VOL. 124 | NO. 184 | Friday, September 18, 2009
Malone Gears Up for County Mayor Run
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone stood under a carport in Orange Mound earlier this week and kicked off her campaign for Shelby County mayor in 2010.
The timing of the campaign kickoff at her grandparents’ house with her mother, other family members and her friends in attendance had been planned months ago to follow the end of Malone’s year-long tenure as County Commission chairwoman. Malone turned over the chair Monday to fellow Commissioner Joyce Avery.
The carport took care of the rain and Malone seemed unfazed by word the day before that Bartlett banker Harold Byrd had entered the race. She told reporters it did not change her plans and that others would probably get into the May 2010 Democratic primary.
The Orange Mound location was as much an indication of Malone’s hard-won political rise as a sign of her family’s roots in the city. Malone grew up in Chicago and later moved to Memphis. She’s a Jackson State University graduate.
And she remembers setting her sights on elected office starting with her fourth-grade class elections.
“I was born to be a public servant,” Malone told a group of 100 supporters at a gathering the evening of her campaign kickoff on Wednesday. “I’m not shy about much.”
Malone is owner and president of a public relations and marketing firm. She started the business after working in marketing at St. Jude ALSAC, the fundraising arm of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, as well as serving as marketing director for the hospital itself. She was also a reporter and producer at WMC television and radio.
In her year as County Commission chairwoman – the first African-American woman to hold the position – Malone brought two of the most volatile issues in Memphis politics to new and controversial thresholds.
She chaired the ad hoc committee on school funding that recommended Shelby County government become the single source of local government funding for the Memphis and Shelby County public school systems.
And along with Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Memphis Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery, she was an architect of what promises to be the most significant government consolidation effort in nearly 40 years. It begins with the appointment of a metro charter commission to draft a proposed charter for a consolidated local government.
Political double standard?
Malone also increased the Democratic majority on the commission to an 8-5 split by leading the charge to appoint Democrat Matt Kuhn to the seat vacated by Republican David Lillard in a predominantly Republican district. The district has never elected a Democrat.
And when the special election for Memphis mayor became a reality this summer, Malone ran for a second term as chair citing the possibility that Wharton could win the city election and vacate the county mayor’s office. If that happens, the County Commission chair becomes the mayor until the commission appoints a successor to serve out the rest of Wharton’s term.
“I challenged Commissioner Avery because there were Democrats on the commission, there were Democrats in the community that asked me,” Malone said this week. “What was important to me was that if Mayor Wharton won the special election – there’s been a Democrat in that seat for seven years. There should be a Democrat in that seat on an interim basis … because a Democrat was elected to that seat.”
Malone lost to Avery, a Republican, with Avery getting the votes of several Democratic commissioners.
”I learned a lot about people and their word that day,” Malone said, adding that she had no regrets about the move.
The move for a second term as chairwoman and the appointment of Kuhn prompted Republicans on the commission to complain bitterly that the moves violated understandings between partisans of both local parties about traditions on the County Commission.
“I’m not one for tradition. I don’t believe it exists,” Malone said citing instances where Republicans on the commission used their majority during her first term to enforce their priorities. “I believe you look at whatever opportunity there is and you make your decision based on that.”
Malone made no apologies for her pursuit of more Democrats in more positions.
“Let me be very clear: I am a Democrat,” she said. “But I have shown over the years that I am able to work with Republicans and independents to get the people’s business done. It’s going to take someone like me to do that.”
Malone’s seat in the commission chambers is easy to spot. It’s a red cloth chair that has seen better days. It’s testament to Malone’s insistence that she would not have one of the new leather chairs the commission voted to buy during her first term on the body.
She and Republican Commissioner Bruce Thompson kept their old chairs in protest. (Thompson left after one term on the commission and just completed a six-month federal prison term for mail fraud connected to selling his influence as a former commissioner.)
Malone said she’s learned a lot but hasn’t let the changes in her political methods change her standards or her long-term goals.
Moving into the eighth and final year of her two terms on the commission, Malone now says she was “naive” when she first arrived at the County Building.
“It took me about three and a half years to get it,” she said of the political mechanics, including getting resolutions passed, programs funded and initiatives off the ground.
Malone’s first bid for elected office was in 1995. She ran in the nonpartisan race for the District 5 Memphis City Schools board seat. Both of her children were city school students. Her parental experience as well as what she heard from her sister, who is a city school teacher, prompted the choice.
Malone lost to Lora Jobe. Longtime political adviser Calvin Anderson told Malone in advance that she would lose to Jobe.
“She beat me like I stole something,” is the way Malone describes the experience 14 years later.
Malone stayed involved and became active in the local Democratic Party. She worked in campaigns for other candidates and in 2002 returned to the ballot in a race for the Shelby County Commission.
She had already vied for the appointment to the commission seat but lost to Bridget Chisholm. Malone told Chisholm and Chisholm’s backers she would seek the seat in the next election. They tried to talk her out of the race, but Chisholm opted not to run in 2002 and Malone won the primary as well as the seat.