Politics » Politics Feature

Something for Everybody

The new City Council will offer a variety of types, with crime and education large on the agenda.



Let's be optimistic. The new City Council may turn out to be ideally balanced between Memphis' disparate races, social groups, and special interests.

Among the outright winners last Thursday night were:

District 4: Wanda Halbert, an African American and seasoned Memphis school board member whose inner-city concerns will be balanced with knowledge of mainstream issues;

District 5: Jim Strickland, a lawyer whose whopping 73 percent total over five opponents gave some indication of the widespread appeal enjoyed by this white former Democratic chairman (whose law partner is U.S. attorney David Kustoff, a former GOP chairman);

District 7: Barbara Swearengen Ware, a black veteran and firm ally of Mayor Willie Herenton who easily turned aside an energetic challenge from four opponents;

Super District 8, Position 1: Whether he's profiting from the cachet of the former Criminal Court judge and current TV jurist who has the same name or, alternatively, is just well liked for his stout attention to inner-city neighborhood concerns, Joe Brown made it back easily over two opponents;

Super District 8, Position 2: More moderate than her reputation in some quarters, Janis Fullilove has been a fixture on the airwaves for almost two decades, and her name recognition was enough to overpower seven well-qualified opponents, including interim incumbent Henry Hooper;

Super District 8, Position 3: Myron Lowery, a hard-working fixture on the council for a generation and a pillar of both mainstream and minority concerns, had no problem with his two opponents;

Super District 9, Position 1: Scott McCormick, the likely new chairman, outpolled all other council candidates and prevailed easily in a battle in which his ex-military opponent made few public appearances;

Super District 9, Position 2: Shea Flinn, Democratic son of a Republican county commissioner, outpointed runner-up Kemp Conrad, who had GOP support, thanks to his big-bucks campaign, his own appeal, and an impressive run from "Memphis Watchdog" Joe Saino, who harvested liberally from Conrad's conservative base;

Super District 9, Position 3: The winner here was developer Reid Hedgepeth, whose campaign spent big-time and had so many yard signs that Hedgepeth's campaign manager, retiring councilman Jack Sammons, wryly suggested recycling some of them at a late fund-raiser.

Though he may have lost some votes to challenger Lester Lit, Hedgepeth saw his main competitor, lawyer Desi Franklin, sharing enough crucial votes with fellow Democrat Mary Wilder to have to settle for runner-up status.

There will be runoffs on November 8th in four district races.

District 1: School board member Stephanie Gatewood, a middle-of-the-road black, vies with teacher Bill Morrison in a northern-suburb district whose demographics now tilt African-American. Educators won't lose either way.

District 2: The survivors from a multi-candidate field in this eastern-edge district are, as expected, former assessor and veteran civic figure Bill Boyd and hard-charging, well-supported lawyer Brian Stephens, who had the early head start. A tossup.

District 3: Though still youthful, Harold Collins is a veteran of public service and has much influential support, while teacher Ike Griffith has some grass-roots strength of his own. Collins is considered the favorite.

District 6: Another teacher, Edmund Ford Jr., now a graduate student, had a sizable election day lead over runner-up James O. Catchings, himself a well-known educator. It remains to be seen whether the current legal predicament of Ford's father, who is leaving the seat, will be a help or a hindrance in the runoff.

Wasting no time: Three of the newly elected council members — Strickland, Hedgepeth, and Flinn — met Monday for a working lunch at the Little Tea Shop, a downtown restaurant.

The trio compared notes on the campaign and discussed issues, agreeing that crime control would be the dominant issue for the newly configured council.

Hedgepeth, a 30-year-old political newcomer, took criticism during the campaign for avoiding all the scheduled candidate forums. He acknowledged he had relied heavily on the advice of Sammons and co-campaign manager Nathan Green. But he quipped, "I'll be at all the forums from now on!"

Those, he was reminded, will be scheduled on Tuesday at regular two-week intervals.

Notes on the mayoral runners-up: Opinions on the responses to their defeats by mayoral runner-up Carol Chumney and third-place finisher Herman Morris vary significantly.

Everybody seems to regard Morris' election night statement to have been a "gracious" — if somewhat pro forma and dull-normal — concession. (In other words, the staid Morris bowed out the same way he came in.) Particularly appreciated was the former MLGW head's suggestion to his supporters that they give the victorious Mayor Herenton a round of applause. (Some, however, thought he was smirking at the resultant Sound of One Hand Clapping.)

I remember Morris breaking through his cocoon of dignified restraint a few times during the campaign. Once in particular, when, at a fund-raiser before some of his well-heeled supporters at the Galloway House, he waxed passionate and eloquent with an analogy between the desperate emotions of the Memphians of the Yellow Fever era and those of today's city-dwellers hoping to ride out the crime menace.

When I moderated a Rotary Club debate between Morris, Chumney, and John Willingham, I gave each of them a chance to reenact one of the glory moments I had glimpsed them in during the campaign. In Morris' case, it was that speech at the Galloway House.

What he ended up doing was some wonky recitation of his published crime plan. Nothing even close to what I'd asked for. When I saw him elsewhere, a day or two later, I said, "Hey, Herman, what happened? I was trying to set you up."

He shrugged and said, "Well, that sort of thing isn't on call."

And my thought was: It's a good thing for the Yankees that Roger Clemens' fast ball is on call. (Actually, by way of either distorting or confirming the analogy, it seemed not to be this past week, as the Yanks were eliminated in the American League playoffs.)

In contrast to Morris' speech on election night, Chumney's swan song was more of a trumpet blast — some might say, a tooting of her own horn for some further campaign yet to be waged. Not until the end of a fairly extended address to her still enthusiastic troops did a note of conciliation creep in. And that, to mix a metaphor, was a rather left-handed note: "I had worthy opponents. I will work with them any way I can."

Given her limited success in bonding with her soon-to-be-former councilmates and with the man who had just defeated her for mayor, that wouldn't seem to be an extraordinary number of ways. And she would probably be wasting her time if she sat by a telephone waiting on a phone call from one of the indicated worthies.

Also striking was her dismissal of only one of the three late polls — the one conducted by Steve Ethridge for The Commercial Appeal — that hadn't shown her neck-and-neck with Herenton. A "disservice to the public," she called it. Gotcha, Carol. That's how I feel about the folks who don't show me proper appreciation, too.

And, to be sure, there was something gallant, even impressive (if arguably myopic), about Chumney's bulldog attitude, her persistence, and her refusal to stop finding fault with the Herenton administration in her concession speech, even at a time when protocol called upon her to make nice. (No observer of protocol she, for better or for worse, and actually for both.)

If she had somehow managed to win, she would have become an instant cynosure for the national media. Governing? Well, who knows?

A Chumney race for county mayor in 2010? Not impossible. It seems clear that we haven't seen the last of this very determined political figure.

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