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VOL. 130 | NO. 59 | Thursday, March 26, 2015

Well-Known Names Host Strickland Fundraiser

By Bill Dries

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At $1,500 per person or couple, a fundraiser Tuesday, March 24, for the mayoral campaign of Memphis City Council member Jim Strickland is an indication the campaign to the October city ballot is picking up in intensity.

The event at the home of Pierce Ledbetter, CEO of LEDIC Management, was closed to the press.

Mayoral candidate Jim Strickland, left, held a fundraiser Tuesday, March 24, with plenty of heavy-hitting business leaders serving as co-hosts of the event.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

But for politicos watching the mayor’s race, the race to watch so far has become the names of the co-hosts at such events – specifically corporate and business leaders.

In addition to Ledbetter, the co-hosts for the Strickland fundraiser included AutoZone CEO Bill Rhodes; Ham Smythe, president of Premier Transportation Services; and philanthropists Cindy and Edward Dobbs.

Former Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism, who like Strickland is a former chairman of the local Democratic Party, also was listed as a co-host, as were three former local Republican party chairmen: David Kustoff, Lang Wiseman and Alan Crone.

Former Memphis City Council member John Vergos, whom Wharton appointed to the Memphis Area Transit Authority board, also co-hosted.

The fundraiser is a bookend of sorts to Wharton’s November fundraiser at the Memphis Botanic Garden that drew an estimated crowd of 300 including other well-known corporate and business leaders.

Wharton said he didn’t attempt to turn out all of those on his potential donors list for the event.

It was Wharton’s declaration that he would run a forceful campaign for re-election that would emphasize the “tough choices” he’s made since becoming mayor in late 2009.

The invitation for Strickland’s fundraiser, by contrast, was under the heading “Return Leadership and Courage to City Government.”

Business leaders are a historic built-in strength of the incumbent in citywide or countywide races even though many corporate leaders have a long record of donating to multiple candidates in the same race.

It’s a demonstration of their hesitancy to get involved in the front lines of retail hand-to-hand politics.

So when they show up as cohosts for a challenger to an incumbent, that part of the invitation to a fundraiser becomes a barometer for how serious a challenger might be in a race that won’t be decided until election day in October.

Rhodes turns up in Strickland’s camp just over a year after the city of Memphis agreed to buy AutoZone Park, the baseball park to which AutoZone has naming rights, as the St. Louis Cardinals bought the Memphis Redbirds baseball franchise.

AutoZone’s continued commitment to the park played a key role in a deal that the Memphis Redbirds Foundation and the Cardinals front office had to take a direct role in campaigning for before a reluctant city council.

They took the direct role amidst some grumbling by both organizations that Wharton’s administration wasn’t being aggressive enough.

Strickland had some questions about the deal but ultimately voted for it.

Meanwhile, fellow city council member Harold Collins could announce his political intentions as early as next week. Collins formed an exploratory committee to weigh whether he should challenge Wharton in the mayor’s race.

The declared field for the race so far also includes former Shelby County Commission chairman James Harvey, current county commission chairman Justin Ford, Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams and former University of Memphis basketball player Detric Golden.

PROPERTY SALES 83 405 4,276
MORTGAGES 104 424 4,814
BUILDING PERMITS 148 883 10,151
BANKRUPTCIES 53 264 3,149