VOL. 131 | NO. 218 | Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Local Politicos Shift Focus to 2018 Given Expected Presidential Results
By Bill Dries
Former Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism threw a masquerade party two nights before Halloween on an excursion boat.
And the 200 or so people on board were an indication that much of the local political activity is moving toward a focus on the 2018 county and state elections – in Chism’s case a bid for Shelby County mayor.
Many of the guests sported masks with more than a hint of Mardi Gras. There were two grim reapers on the dinner cruise between the bridges, one with a scythe and the other without.
There was no campaign paraphernalia. Chism wasn’t wearing a mask and he didn’t make a speech.
The closest thing to a political reference was when DJ Leon Gray asked how many on the boat had voted early and then said, “That wasn’t loud enough.”
Chism has already said he will be running in the Democratic primary for Shelby County mayor in 2018.
“I wanted to put out a feeler as to how many stakeholders in Memphis could I put together at one time at the spur of the moment,” Chism said.
“I didn’t put too much effort in it. I worked the phones about a week or two and I had to stop,” he said, referring to the sell-out crowd on the boat. “It tells me that the citizens of Memphis will support a person if they feel that person is the right person for the job.”
Chism isn’t the only 2018 contender on the move a week from the presidential general election contest.
Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir and Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland are making moves in the Republican primary for Shelby County mayor.
Nashville real estate executive Bill Freeman is in Memphis Thursday for a fundraiser on behalf of Democratic State Sen. Lee Harris of Memphis.
Freeman is weighing a bid for Tennessee governor in 2018 and Harris plans to bring others in the forming field through Memphis in the coming months.
Freeman is coming off a close third-place finish in last year’s race for Nashville mayor. He is the co-chair of the Clinton Tennessee campaign and will speak in that capacity.
Former Nashville mayor Karl Dean was in the city earlier this year as he, too, considers a run in the Democratic primary, as has Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.
State Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville is among those in the forming GOP pack.
Meanwhile, Republican state Sen. Mark Green of Clarksville spoke earlier this year to a gathering in Millington in his consideration of a bid for governor.
The moves toward 2018 elections have a somewhat higher profile because Tennessee is not even close to being a battleground state in the presidential general election Nov. 8. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have made a campaign appearance in the city since the Tennessee presidential primary campaign season.
The Clinton campaign in Shelby County is operating without a local Democratic Party. The Tennessee Democratic Party disbanded the party this summer in a dispute with the local Democratic executive committee over its decision to pursue a criminal complaint against former local party chairman Bryan Carson.
Chism, a former chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party in the mid-1990s who was censured for his support of Republican Sheriff Bill Oldham in the 2014 county elections, doesn’t think the lack of a local party will have much impact.
“I think it’s a moot point now. Democrats in Shelby County vote Democratic regardless of any kind of party apparatus or not,” he said. “I think if the right candidate is out there and has the right message, Democrats will turn out in mass numbers.”
Chism said his candidacy is based on an appeal for change.
“I think that we need to make sure we change our criminal justice system, make sure our schools are well funded, make sure our kids don’t have to leave Memphis to find decent work opportunities,” he said. “I have gotten to the age that I’m not running because I want a job or need a job. I’m running because I want to make some major changes before I leave this earth.”
Democrats hold only two of 12 countywide elected offices with partisan primaries – General Sessions Court Clerk and Assessor of Property.