Oldham Opens Sheriff Re-Election Bid

By Bill Dries

Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham opened his re-election campaign Saturday, Nov. 2, with something he didn’t have four years ago: a record.

Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham kicked off his re-election campaign Saturday, Nov. 2, with a fundraiser at the Balinese Ballroom Downtown.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

With several hundred supporters at a North Main Street ballroom, Oldham kicked off his bid for a second term in the 2014 elections much earlier than his initial effort four years ago, when incumbent Sheriff Mark Luttrell was leaving an open seat as he ran for Shelby County mayor.

“If you think back in February (2010) when I had to scramble and really hustle to get the petition in … and then begin the work of trying to fundraise for the campaign and try to, as a neophyte, get the message out – it was so compressed, maybe that was the best way to do it,” Oldham told supporters Saturday.

But the 2010 election may have profoundly changed the nature of sheriff’s races going forward.

Oldham was Luttrell’s chief deputy on a leave of absence at the time, and his first surprise was a complaint to the U.S. Justice Department that because he was employed by the sheriff’s department, Oldham could not run for the office.

For decades, races for Shelby County sheriff have included numerous candidates from the ranks of the department. But there were two legal opinions from the Tennessee Attorney General’s office in 2008 and 2009 that neither a deputy sheriff nor a state trooper can run for sheriff when their jobs involve law enforcement activities financed with federal loans or grants. That means provisions of the federal Hatch Act apply.

The opinions and a complaint to Justice Department officials in Washington, believed to have come from a rival candidate, prompted Oldham to resign his position during the campaign for the Republican primary.

Almost four years later, Oldham didn’t mention the experience. But it is almost certain to make any rivals within the department think twice about running.

“I have a passion for this,” Oldham said. “The last 40-plus years, I’ve dedicated my life to law enforcement. I’ve dedicated my life particularly to the community.”

Oldham is touting, in particular, the collaborative work and coalitions the Sheriff’s Department has participated in with other law enforcement agencies, including the Memphis Police Department, federal agencies and other sheriff’s departments in West Tennessee.

“We are trying to make a difference, and we will continue to do that. We want to be proactive,” Oldham said. “All I have to do is develop a topic, talk with our command staff and let them begin the process of developing programs or strategies, or whether it be our mere presence in the community.”

He also touted a 9 percent drop in violent crimes over the last three years.

“We’ve done that through smart policing,” Oldham said. “We’ve done that through that being the central responsibility of all disciplines in our organization.”

Also present was Dan Michael, who is expected to soon announce his candidacy for Juvenile Court judge, as well as Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir, who has already held his first re-election fundraiser.

In other campaign news:

Former Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone, who is again seeking the Democratic nomination for Shelby County mayor to challenge Luttrell in the August county general election, holds a Midtown fundraiser Tuesday evening, Nov. 5.

Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos opens her re-election effort Thursday, Nov. 7, with a fundraiser in East Memphis. Touliatos, a Republican, is expected to face opposition in the August general election from one of two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination – Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks or former Herenton administration division director Kenneth Moody.

The fundraising efforts of the local Republican Party and Democratic Party, as well as fundraising by the candidates in the 2014 primaries and elections themselves, are unfolding as the last eight elections of 2013 are moving toward election day this month.

Saturday was the last day of early voting in advance of the Thursday, Nov. 7, school board elections for each of Shelby County’s six suburban towns and cities.

Early voter turnout in the suburbs broke the 2,000 mark. A total of 2,023 citizens voted early in the six sets of school board elections through Saturday, which was the heaviest day of turnout with 665 early voters. It was also the only day of early voting at a satellite site in Lakeland.

The early voting period opened Friday in the special general election for Tennessee House District 91 and the citywide referendum on a half-cent sales tax hike.

Among the first-day early voters at Downtown Election Commission offices at 157 Poplar Ave. was a group from the Greater Memphis Chamber who came with signs and votes in favor of the sales tax hike. Most of the revenue from the sales tax hike would go toward an expansion of pre-kindergarten within the city of Memphis administered by a pre-K commission appointed by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.