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VOL. 123 | NO. 30 | Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Morris, Chumney Reinvent Themselves in Private Sector

By Andy Meek

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She's now teaching a class on political leadership at the University of Memphis, throwing herself back into her law practice and, in her free time, learning how to swing dance. He's building up a law practice of his own, traveling frequently on business and spending more time with his family.

After their unsuccessful bids to defeat Willie Herenton in last fall's city mayoral race, both Carol Chumney and Herman Morris Jr. withdrew from the spotlight and have spent the last few months in mostly private attempts to re-invent themselves. If it seems like no one has heard much from the former political foes in a while, that's partly by design.

Out of the limelight

Neither Chumney nor Morris admits to any specific ambition at the moment regarding elected office or the desire to be back on the public stage. They've both moved on - for now, at least.

Of the two, Morris has perhaps been the most successful in shedding his public mantle and jumping back into the private sector. He's built up a solo law practice over the last several months that operates Downtown on Exchange Avenue.

"(Running for mayor) took up a tremendous amount of time and energy and focus, and we've gotten out of that kind of burning-a-thousand-gallons-of-adrenaline-a-day experience into one that has a rhythm and feels more consistent and conducive to a law practice," said Morris, the former president and CEO of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division. "By the way, in a law practice you can burn just as much adrenaline in a day; we just haven't hit that level yet."

In the past month alone, Morris traveled to New York on business and later ventured to Madison County for a deposition of a physician. He also made time to take a family-related trip to Little Rock.

"I do civil practice, which is just about anything that comes into the door," Morris said. "You do that - you start broad and then you narrow it from personal injury to workers comp to domestic. Occasionally there's some employment law and - in fact, I've gotten more contact from small-business owners with issues that range from small transactions to just kind of structuring a business."

From practice to theory

Chumney, meanwhile, is handling that same task in her own way. The former state representative and Memphis City Council member has gone from years of being at the center of political dustups at City Hall to teaching undergraduates at the U of M about presidential politics.

During the most recent session of her one-hour class, Chumney led a discussion on race and politics, and her class is currently reading "The Audacity of Hope," by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. He would be the first black man to win the presidency if he is successful later this year.

"They're all really smart and engaged and watching everything closely," Chumney said about her class. "We've got a good mix of Republicans and Democrats and have some really good discussions."

Given the 17 years she spent in public office, getting noticed and approached in public has always been a regular occurrence for Chumney. Now, thanks perhaps to her new standing as a college teacher, students are greeting the former councilwoman, too.

At the Poplar Plaza Starbucks last week, a U of M student wearing a ball cap shouted hello to Chumney, who was seated outside. He said he'd like to take her class at some point down the road.

"I didn't realize how much work it would be," she went on to confess about her class, the title of which is American Political Leadership. That statement was more a passing reference than a complaint, however, since she admitted that following in the steps of her father - who's a U of M history professor - is a point of pride for her.

Like any new job, it's taken some getting used to. On a recent evening, she was up until 1 a.m. squeezing in all the reading she needed to do for the class. One assignment she intends to present to her students is to have them write an opinion essay and send it around to be published in a local newspaper.

"Another thing I'm going to get them to do is volunteer in a campaign and write a paper about the experience," she said.

Chumney had a private conversation with Hillary Clinton at The Peabody Hotel when the former first lady and current Democratic presidential candidate came to the city two weeks ago.

Clinton, who had been briefed extensively about the local political landscape, told Chumney that she heard the former councilwoman had made a strong showing in her recent mayoral run. She asked for Chumney's endorsement, which the former councilwoman gave. Chumney's words to the senator: "Hang in there."

"I'm thinking about starting a blog at some point, maybe writing a book later," Chumney said. "It would be so easy to get involved in 80 million things, but then there goes all my time again."

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