Things Go From Hot To Smoking Hot In Election Contests

By Bill Dries

With one week to the filing deadline for the Oct. 4 Memphis city elections, 124 citizens have thought seriously enough about running for the 15 offices on the ballot to check out qualifying petitions. Nearly 40 had filed by the end of the first week.

By next Thursday, the undecided will make their decisions. But based on past elections, most of those with petitions will not take the plunge and run for elected office. A small number will decide all of this was a bad idea by the July 26 withdrawal deadline, or switch races.

Here is a look at how the fields are shaping up in the mayor's race, the race for all 13 council seats, as well as the contest for city court clerk as of early Wednesday:

· Mayor: Nine contenders have filed out of 22 with petitions. Incumbent Willie Herenton made probably the biggest splash at his filing July 3 with a diatribe aimed at the media and political opponents as Shelby County Election Commission staffers were still checking the signatures on his petition and sorting his paperwork.

His top two challengers, City Council member Carol Chumney and former Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division (MLGW) president Herman Morris have filed as well. So has former County Commissioner John Willingham, the veteran of the field with a 2003 bid for city mayor and a dismissed court challenge after all the votes were counted four years ago.

· City Council District 1: With incumbent E.C. Jones not running again, this shapes up as a battle between Stephanie Gatewood, who represents the same voters in the same district on the City School Board and Antonio "2 Shay" Parkinson, a Shelby County firefighter and former local Music Commission board chairman.

· City Council District 2: Another wide -open district race as Brent Taylor steps out of the council limelight. Of five candidates filed, Brian Stephens has had the highest profile as a leader of efforts to oppose an Italian restaurant planned for Cordova by topless nightclub kingpin Steve Cooper. Stephens and other opponents claim Cooper will flip the windowless building from a restaurant to a strip club once he gets the necessary city permits and opens the doors.

· City Council District 3: Madeleine Cooper Taylor won the interim appointment earlier this year to the seat vacated by TaJuan Stout Mitchell and filed her petition just this week. Fifteen people have checked out petitions, making this one of the most active on the ballot.

"It took me a while to just get a feel for what the council and what working for city government is all about," Taylor said. "It was not a sudden decision."

The other more recognizable candidates include several spurned by the council earlier this year in an appointment process criticized for changing ground rules and a decision to reopen the filing process. Those spurned but not discouraged include City Schools employee Ike Griffith; Coleman Thompson, the 2006 Democratic nominee for county register; and Harold Collins, an assistant to District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, who coordinates many of the office's outreach efforts. All three have filed.

· City Council District 4: A no man's land in terms of filing. No one had filed as of Wednesday morning for the seat being vacated by Dedrick Brittenum. But there are several big names with petitions out: City School Board member Wanda Halbert and labor leader Eddie Neal, fresh off an interim appointment to the State House of Representatives in the recent game of musical chairs in the Shelby County legislative delegation.

· City Council District 5: The so-called Midtown district, even though District 4 takes in part of the turf, is always a hotbed of political activity. Former local Democratic party chairman Jim Strickland has filed for the seat Carol Chumney is giving up to run for mayor. Contemplating a bid is Denise Parkinson, a vocal member of the group that recently made an unsuccessful bid to save the Libertyland amusement park.

· City Council District 6: Only the mayor's race has seen more filing action to date. Five candidates have filed for the seat held by a member of the Ford family since 1972. Edmund Ford won't be seeking re-election, but his son, Edmund Ford Jr., has filed. So has Perry Bond, who has run for the seat four times and made a bid for the school board seat from the same district. Also with a petition out is former city school board member Ed Vaughn.

· City Council District 7: She's faced some stiff challenges in the past, including a little-remembered bid by Rickey Peete to take back his old district seat fresh from prison for his first bribery conviction. Barbara Swearengen Ware may be the most under-rated council member in terms of electoral strength. She also hadn't filed by Wednesday.

· City Council Super District 8: Incumbent Joe Brown in Position 1 was safe at last look with no opposition and no one else even picking up a petition. But the super district races can see a lot of last-minute shifts, especially if other races fill up and challengers start looking to avoid the political traffic jam.

Most of the action is for Peete's Position 2 seat vacant since Peete resigned and pleaded guilty June 1 to federal bribery charges. Fifteen potential candidates have petitions out. Henry Hooper, appointed to fill Peete's vacant seat in Position 2, had a petition out before he won the appointment. Some of those who lost out on the appointment also have petitions as well. Position 3 incumbent Myron Lowery so far has only perennial candidate Jesse Neely to worry about and, unlike Lowery, Neely hasn't filed.

· City Council Super District 9: Incumbents Scott McCormick (Position 1), Tom Marshall (Position 2) and Jack Sammons (Position 3) all have petitions out. None has filed yet. Marshall, the council's longest-serving member and its chairman during a politically tempestuous year, could face self-described watchdog Joe Saino. The most notable among Sammons' potential challengers is attorney Desi Franklin, a member of the local Democratic party's executive committee.

· City Court Clerk: Incumbent Thomas Long filed last week with three potential challengers holding petitions.