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VOL. 129 | NO. 130 | Friday, July 4, 2014

Brown’s Campaign Has Included Many Turns

By Bill Dries

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Democratic Party leaders bet a lot politically at the outset of the 2014 election season on retired Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown as more than just the party’s nominee for district attorney general.


The partisans, working to avenge the Republican sweep of all countywide offices in the 2010 county general election cycle, looked to Brown and his name recognition to boost turnout and participation among Democrats across the county races on the Aug. 7 ballot.

Brown formally entered the race just before the filing deadline for the May primaries and ran unopposed.

And some party leaders were again pursuing a more emphatic and vocal version of the 2010 strategy – vote the party slate because Democrats have the numbers countywide with a large turnout.

Normally the general election race for Shelby County mayor would be considered the dominant race. But many in the party put the race to be the county’s top prosecutor at the top of the ballot because of Brown’s potential impact. But some of the candidates have been maintaining a distance from Brown for the same reason.

Brown has acknowledged the distance, saying early on that he would endorse fellow Democratic contenders but would also “not say a damn word” if they didn’t want him to.

Initially, it didn’t seem to matter if Brown talked more about the nonpartisan race for Juvenile Court judge than the race for district attorney general in rambling monologues. He even spent some stump time asserting that his nationally syndicated show had higher ratings than “Judge Judy.”

When Brown was cited for contempt in Juvenile Court this spring and jailed briefly in a case that is still pending, some in the party, and even in Republican circles, speculated the attention would help the Democratic cause.

Brown has always insisted he has been drafted for the district attorney general race and was also helping to unite the party under a single banner.

He began by staking out an assertion that under Weirich there has been what he termed “country club justice” in Shelby County that favors the rich, and that he would disrupt that.

But he didn’t stick to the point at a time when those in the local criminal justice system and its critics acknowledge it has to move away from an emphasis on locking up criminals no matter their offense as the primary answer to the city’s historic problem with violence and crime.

The more Brown emphasized the second job as a party leader, the more Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Bryan Carson had to find a way to make it clear he was leading that effort and not Brown, while still keeping the appearance of party unity.

Carson did, and in the process, Brown’s public profile was lowered dramatically – to the point that in late June Carson said some Democrats had become concerned that Brown wasn’t campaigning.

Carson urged Democrats to support Brown and also said the retired Criminal Court judge is “not your average candidate.”

In the last week, Brown’s Downtown campaign headquarters opened and he was out making speeches again, including the one his campaign posted on YouTube and the campaign Facebook page.

And again Brown was rambling even as he focused on the race for district attorney general.

In the video, which was taken down hours after it was posted Tuesday, Brown is seen talking to a group of people about recent press coverage of his divorce. He segued from that to questioning Weirich’s sexual orientation and saying her husband and children had moved out of the family home as a result.

They haven’t.

“It’s just a sad day that someone that out of touch with reality is running for district attorney general,” Weirich said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham, at the same press conference, said, “This has no place in any campaign.”

Local Democrats agreed. The outrage among them was intense in a campaign season with numerous events for Democratic contenders organized by an active Memphis contingent of the Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality lobbying organization. LGBT issues are arguably more prominent in the 2014 election cycles than they ever have been.

So hours after Weirich’s response, Carson, who was out of the city for a funeral, addressed the controversy in a written statement that never mentioned Brown’s comments or name.

He began by saying “no Democratic candidates speak on behalf of the Shelby County Democratic Party.”

“Also the SCDP does not condone any of its Democratic nominees personally attacking anyone regardless of party or sexual orientation,” Carson continued. “We want our candidates to conduct nothing but clean campaigns.”

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