VOL. 130 | NO. 106 | Tuesday, June 2, 2015
City Court Clerk Thomas Long Won't Seek Re-Election
By Bill Dries
Thomas Long lost several times before he finally won elected office in 1995 as City Court Clerk.
He’s considered running for Memphis mayor and for U.S. Congress.
But Long says he is done with politics completely and will not seek re-election as city court clerk in the October Memphis elections.
“Twenty years is long enough… It’s time to do something else,” he told The Daily News. “I thought about going early last year but I said no, I would serve the term out. That way no one would get a leg up,” he said, referring to the Memphis City Council appointing someone to fill the vacancy in the event of the clerk’s resignation.
The clerk is the keeper of records for the courts best known for handling traffic tickets. The office also collects fines and penalties.
Four prospective candidates had pulled petitions through Monday to challenge Long in the clerk’s race. They include Memphis City Council member Wanda Halbert; William Chism, who was the Democratic nominee for Probate Court Clerk last year; Roderic Ford; and Antonio Harris, an employee in the clerk’s office who ran in 2011.
The race is likely to grow with Long’s decision.
“I thought about running for mayor. I had a lot of folks call me and ask me about that,” Long said. “I discussed that with the family and that wasn’t a good choice because the mayor’s office – you are going to be married to the mayor’s office seven days a week, 24 hours a day. That didn’t work. You know when it’s time to go.”
Long has run for other offices over the last 30 years including a 2014 bid in the Democratic primary for Criminal Court Clerk. He finished second to Halbert who lost in the general election to Republican Richard DeSaussure.
During the 2014 primary race, Long said the court process has become like a debtors prison for those unable to pay fines and penalties. He also said it’s unrealistic to expect that drivers with suspended licenses are going to stop driving when they live in a city where a car is vital to holding and keeping a job.
Long is proudest of drafting and getting the Tennessee legislature to pass the Drive While You Pay program, which allows drivers with licenses suspended for outstanding traffic tickets to continue driving as long as they make payments on their debt.
He ran for City Court Clerk in 1983 and was “beaten like a drum” in the nonpartisan race by incumbent Joyce McMackin.
Long attributes his election woes to his ties to Republican candidates, starting with serving as treasurer for his friend George Dobbins. The Republican Dobbins challenged veteran Democratic state Senator Ed Davis in 1976, two years after Long moved to Memphis from Nashville out of Tennessee State University.
“I wanted to help people,” Long said. “I was his treasurer and you can’t be a guy’s treasurer and not vote for him. … The Democratic committee – they would always tell everybody I was a Republican.”
When Long ran for County Register in 1986, he got a spot on the coveted endorsement ballot of Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Sr.
“He asked why I didn’t tell him I was a Republican. I said, ‘You didn’t ask,’” Long remembered.
Long counted allies on both sides of the partisan divide but with other Democrats being vocal, his numbers in city precincts weren’t good enough.
“When I was trying to get elected, I couldn’t get elected because of the back and forth,” he said.
“I’ve always been an independent guy. I’ve gotten votes from both sides.”
In 1994 he managed Ford’s last re-election campaign. In city elections the next year, McMackin encouraged Long to run again for the clerk’s office. She was not running for another term.
Long ruled out seeking another elected office as he leaves his current post. He plans to devote more attention to a financial literacy foundation he started several years ago.