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VOL. 123 | NO. 156 | Monday, August 11, 2008

Cohen, Blackburn Lead Local Election Winners

By Bill Dries

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More than half and possibly as much as 75 percent of Shelby County’s nearly 626,000 voters are expected to turn out for the Nov. 4 election that will be highlighted by the John McCain-Barack Obama battle for the White House.

By contrast, turnout in Thursday’s set of Shelby County general election contests and state and federal primaries was anemic.

But the 16 percent voter turnout in Shelby County was better than the 12 percent from four years ago when the same set of races, minus the U.S. Senate primaries, were on the ballot.

The better turnout was clearly driven by the 9th District Democratic primary. More people voted in that primary, which covers most but not all of Shelby County, than voted countywide in the state Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. Turnout in the Democratic primaries was twice that of the Republican primaries in Shelby County.

And local Republicans paid dearly for it, losing another countywide office.

Here’s a recap of the top contested races on last week’s ballot.

All results are unofficial pending audit and certification by the Shelby County Election Commission and Tennessee election officials.

9th Congressional District
Democratic Primary

Steve Cohen - 50,284, 79 Percent
Nikki Tinker - 11,814, 19 Percent
Joe Towns Jr. - 914, 1 Percent

Cohen won the primary for the seat two years ago by 4,400 votes over Tinker and 13 other candidates. This time around he was the incumbent and Tinker’s challenge was more strident with a pair of controversial attack ads in the gap between the end of early voting and election day. Both were probably factors in the vote totals along with a smaller field of five candidates.

Cohen faces independent candidate Jake Ford in the Nov. 4 general election.

7th Congressional District
Republican Primary

Marsha Blackburn - 30,970, 62 percent
Tom Leatherwood - 19,007, 38 percent

These are the results districtwide, which includes not only the eastern part of Shelby County but a strip of Middle Tennessee up to the Kentucky state line. In Shelby County’s part of the 7th district, Leatherwood beat Blackburn with 62 percent of the vote. But it was 62 percent of just more than 19,000 votes. Outside Shelby County it was always going to be difficult for Leatherwood. The low voter turnout in Collierville and other eastern parts of the county made Leatherwood’s task a tough one.

Blackburn faces Democrat Randy G. Morris on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Shelby County Charter Amendment
No. 360

Yes - 49,506, 49.73 percent
No - 50,043, 50.27 percent

Closest contest of the night in Shelby County with a 537-vote margin and the highest turnout with 99,549 votes total.

This set of charter changes was to fix a legal problem noted in a recent Tennessee Supreme Court ruling. But another part of the package dealt with increasing term limits for the county mayor and members of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners from two consecutive four-year terms approved by voters in 1994, to three consecutive four-year terms. The Shelby County Commission meets today to try to put a legal fix on the November ballot for voters, possibly minus any reference to term limits.

Shelby County Charter Amendment
No. 361

Yes - 65,548, 68 percent
No - 30,188, 32 percent

This set of charter amendments includes provisions for recalling elected officials. It also establishes a new method for filling a vacancy in the office of county mayor.

General Sessions Court Clerk
Otis Jackson - 51,438, 52 percent
Chris Turner - 43,971, 45 percent

The upset of the evening. Turner, the Republican nominee and the incumbent, was seeking a fourth term. Jackson, the Democratic nominee, was making his fourth bid for countywide office after coming close in a 2006 bid for county clerk.

Paul Mattila - 54,734, 57 percent
Ray Butler - 29,977, 31 percent

Mattila beat Butler in a race featuring an energetic and misleading campaign by M. LaTroy Williams in which Williams billed himself as the “real Democrat.” He was, in fact, an independent candidate garnering 8 percent of the vote. Mattila fills the remaining two years left in the term of office of the late Bob Patterson, a Republican. Mattila, a Democrat, worked with Patterson. Butler, the Republican, also was a friend of Patterson’s and the race amounted to who would best continue to operate the office as Patterson had.

Criminal Court Judge Division 6
John Fowlkes - 44,581, 52 percent
Latonya Burrow - 21,874, 26 percent
Michael G. Floyd - 12,071, 14 percent
Claiborne H. Ferguson - 6,240, 7 percent

Fowlkes serves out the remaining six years left of the eight-year term of Fred Axley, who resigned from the bench shortly after winning re-election in 2006. Burrow finished a close second to Axley two years ago and again ran an energetic campaign. But Fowlkes’ status in the legal community and his appointment to the bench by Gov. Phil Bredesen proved to be the advantage.

Assessor of Property
Cheyenne Johnson - 59,637, 60 percent
Bill Giannini - 39,057, 40 percent

Johnson, the Democratic nominee, easily beat Giannini, who is also doubling as local GOP chairman. Local Democrats keep the countywide position in their column as voters go for the candidate endorsed by outgoing Democratic incumbent Rita Clark.

Early voting in advance of the Nov. 4 election day begins Oct. 15, the same day The Memphis News election guide hits the streets.

PROPERTY SALES 64 151 1,493
MORTGAGES 45 105 1,152
BUILDING PERMITS 201 410 3,466