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VOL. 124 | NO. 156 | Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Politicians Out in Full Force

By Bill Dries

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IT’S OFFICIAL: Memphis mayoral contender Charles Carpenter opened his Whitehaven campaign headquarters during a busy political weekend. Carpenter billboards also began appearing around town in advance of the Oct. 15 special election. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

With back-to-school supplies to hand out and a new crop of brightly colored campaign signs, the October special election race for Memphis mayor and several other races on the 2010 ballot came alive this past weekend.

The action continues today as state Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis opens his campaign in the 2010 Democratic primary for governor on the University of Memphis campus.

Meanwhile, Memphis Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery began the week without the services of Herenton administration executive assistant Pete Aviotti.

Aviotti had watched the transition in power happen below his office on the second floor of City Hall in what was once the mayor’s office. He even showed up for Wednesday’s Chancery Court showdown between Lowery and City Attorney Elbert Jefferson.

The next day Chief Administrative Officer Jack Sammons informed Aviotti that he wouldn’t be kept on by the new administration because his contract expired at the end of June and for budgeting reasons.

The ultimate face time

Lowery isn’t overtly campaigning, but his Friday open house in which hundreds toured the mayor’s office on the seventh floor of City Hall had everything but campaign signs and banners. Attendees also had the chance to sit at the mayor’s desk in the mayor’s chair, which Lowery encouraged visitors to do.

Several hundred people turned out in the City Council chambers for a town hall meeting before the open house. About half were city employees.

Lowery and his division directors fielded questions, including one from Sue Jackson of the Memphis Education Association. The teachers’ union spokeswoman talked about the importance of restoring city funding to the city school system as an investment in students. The cuts in city funding are the centerpiece of a lawsuit still pending in a state appeals court.

“Yes, we do invest in the children in many other ways other than with the board of education,” Lowery said. “The situation with the board of education is currently in court. As soon as the court resolves that, we will have a plan of action.”

Many of those in the meeting who weren’t city employees went to the top floor of the building for a look around the mayor’s office. New groups filed into the mayor’s office facing Mud Island and the Mississippi River every few minutes.

Most of the people stopped to take in the river view before looking over the hardwood floors, a regular feature of the mayoral offices even when it was on the second floor and occupied by previous mayors. The floors are a nod to the city’s status as a center of the hardwood industry.

No subtlety needed

Memphis mayoral contender Charles Carpenter opened his Whitehaven campaign headquarters Saturday to a crowd of about 100 supporters.

The opening in an old rent-to-own store location in Whitehaven Plaza is the latest chapter in what so far has been the most visible campaign in the special election race.

Carpenter said he would change police strategy with a renewed emphasis on community policing and improving police response times. The Memphis Police Department’s Blue CRUSH strategy has dropped crime percentages by focusing on crime statistics and hot spots.

Carpenter’s campaign headquarters opened with a pile of school supplies at one table for students preparing for the beginning of the school year. Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Carol Chumney, also in the race for city mayor, handed out school supplies as well.

“We want to make a new beginning for our children,” Carpenter said as he vowed to return a slate of activities for children at city community centers and parks. “Our children will have things to do other than look at games and look at other criminal activities.”

Carpenter’s theme of “a new beginning” was also present on several billboards unveiled this weekend across the county.

Carpenter called again for “tax equity” for Memphis taxpayers and made a distinction between a shift in the tax burden for city and county governments and their consolidation. The distinction has been a key part of Carpenter’s pitch since he announced his intentions last month.

“We all know that Memphis is not growing,” he said. “Well, if you look all around us, every other regional partner is growing. And you know why? It’s because of the city of Memphis. We’re subsidizing their growth but they’re taking away from us.”

Musical chairs

Meanwhile, the other race on the Oct. 15 ballot, the primary contests for state Senate District 31, are showing signs of life. Signs for State Rep. Brian Kelsey, who is one of three Republican contenders for the seat, were at key intersections in Cordova over the weekend. The other likely contenders are State Rep. Steve McManus and Shelby County school board chairman David Pickler.

Local Democratic Party chairman Van Turner vowed last week that there would be a Democratic contender for the seat in the special election.

Shelby County Commissioners are scheduled to discuss Wednesday whether the body should appoint someone to hold the seat until the results of a general election later this year are certified. The Legislature won’t go back to work until January.

Commission chairwoman Deidre Malone had said the commission might leave the seat vacant because the Legislature is in recess. But she said later that some Republican commissioners have expressed a desire to appoint someone in the interim to the seat given up by Germantown Republican Paul Stanley.

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396