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POLITICS: Madame Chairman



MADAME CHAIRMAN Well, that’s settled, anyhow: Loeffel will head the commission. The big election -- the Memphis city version scheduled for October 7th -- is still to come, but a significant mini-election -- that for the chairmanship of the Shelby County Commission -- has come and gone, and the winner, Marilyn Loeffel, got in without having to break a sweat. To say that was a surprise is an understatement. Less than 24 hours before the commission was scheduled to vote, there were no fewer than four announced Republican candidates for the chairmanship, and since it was the GOP’s turn to nominate a chairman under an annual-rotation agreement between the two major parties, that meant that a majority of the nominating caucus were candidates. Two of those, Tom Moss and Linda Rendtorff, the latter of whom announced her candidacy as recently as Sunday, had advertised themselves as fallback candidates -- possible compromise choices should the expected showdown between Loeffel and first-termer Bruce Thompson not yield a winner. This was not exactly a student-body election, in which the winner’s vanity was mainly what was at stake. Loeffel and Thompson, though nominal party-mates, have wholly different constituencies and philosophical outlooks. Loeffel, who represents Cordova, is a former president of the now-defunct organization FLARE, which opposed abortion , favored school prayer and charter schools, and stressed other social themes favored by Christian fundamentalists. Like Ed McAteer, the ex-marketing director for Colgate toothpaste whose Religious Roundtable lobbies for various social-conservative causes, Loeffel does not advance a complex economic agenda, but she and her constituents are, to be sure, middle-income types averse to paying higher taxes. In practice, Loeffel has voted against all tax-increase resolutions -- including the 25-cent property tax hike of this year -- but has taken something of a scattershot approach to expenditures, voting for some controversial projects this year -- like money for MIFA and WKNO -- and rejecting others. Thompson,whose background is in business and money-managing, has been much more rigorous in pursuing goals of fiscal solvency, backing his commission mate David Lillard’s efforts to impose new budget procedures and,like Lillard, calling for structural changes and reexamining the priorities of county government. Early on in his tenure, he let it be known that he thought Loeffel was allowing her de facto alliance with Democratic chairman Walter Bailey, who had successfully backed her last year for the stepping-stone position of chairman pro tem, to influence her votes. Thompson, Lillard, and, on occasion, other Republicans thought they saw a pattern, too, of Loeffel’s abstaining on issues and voting for courtesy reconsiderations of prior votes so as to advance agendas favored by Bailey and other Democrats. Loeffel didn’t allay these suspicions by couching many of her votes in moralistic, even pious, terms -- at one point justifying her position against casino gambling as one reflecting divine will. Thompson, clearly, was counting on Rendtorff and Joyce Avery to see things his way. He saw Rendtorff’s late-blooming candidacy and the absence Monday of Avery, who was obviously conflicted as to which one of her four colleagues deserved her vote, as lengthening the odds to the point of making his chances academic. At worst, he would lose outright to Loeffel; at best, he could keep her from winning -- thereby handling the election to Rendtorff or Moss, two relatively moderate candidates. The most likely winner in that scenario would have been Moss, a homebuilder whose position on zoning issues had often been 180 degrees away that of Thompson. Hence, Thompson’s concession before Monday’s meeting. Democrat Michael Hooks, who would end up being voted chairman pro tem and is therefore Loeffe’s putative successor next year, nominated Loeffel, who won without a single opponent and without a ne QU

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