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VOL. 132 | NO. 220 | Monday, November 6, 2017

Chism Vows Democratic Primary Battle with Harris for County Mayor

By Bill Dries

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Former Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism kicked off his bid for county mayor last week by vowing to “beat up on” rival Democrat and state Sen. Lee Harris in the May 2018 countywide primary.

Speaking to a group of 70 supporters Thursday, Nov. 2, at the Links of Whitehaven golf course clubhouse, Chism faulted Harris for running for state Senate after serving half of a four-year term on the Memphis City Council.

“I refuse to call his name,” Chism began. “But I can tell you I’m going to beat up on him from morning until night.”

Sidney Chism

He acknowledged Harris’ presence in the race by referring to him as “opposition.”

“That opposition was not chosen by the people of Memphis. That opposition was chosen by the fat boys who sit in the back rooms and make decisions for this county,” said Chism, who nonetheless called Harris by name later in his remarks. “Nobody can choose who is going to represent me. I’m going to make that decision. You are going to make that decision.”

Chism has been laying the groundwork for a mayoral bid since the summer of 2016, solidifying it along the way.

Candidates in the 2018 county elections can begin pulling qualifying petitions Nov. 17 for the May county primaries.

Chism’s longtime political ally, Bank of Bartlett president and former state Rep. Harold Byrd, is considering a bid for county mayor as well, but has not yet announced his intentions.

Chism touted the diversity of his campaign and said if elected his administration would also reflect that diversity.

“I want to see those in the Hispanic community in leadership positions in my administration. I want to see Asians in leadership positions in my administration,” he said. “I want to see black folks that’s been here for a number of years and still begging for things every day – I want to see them in leadership positions. ... We can get in there. We can start a change in the paradigm of this town.”

White political power brokers picking black candidates has been a constant theme of Chism’s political resume that includes two terms on the commission ending in 2014. Chism is also a former chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party. The retired Teamsters union organizer played a key role in Willie Herenton’s 1991 upset of Mayor Dick Hackett to become the first African-American elected as Memphis mayor.

Chism ran in the 2012 Democratic primary for General Sessions Court Clerk, losing to incumbent clerk Ed Stanton by 246 votes.

“We don’t run nothing and they don’t want us to run nothing. Don’t fool yourself,” he told those at the Whitehaven fundraiser last week. “We’ve got to make sure that we are in a position to govern and govern in such a way that we are producing, so that the people we represent can have a fair opportunity to grow and thrive in this town.”

The winner of the May Democratic primary will face the winner in the Republican primary that so far is between Trustee David Lenoir, Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos and County Commissioner Terry Roland.

“I think the race really is in the general (election),” Chism said later. “I don’t see Lee picking up any momentum especially with the grassroots. I know he feels that he is going to get a majority of the white voters. In order to succeed he has to get 40 percent of the black vote.”

Chism was responding to a poll released last week by Harris’ campaign that shows Harris with the most support in an August general election matchup against either Lenoir or Roland as the Republican nominee. The poll was done in July before Touliatos entered the race and did not address how Harris would fare in the primary against Chism.

The July poll also showed a large number of undecided voters in the mayor’s race.

“I don’t think anybody can beat me on the ground with the grassroots.” Chism said, adding most of the supporters present Thursday were new to politics.

PROPERTY SALES 76 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 83 131 1,047
BUILDING PERMITS 190 277 3,028