On a Saturday afternoon with a crowded calendar of political events, state Rep. G.A. Hardaway invited the winners and losers from the May Democratic county primaries and local Democrats who are on the August ballot to stand together at an airport-area meeting room of about 100 people.
“This is what Shelby County looks like,” he said to the two dozen or so people still seated at the tables, many of them workers in the campaigns of the various candidates.
“A unified Democratic party is coming to take those offices that belong to the people,” he said, referring to the county offices on the August ballot. “We’re not going to have any daytime Democrats and nighttime Republicans.”
The “unity brunch” was a call for Democrats to turn out in heavier numbers than they did in the 2010 general election, during which Republicans swept every countywide office, and a call for the campaigns to get Democratic voters excited.
As Democratic mayoral nominee Deidre Malone talked about “mending” the party, Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham started the weekend by telling a Young Republicans gathering Downtown Friday to keep the lower turnout in the May Republican primaries in perspective. “Some of you are concerned about the 2-to-1 ratio,” he said, referring to the higher turnout in the Democratic primaries. “We had only a couple of races that were very competitive on the Republican side. On the other side, they had almost every race packed with candidates. They had to make a determination who was going to represent them in the general election. So they turned out.”
Oldham focused on the drop-off in the uncontested Democratic primaries, including the primary for sheriff, which drew 28,173 voters. Bennie Cobb, Oldham’s challenger in August, got all but 303 votes, all of which were write-ins.
The turnout of 28,173 was more than 10,000 fewer voters than the 38,538 who turned out for the three-way Democratic primary for mayor.
“That gives us an opportunity,” Oldham said.
Deidre Malone is the Democratic challenger to Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell in the August election.
(Memphis News File/Lance Murphey)
Malone told Democrats that upsetting Republican incumbent Mayor Mark Luttrell in August “won’t be easy,” but she outlined a vigorous challenge of Luttrell.
“We believe in new job opportunities, living wages and women’s rights. It doesn’t make any sense to me that Mark Luttrell’s name has not been mentioned as part of the untested rape kits,” Malone said, referring to the backlog of 300 rape kits the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office counted starting when Oldham succeeded Luttrell as sheriff in 2010. “There are over 300 rape kits that were there when he was sheriff. … He’s been under the radar screen, and we are not going to continue to let that happen.”
Luttrell has said he was unaware of the backlog as sheriff and has worked as mayor to secure funding to clear the backlog and test the kits promptly going forward.
Meanwhile, Joe Brown, the Democratic nominee for Shelby County district attorney general, took a few verbal shots at Republican incumbent Amy Weirich for her office’s decision to not seek charges against an off-duty sheriff’s deputy from Pontotoc County, Miss., who shot an unarmed man six times in the Beale Street entertainment district during a fracas.
He referred to Weirich as “a gatekeeper Downtown who lets it swing one way but not the other.”
But Brown continued to focus on a role of uniting the party and helping other candidates on the Democratic ticket.
“I’m running for D.A.,” he said. “But I’m not campaigning for that now.”
Weirich spoke at the Young Republicans gathering.
“We need everyone to spread the word, particularly in my race, as to why you want a workhorse in the attorney general’s office as opposed to a show horse,” she told the group of 30. “Why you want a real prosecutor and not a Hollywood judge deciding what justice is and making those decisions, tough decisions every day.”
Brown, a retired Shelby County Criminal Court Judge, is aware of the criticism and told Democrats he has maintained a Memphis residence and voted in Memphis elections during his time on the nationally syndicated television program “Judge Joe Brown.”
Brown also acknowledged that some Democratic candidates might not want his help.
“I’m going to help out everyone who wants my help who is going to be a Democratic candidate on this ballot,” he said. “If you don’t want it, tell me and I won’t say a damn thing for you.”
The turnout for the uncontested Democratic primary for district attorney general was 33,680 voters, including 649 write-in votes – the highest number of write-ins for any primary race on the May ballot. The overall turnout was 4,858 fewer voters than in the Democratic primary for mayor.