Politics » Politics Feature

The Race Factor

Herenton win would restore "African-American seat," says Chism.



Acknowledging that race will be a theme in next year's 9th District congressional race, Shelby County commissioner Sidney Chism, a major backer of Memphis mayor Willie Herenton's candidacy, seemed to concede that the 68-year-old Herenton might be a short-term congressman if successful against incumbent Steve Cohen in the 2010 Democratic primary.

"It's an African-American seat," Chism told the Flyer in the course of a weekend interview, "and if he just serves one term, it will reestablish the pattern. And after that, there won't be any nine or 10 [black] candidates running."

Chism expressed confidence in a Herenton victory and discounted a recent poll by Berge Yacoubian showing Cohen with a healthy lead. "He's never had Herenton winning in any election," said Chism, who contended further: "All the mayor has to do to win is keep the support he already has. He doesn't need anybody new."

Terry Roland, the Millington grocer and conservative Republican who came within a few votes in late 2005 of winning a special election in a predominantly black state Senate district, is a candidate again — this time for District 4, Position 3 on the Shelby County Commission.

And Roland told supporters at a weekend fund-raiser that anticonsolidation would be a major theme of his campaign.

"If we consolidate, not only are the people going to leave, but the businesses will be right behind them. They'll be following their taillights," Roland said.

"It's good for the Tipton County Chamber of Commerce," he said. "If we consolidate, we'll end up like East St. Louis or Detroit, because the people will be gone."

He offers a glimmer of hope. Since several plants have shut down in Tipton County, officials there will have to raise property taxes to pay for overdue improvements in infrastructure. "Now is the time for us to make our move and lower ours," as a means of coaxing self-exiled Shelby Countians back onto home turf.

In the course of his remarks, Roland repeated his prior criticism of Shelby County commissioner Steve Mulroy's role in the commission's recent passage of an antidiscrimination resolution.

Said Roland: "He knows it's getting close to election time. The problem I have with anybody doing that is putting their fellow man and their community at risk. You get people mad at each other, which could really be avoided, a battle that doesn't need to be fought. We could make this a better world if we didn't have people on both sides of the aisle stirring up trouble."

• A possible opponent for Mulroy in next year's Democratic primary is Keith Norman, the immediate past chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, whose candidacy has been consistently predicted of late by blogger Thaddeus Matthews.

Asked about the prospect, the hulking but affable pastor of First Baptist Church on Broad Avenue said, "I consider Steve Mulroy to be a good friend, and I think he has done a very good job for the district on the commission." So, reports of his wanting to run against Mulroy were wrong?

"I didn't say that. I might make that race. I might run for something else," answered Norman, who indeed has floated trial balloons for a variety of political races in the past, including one for city mayor. He pointed out that he considered running for the District 5 seat in 2006, the same year Mulroy contended for the seat and won it.

Norman expressed no disagreement with Mulroy on the issue of the nondiscrimination resolution. "I don't think there should be discrimination against anybody," he said.

The former chairman acknowledged that some members of the Democratic executive committee had criticized him for frequent absences from committee meetings. There were only six such absences out of 24 meetings, he maintained, and three of those had been caused by his involvement in activities related to the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama.

Some of the meetings he had not attended had become "free-for-alls," Norman said, offering that fact as part of the case for his chairmanship having been a strong one.

"Nobody got out of line when I was presiding," he said. "I was able to control things and keep the party's attention on the business at hand."

For more on these and other stories, see Political Beat at memphisflyer.com.

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