Mar 02 2015

A Shake-up, or a Shakedown?

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Memphis Politics

George Little and Jack Sammons

George Little and Jack Sammons

Monday’s announcement that Jack Sammons was Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s choice to take over as the City’s CAO is only surprising in that it took so long to happen.

The mayor’s administration has been mired in criticism from city employees, and citizens who don’t feel they’re getting much in the way of anything (tax savings or increased services) from the years of pain that have been endured and will most likely continue to be endured regardless of who wins in October.

But the Mayor, who won in a landslide just 3 and a half years ago, should be feeling the heat.

The political capital his 2011 win garnered isn’t gone, just long forgotten. And after years of promises, and little in the way of delivery…there’ growing discontent in the city about the way the cards have fallen, and just what the Mayor’s vision is for the city.

Make no mistake about it…Mayor Wharton is good at stitching a yarn together, or making pretty words sound good about what a vision might look like. But when it comes to putting that vision into action in a way that the people can see…he’s left much to be desired.

And, with a heated election just seven months away, and a more heated budget battle with at least two City Councilmen looking at his job, putting an ineffective communicator out there, with little political credibility isn’t going to help the Mayor keep his spot on the seventh floor of 125 N. Main.

Enter Jack Sammons…

As a player in the City game since the late 80’s, Sammons knows what’s expected, and most think he knows how to deliver. His two month stint as the CAO under interim-Mayor Myron Lowery is held up as an example of what a longer term stint might bring.

There are some real hurdles to overcome, like his gig with the Airport Commission. But the Mayor seems to think the State Legislature will pass a law that he wants that would fix it, even though there’s no real reason to believe that.

As for Sammons, no one questions his profile. His time in the City Council and on other boards have given Memphians a kind of comfort with him. For the most part, we know what Jack will deliver…and AC knows this.

Its the kind of political calculation that one might expect from an election year. In the CA article, outgoing CAO George Little laid the play bare saying:

“I’ll tell you what I don’t bring to this job, and I don’t mind saying it. I’m a longtime civil servant. … Where I can’t serve the mayor is in terms of political strategy.”

There it is folks…political strategy. I’ll get into that in just a second.

By the way, Little isn’t going away, just to another in a long line of mystery funded executive positions that didn’t exist four years ago.

Let’s hear it for efficiency!

Strategery

Political strategy is something AC desperately needs if he’s going to hang on to the top spot in the City. Every passing week brings another candidate, tasting blood in the water, looking to exploit the Mayor’s perceived weakness.

But the Mayor, over the past couple of weeks, has stepped his game up, making sure the media is there for every baby kissing, kid camping, and potential economic development deal he can muster. There’s no question a Jack Sammons at the helm of the CAO’s spot will only accelerate that.

And there’s the election strategy. A Jack Sammons at the helm of the city sends a signal to the City’s business community…who have been in AC’s camp since 2011, that all will be ok, we’re working on it, and don’t jump ship just yet.

This is a big blow to the Strickland campaign, who no doubt sought to at least divide the business folks out of AC’s camp, and unify voters in the Poplar corridor. Sammons’ entry to the AC administration puts a damper on that effort. I’m not saying Strickland’s sunk…just that the bar got raised a little bit.

As for the rest of the crowd, they’re left fighting over the voters that aren’t as sexy to the media…you know, regular people. I’m not saying Strickland and AC won’t reach out to them too, but with those two at the top of the ticket, you know the local media was salivating over a Poplar corridor showdown. Now, that could play second fiddle…and with some of the things the Mayor has up his sleeve right now, he could use those to grab just enough to win a plurality in October with Sammons’ help.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not counting out the top tier of the front-runners, but if they don’t have a bad case of heartburn right now, they’re fooling themselves.

Shake-up or Shakedown

But the real political question to me is this:

Is this shakeup the move of a leader who recognizes he’s got a problem and is trying to fix it, or is this a shakedown of the city’s business community/Poplar corridor voters, basically saying, stick with me or else?

Anyone who’s watched Season 4 of The Wire knows the basic playbook this campaign was going to take. But this is a curve ball for those folks looking to keep some plot purity.

And while the State Legislature may stand in the way, that may still not be a loss for Mayor Wharton. There are political fortunes to be made using the ‘foreign other’ (Legislators standing in the way) as a blunt instrument to rally the troops.

Regardless of whether or not Sammons actually takes the CAO job with the city, he’s put himself out there, ready to use his considerable political skills for the Mayor, and that’s more than just a moral victory for Mayor Wharton.

Jan 18 2015

District 5 free-for-all

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, elections, Memphis Politics

The entry of District 5 Councilman Jim Strickland into the race for Mayor of Memphis has set up a free-for-all in the race for his district.

Right now there are four people who have either declared, or are openly considering a run. I’ll be honest with you, I only know two of them, and a third, I only know anything about because of a Facebook post.

Hardly much of anything to go on.

Still, its a long way to October, and candidates have plenty of time to define themselves…or be defined by each other.

I’ll tell you what I know, and look at the way the district’s been voting. And if any of you candidates want to chime in with links or more information, do it in the comments.

The Candidates

Candidates listed in alphabetical order

Worth Morgan

Worth Morgan

Worth Morgan

I found out about Morgan’s potential candidacy through this Commercial Appeal article announcing another candidates run.

Morgan doesn’t have much of an online profile. His Facebook profile is locked down. As of this writing, there is no Facebook page, twitter handle, or website for his campaign.

What can be found is that he is the child of Musette and Allen Morgan, the latter of Morgan Keegan fame.

I also found this old MUS newsletter talking about Worth’s childhood liver problems, and the family’s commitment to funding research.

By virtue of his family, Worth could be a strong fundraiser (I know that’s a stereotype, but I don’t have much else to go on) or could possibly ‘self-fund’. As for positions, I have no idea. It seems odd to me that a potential candidate would put themselves out there without anything to begin defining them. But, if you subscribe to the money vs. message worldview (which I’m not sure I do because that worldview assumes mutual exclusivity) whatever message Worth comes up with, he’ll most likely have the money to get it out to the masses.

Does he have the public profile to compete in what will likely be one of the most competitive races this fall? That remains to be seen.

Charles ‘Chooch’ PickardFacebook

Charles 'Chooch' Pickard

Charles ‘Chooch’ Pickard

Pickard (aka Chooch) organized an exploratory committee for the District 5 seat in late 2014. An architect by trade, Pickard has been involved in several public and non-profit organizations over the past 6+ years.

In 2009 he was named Executive Director of the Memphis Regional Design Center, an organization that seeks to bring economic stability through land use, planning and design.

That may not sound like a big deal in Memphis, a city where folks consistently list crime and poverty as primary issues, but the wealth of vacant and blighted properties in Memphis only exacerbates those problems, and makes for convenient havens for crime. Those vacant properties also represent a decreased property tax base, which means less revenue, which then translates to fewer services and higher taxes. At the very least, land use is an issue that must be tackled in tandem with these other issues that grab more headlines.

Currently, Pickard serves on the MATA board and is the Executive Architect at City South Ventures, which is seeking to redevelop the U.S. Marine Hospital, which is just south of Crump and the South Bluffs area.

Pickard announced on his Facebook Page that he would have a meeting to make a decision about a potential run. So far, no word on whether he’s in for sure or not.

Dan Springerwebsite | Facebook Page | Twitter

Dan Springer

Dan Springer

Dan Springer announced his candidacy mere moments after Strickland announced his run for Mayor. The two articles were competing with each other on the CA website. But that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, Springer interned with the law firm of Kustoff & Strickland several years ago, so he likely had an inside track.

Currently Springer serves as the Director of Communications for Evolve Bank & Trust. Previously he served as an Executive Assistant to Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and a Legislative Aide to U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

According to people who know Springer, his GOP bona fides notwithstanding, he’s moderate and open minded. Its hard to say how Springer’s GOP background will play in District 5…which has been a swing area in the past two County elections (Luttrell carried the area, but Democrats were voted in on the County Commission). By virtue of his relationship with Mayor Luttrell, there’s little doubt he will have a strong fundraising operation.

Mary Wilder

Mary Wilder

Mary Wilder

Wilder has been a fixture in the Evergreen Vollentine neighborhood for as long as I’ve been in Memphis (which means even longer than that). Wilder is a strong advocate for neighborhoods, and has been active in several civic and political organizations for quite some time.

In 2007 Wilder was named to the Tennessee State House District 89 in an interim position after State Senator Beverly Marerro won the Senate District 30 seat. In 2007 she ran for Memphis City Council District 9 position 3, losing to Reid Hedgepeth in a tight 3-way race.

Wilder is retired but was most recently the Facilities Director at MIFA.

Wilder’s strong ties to the community and neighborhood advocacy make her an early favorite, especially with the Midtown corridor of District 5. The Midtown area has very high voter participation compared to other areas in District 5 and Wilder is a well known and respected quantity in those areas.

Mary’s track record as a community advocate will also likely play well in the struggling neighborhoods within District 5. Many of those neighborhoods have been thirsting for a strong voice on the Council and feel a bit like an afterthought in both Council and County Commission discussions.

Conclusion

Of course, its still early, and perhaps too early to make any decisions about anything, but Springer came out of the gate strong, and that means the other candidates have a little catching up to do.

It will be interesting to see what the candidates report on their early financial disclosures next month.

The deadline for petitions isn’t until July, but the race, like it or not, is well underway.

District 5 has some of the highest turnout, and has more concentrated wealth than perhaps any other single member district that will be in play this cycle. That means candidates will have to raise a lot of money, and have robust organizations to get their message out.

District 5 is also a 50%+1 district, meaning, with at least four people (so far) vying for the seat, there’s the very real possibility of a run-off election a month after the October election. This makes organization and fundraising even more critical in the months before the July petition deadline.

Its going to be very interesting. As I find out more about the individual candidates, I’ll update this post.

Ed. Note – If you’re a candidate for District 5 and have more information you’d like me to include in this post, shoot me a note via my Contact Page.

Dec 11 2014

The Steve Ross Show – Episode 3

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, The Steve Ross Show

Episode 3 of the Steve Ross Show is up and ready for your viewing pleasure.

You can watch it below or by clicking here.

This episode focuses on the issues surround police militarization, and the protests that have arisen since the Michael Brown and Eric Garner Grand Jury Decisions.

I spoke with Brad Watkins of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center about all that and more.

I’ll be posting the extended interview very soon, so stay tuned for that.

Enjoy the show!

Nov 30 2014

Populism alone won’t save Southern Democrats

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, National Politics, TNDP
Complete Devestation

Complete Devestation

Friday, the AP published an article pushing for more populism from Democratic candidates in Southern states to help revive the respective state party organizations.

I agree that a more populist message would help motivate Democratic voters, and possibly move some swing voters our way, but the notion that populism alone is the answer is moronic.

Because any messaging tactic one might bring to a campaign is worthless without the apparatus to effectively deliver that message. That’s where Democrats in the South, and plenty of other places, have been failing.

I constantly hear from Republicans to be ready to do battle with “Democratic Machine Politics”, but I’ve not seen much evidence of a machine at all in recent years. Certainly not on the local and state levels.

That’s where we’re getting destroyed. And the destruction will have long lasting effects on the politics and policies of individual states, and the federal government going forward.

But its not just Tennessee, its happening all over.

Here’s what they’re saying in Arizona about their state party structure.

“There’s got to be a serious autopsy. And I say autopsy because I think we’re dead at this point. The infrastructure is dead, the party structure is dead….

It’s not just money, we have a much bigger problem than that. I can’t blame anybody. I’m part of the problem, too.”

– Arizona House Minority Leader Rep. Chad Campbell

If this refrain sounds familiar, it should. I’ve been saying something similar to this since 2008.

I suggest you go and read the whole thing, because there’s a glimmer of hope in the statement from AZ House Minority Leader Chad Campbell…recognition.

Unlike Democratic leaders in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and other deep south states, Campbell actually understands two critical problems:

  1. That the state political structure is dead.
  2. That he is at least somewhat responsible for killing it.

That kind of recognition is absent from far too many of the discussions being had around here.

But this post isn’t about blame…because that’s not productive. In fact, I have no interest in calling names or anything like that, because we’re all responsible on one level or another.

This post is about the transformative power of recognizing the problem.

The Arizona Democratic Party actually has a chance now…if only its leaders will act on the recognition of their State House Minority Leader.

We need our leaders, including school board members, County Commissioners, State House and Senate members, State Executive Committee members, and US Representatives, to recognize the role they play in contributing to the problem…and begin working on concrete actions to start building something…anything.

That means finding something for campaign teams to do once the election is over.

We can’t just build campaign teams for the election and then let all that talent get scattered to the wind once the cycle is over. We have to keep these folks in the fold, so all that time training and mentoring doesn’t go to waste.

We have to build a bench, and keep that bench game ready.

But we don’t do that…ever. We fight amongst ourselves about petty party issues, and pigeon-hole people as one faction or another (that we have decided we don’t like) and let that get in the way of building. Its stupid.

Its funny to me that Democrats are the Party that professes to stand up for the little guy, when we consistently squander the “little guy” campaign talent as soon as the election cycle is over.

Then, two years later, we come calling on these folks, hoping they’re still around to help us…and more often than not, they have done what any self-respecting person would do…they’ve moved on.

Republicans don’t do that. They keep their people busy. And while some might say they have more money than we do…part of that is because they don’t ever stop campaigning. They keep their army busy fundraising, advocating, and recruiting.

We don’t, and that’s what’s killing us.

I’ve been saying the same thing for more than six years now, and I don’t care if you’re tired of hearing it. No one has really, effectively put anything in motion for any period of time because we spend so much time second-guessing ourselves into inaction, and ultimately, failure.

Until we decide to get over ourselves, and stop looking around the corner for the next internal boogeyman, we’ll never be able to take on the real villain that’s right in front of us…and has taken over.

Nov 29 2014

The Comedy and Tragedy of James Harvey’s Mayoral Aspirations

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, elections

Its more of a tragedy than a comedy

This is more of a tragedy than a comedy

In the blur of pre-Thanksgiving preparations, and the shadow of the Ferguson Grand Jury decision, a process that even Justice Scalia thinks was nuts, comes this article on the “non-traditional” campaign of former County Commissioner, James Harvey for Mayor of the City of Memphis.

Now, Harvey’s illustrious eight years on the County Commission are remarkable, only in that he was never seriously challenged…which says something about the sad state of affairs in politics in Shelby County.

The most notable item about his time on the Commission is his unique ability to begin speaking in favor of an issue, and by the end of his external monologue, have talked himself out of his own position, which doesn’t say anything about his ability to see both sides of an issue…rather, it speaks to just how few convictions he has on anything.

Veasey’s article frames Harvey as conducting the beginnings of a non-traditional campaign, working independent of money, to win the hearts and minds of Memphians a full ten months before the election…and at least five months before the campaign begins in earnest.

Now, if you’re one of those disappointed in the leadership at City Hall, and there’s a growing group of people that feel that way, you might be interested in looking to something fresh and new. And while that instinct may not be misplaced, any faith in Harvey’s ability to turn the City around is absolutely misplaced unless you think he can do that with his ample supply botched platitudes and mixed metaphors.

And while there’s no doubt that money alone doesn’t buy Mayorships, the fact that Harvey has raised less than 10k, nearly a year after announcing his candidacy, says something about his support citywide…that there isn’t any.

This fact should be well understood by looking at previous efforts to get elected to something…anything by Harvey.

In 2011, he ran for Mayor against Wharton and Edmund Ford Sr. Harvey managed to eek out just over 2000 votes in the effort, putting him in 3rd place behind Wharton’s 48.6k and Ford’s nearly 21k.

In the only other race that Harvey has faced an opponent and won, the 2006 Primary Election for County Commission, Harvey won just over 4700 votes, for 41% of the vote. Hardly a mandate.

But what’s most comical is that anyone would think of Harvey as a contender in a race against a sitting Mayor, who has a proven record of fielding a vigorous campaign, and a growing list of capable candidates seeking to unseat that Mayor…of which, Harvey is far from being in the top tier.

So while its understandable that…as we get closer to the October election, there should be a discussion of the declared candidates, the comedy and tragedy of it all is that Harvey is even mentioned as viable. He’s not.

If you’re one of those who feel Memphis needs new leadership, pinning your hopes on James Harvey is an exercise in futility.

Look elsewhere…anywhere else.

There will be more viable candidates emerge as we get closer to the filing deadline.

As for Harvey, I’m glad the CA got this fluff piece out of the way when no one was really paying attention. Hopefully they’ll decide to ignore him along with the crackpots and maroons who will inevitably file to run.

We need to have a real discussion, not distractions, about the top spot at City Hall…and no amount of framing will place Harvey at the big boys table in that discussion.