporary alliance between himself and other bloggers, on one hand, and Upton on the other, had dissolved.

A conspicuous exception to the rapprochement is Stephen Tapp, whose “Daily Docket” blog (dailydocket.blogspot.com) now features an extensive listing of Richardson’s qualifications as well as posts that are unflattering to Gallagher.

Gallagher, who was campaign manager during Steve Cohen’s successful congressional campaign last year, and Tapp, a longtime friend and supporter of Cohen, had disagreements at the time over campaign strategy.

One of the allegations that Upton and others have made against Gallagher is that, after withdrawing his own candidacy in the state Senate race, he basically had reneged on a pledge to support Marrero’s primary campaign, ultimately successful, against lawyer Robert Spence.

Gallagher has protested that characterization as incorrect. In an e-mail to the Flyer, he said, in part: “Aside [from] withdrawing from the senate race to endorse Senator Marrero, which all but ensured her victory, I also sent out mail pieces to 5,000 voters expressly saying don’t vote for me but for Beverly Marrero.

“I talked to Upton on a daily basis to help with the campaign and was at every event. I also coordinated mailings from other sources as independent expenditures, which, by law, the Marrero campaign could not know about. I still have the invoices that detail my ‘remote’ involvement.”

Upton disputes all that and maintains that he, not Gallagher, paid for the mail piece alluded to, one in which, as indicated, Gallagher, whose name was still on the ballot, disavowed his own candidacy in favor of Marrero’s.

Claiming that he, too, has invoices to prove the point, Upton also denies that Gallagher was much in evidence during the duration of Marrero’s primary campaign or her successful general election race against Republican Larry Parrish.

Another issue in the race could be that of Richardson’s residence. Upton maintains that she has moved from a house she owns on Mud Island, which is out of the district, to an address well within the District 89 lines. Maynard contests that, saying that the Midtown address is a nominal one only, inhabited mainly by a principal in the Richardson campaign with whom Richardson may at times share the space.

A key factor in the race could be the attitude of Representative Cohen, who is considered friendly to both camps. Gallagher expressed confidence that the congressman will issue a formal endorsement before the special May 31st primary date. Richardson’s backers believe that he will stay out of the race.

• A mayoral candidacy may have been launched at Saturday’s first meeting of the venerable Dutch Treat Luncheon to be sponsored by the conservative publication Main Street Journal. But mayor of what?

The declarer, in any case, was first-term county commissioner James Harvey, who, in response to a question about his future political intentions, said he intended to run for mayor. But Harvey discussed the issue in such general terms that it seemed to confuse members of the luncheon audience in Cordova.

Many seemed to think Harvey meant he would run for mayor of Memphis in this year’s city election, but he had previously confided that he is looking at the 2010 county mayor’s race. In the meantime, said Harvey, “I am going to be devoting full attention to my position as county commissioner.”

Harvey is a Democrat. Two Republicans who have been speculated on as potential 2010 mayoral candidates are Trustee Bob Patterson and county commissioner George Flinn, who ran as the Republican nominee for the office in 2002.

Ford Trial: Time Runs Out

A timely new element was introduced in federal court this week as former state senator John Ford’s “Tennessee Waltz” trial on bribery and extortion charges was coming to an end — much sooner than most observers had predicted.

This was the presentation by the prosecution of a $50,000 Rolex watch that the government insists was given to Ford by developer Rusty Hyneman in return for specific legislative favors. It was brought into evidence in Ford’s trial to buttress the government’s claim that it had properly “predicated” Ford as a suspect — i.e., demonstrated his disposition to illegal activity on behalf of the FBI “shell firm” E-Cycle, on whose behalf, the prosecution argues, Ford did legislative favors for $55,000 in payoffs.

When the watch was presented in a preliminary hearing earlier this year, it had somehow lost proper time from the point when it was taken off Ford’s wrist in May 2005 at the time of his arrest in Nashville. That made it a handy trope of sorts for an argument between the two sides Monday over the timing and meaning of conversation and events.

When court adjourned for a lunchtime break, presiding judge Daniel Breen noted that the expensive watch should be secured.

As part of the aftermath to that statement, members of the two teams began engaging in lighthearted banter. For what was almost surely the first time since the trial began on Monday, April 9th, Ford took part in such conversation, trading jokes back and forth with FBI agents Mark Jackson and Brian Burns about the watch.

That bit of activity might or might not have indicated something about subdued levels of tension on Ford’s part. In any case, the prosecution rested its case against Ford shortly after Jackson’s testimony was concluded.

The defense, which had been expected to present a parade of witnesses of its own, closed its case out by lunchtime on Tuesday — having called only three witnesses: attorney Allan Wade and clothing designer William Watson, each of whom testified about details of Ford’s acquisition of the Rolex, and Mina Nicole Knox, a Ford girlfriend.

Knox’s testimony, challenged repeatedly by assistant prosecutor Lorraine Craig, tended to minimize E-Cycle aspects of the relationship between Ford and undercover FBI agent L.C. McNeil and suggested, for whatever it was worth, that the latter may have engaged in more than casual relationships with at least two females during the course of the sting.

With the case apparently headed for closing arguments and imminent consideration by the jury, the defense seems to have believed that the “entrapment” defense, linchpin of its strategy, had been buttressed by this circumstance and by other elements of Ford’s relationship with FBI principals.

After the surprising leniency of the “voluntary manslaughter” verdict given defendant Mary Winkler in the concurrent murder trial in Selmer, it seemed possible that subjective elements could weigh as heavily on this trial’s jurors as they may have in Selmer.

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