Politics » Politics Feature

Showdown in 9-1

Democrat Paul Shaffer, Republican Kemp Conrad vie in special City Council race.



The race to fill former City Council chairman Scott McCormick's vacated seat in Super District 9, Position 1, continues to pick up steam as the two main contestants, businessman Kemp Conrad and union executive Paul Shaffer, compete for blue-chip endorsements and campaign contributions.

The special election contest, to be resolved on the general election ballot of November 4th, was made necessary when McCormick resigned to become head of the Plough Foundation.

Although the race is, strictly speaking, a nonpartisan one, and there is a certain amount of partisan overlap in support for the two candidates, in essence the matchup is a de facto Democrat vs. Republican race, with Shaffer, the longtime business agent of an IBEW union local and a member of the Democratic executive committee, bearing his party's endorsement, and Conrad, a former local Republican chairman, owning the formal GOP nod.

Conrad, who lost a council bid last year to current member Shea Flinn, owns an endorsement this year from the councilman's father, Shelby County commissioner George Flinn, a fellow Republican. (The younger Flinn is a Democrat.) He also has a plethora of endorsements from other well-known figures, including Jack Sammons, the former councilman who is currently filling out McCormick's term on an interim basis.

Last week, Shaffer got public endorsements from two Democratic Party stalwarts, 9th District congressman Steve Cohen and Shelby County mayor A C Wharton. This week he added the formal endorsement of The Commercial Appeal (though the daily newspaper suggested that Conrad also "deserves consideration").

Asked about the partisan aspects of what is formally a nonpartisan race, Cohen noted that 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and other prominent party nominees had carried District 9 in the past, "so if there is a connection, it's good for Paul." Wharton and candidate Shaffer himself agreed but stressed the outreach aspects of the race. "I'm reaching out to everybody. I intend to represent the whole district," Shaffer said.

That last sentiment was concurred by Conrad, who responded to the Cohen/Wharton endorsement ceremony by saying, "People don't care who politicians are endorsing. They care who has a record of service across the board, who can represent blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats, the whole community." He noted that some prominent Democrats have endorsed him as well.

Other candidates are former Shelby County commissioner John Willingham, a longtime Republican himself, and Arnett Montague.

• In an interview just before last week's second presidential debate between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, opined that what he thought was needed above all else was a "greater civility" than had been evident in the first debate two weeks earlier in Oxford, Mississsippi.

The 7th District's GOP congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, on the other hand, thought that what was needed was a greater "aggressiveness," especially from McCain. She thought her man needed to pin Obama down on what Blackburn claimed was his relationship with a long string of radicals from the '60s and '70s.

Another Republican, Tennessee senator Bob Corker, presented with the two alternatives, broke the tie. Aggressiveness? "Naw, I think that leadership is what people are looking for in this debate. In difficult times like this, people are looking for someone who can lead them through. Someone with a steady hand. Leadership, steadiness, and, okay, civility. A lot of yapping back and forth is not what people are looking for at a time like this."

All things considered, it was a good thing that all of the first-round baseball playoffs were over so that the debate could happen during a lull. Once the media types broke away, they seemed to agree on two things: This debate was dull. And this debate was a draw. Civility had triumphed after all, but at a price.

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