Last Word: MemFix 4's Big Weekend, Early Voting Six Days In and Grizz Moves

By Bill Dries

The first of two weekends this month in which part of Interstate 240 (in red) is closed to traffic as well as east and westbound Poplar Avenue over the interstate begins Friday evening in East Memphis.

A big weekend to avoid the interstate with a rare closing of I-240 between the 385 split and the I-40 split and Poplar over I-240 also closed in both directions. This kicks in Friday evening and runs up to Monday morning’s rush hour as TDOT crews work to replace four bridges in East Memphis using a relatively new process in which parts of the bridges are assembled in advance and then moved into place. The bridges are both Poplar bridges, the Park Avenue bridge and the Norfolk Southern rail bridge. And this will happen all over again in about a week’s time using the same schedule, weather permitting. Weekenders on the interstate already have some experience with a milder version of this with the interstate projects on the south leg

BETH HARWELL

Republican contender for Governor and state House speaker Beth Harwell has a press conference Friday morning in Nashville in the old Supreme Court chamber, we are told in a one-line announcement from her campaign. Usually one-line press releases are indications a candidate is about to not be a candidate. But Harwell was quick to react Thursday evening to speculation on that point, tweeting “Wishful thinking on my opponents’ part, but I’m in it to win.”

There are other indications this is probably a major endorsement of some kind including the recent bank of TV ads Harwell just bought – the ones in which her three major rivals for the nomination are portrayed as children arguing with each other and Harwell’s campaign uses the tag line “the adult in the room” to describe her. And Harwell was out campaigning Thursday. Usually candidates who are leaving a race leave the campaign trail as soon as they have made such a decision.

Meanwhile one of Harwell’s rivals, Bill Lee will be in Germantown Friday for one in a series of town halls in West Tennessee including stops in Dresden, Jackson and Huntingdon.

Almost 23,000 citizens had voted early in Shelby County through Thursday, the sixth day of the 14-day early voting period.

Here are the latest detailed stats we have about early voting which is moving into its second weekend in Shelby County. Through Thursday’s 6,348 ballots, 22,999 citizens had voted early. That compares to 30,364 through six days of early voting in 2010 and 27,450 in 2014 – the same election cycle. And as we’ve been careful to point out at every opportunity, 2010 and 2014 early voting had 21 voting sites with the Downtown site only open for the first two days of the voting period. All voting turnout totals include absentee voting. Disclaimer done.

No party breakdown for Thursday just yet but through Wednesday most of the early voters were casting ballots in the Democratic primaries. But on the first two days of early voting’s expansion to a total of 27 sites, Republican primary voters started showing up more making this just about a 50-50 proposition. Abundant Grace Fellowship Church in Whitehaven and New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Germantown are the two most popular early voting sites.

The cover story in the new edition of our weekly, The Memphis News, is all about the Chancery Court ruling on early voting locations and hours, the impact of the ruling and some questions unanswered for now about what happens at the polls. The PDF of the new issue is up now on this website. The hard copies hit the streets Friday morning. The online version of the cover story goes up here Friday afternoon.

And then there is the business of ballots – endorsement ballots that have big pictures of the candidates on them and very small fine print indicating who is putting out the ballots. This is a big problem for Democrats – not so much for Republicans although there have been a few problems over the years. Local Democratic Party chairman Corey Strong and other new blood in the local party expected there would be some ongoing problems specifically with the paid ballots. And as the party was being reorganized last year they talked about several methods of dealing with it. One idea that was rejected was some kind of copyright of candidates’ images with the local party holding and enforcing the rights to use the images. Strong said the paid ballots are a scheme.

Meanwhile a group of Democrats have rounded up the funding for their own ballot that focuses on fewer races, requires no contributions from the candidates on the ballot and will go to 60,000 voters between now and when the polls close on election night and the vote counting begins. Among the Democrats that are part of that effort is former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr. who made the endorsement ballot in Memphis politics an art form.

JIM STRICKLAND

The war of words between the Strickland administration and Inland Waste we told you about last month escalated Thursday with Mayor Jim Strickland announcing the city is terminating its contract early with Inland for garbage pickup in Cordova and Hickory Hill -- within the next month. Friday morning, Strickland is expected to outline some other changes in the city's solid waste collection system -- a system he has said is "broken."

Groundbreaking Friday afternoon in South Main for the new Arrive Hotel to go in the building that until recently had been the Downtown campus of Memphis College of Art.

And looking ahead to Tuesday, the Downtown Memphis Commission plans an announcement with both mayors at the old Ellis Machine Shop on South Front that is part of the One Beale development.

Elsewhere on South Front, the first commercial tenant at 266 Lofts.

And further down your calendar, a Sept. 13 debate at Rhodes College between the Democratic and Republican nominees for the U.S. Senate race on the Nov. 6 ballot. Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn are expected to be those nominees and are already into a general election campaign before the August statewide primaries.

New crime numbers show major violent crime in the city and countywide continues to go down while major property crimes show an increase driven by another spike in motor vehicle thefts. Memphis Police have said drivers leaving their cars running while they make a short run inside somewhere is responsible for a lot of car thefts.

Don Wade’s “Press Box” column reviews the events of the off season so far for the Grizz up to and including this week’s Garrett Temple trade.

At SEC Media Days in Atlanta, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald talks about the way back from his injury at the Egg Bowl last season.

A reporters’ roundtable this week on “Behind The Headlines” with Madeline Faber of High Ground, Karanja Ajanaku of The New Tri-State Defender and Toby Sells of The Memphis Flyer. The show airs Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 8:30 a.m. on WKNO-TV.

NME with something to take into the weekend with you, a podcast across the ocean in which Jack White covers a couple of Elvis tunes.