Mar 15 2015

Congratulations Delegates #SCDP

Posted by Steve Ross in Memphis Politics, SCDP, Shelby County

The Shelby County Democratic Party held the first part of their biennial convention Saturday, and with it comes a fresh crop of delegates to the Convention on March 28th.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve already picked a candidate for Executive Committee to represent your House District, or if you’ve settled on a candidate for Chair, you’ve got just under two weeks to decide. Take your time.

Yesterday, I published a post targeting participants in the caucuses. Those things apply to you too (you were a participant after all), but as an elected representative of a precinct (which is what you are), you have some additional responsibilities beyond just showing up in two weeks and voting.

See, one of the (many) things the Shelby County Democratic Party lacks is a robust party leadership structure. I’m not talking about the folks who will be on the Executive Committee (though they definitely need some help), but leadership all the way down to the precinct level.

Guess what…you are now part of that leadership structure. Congratulations!

If the past decade of watching and being involved in the party has taught me anything, its that the Executive Committee alone just can’t (and often won’t) get the party on the right track by themselves. They need help. And as an elected representative of your precinct, you’re just one of the many people that will be needed to do it.

You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Here are some ideas to help stay involved, and get other people involved as well.

1. Meet the other delegates – Chances are you are backing one of the candidates for Chair. If you are, chances are you’ve either met with, or know who you’ll be supporting for the Executive Committee spots in your district. But if for some reason you don’t you’re going to be contacted by them, asking for your vote. Don’t commit without asking some questions, such as:

  • What specifically will you do as a member of the Executive Committee?
  • Don’t let them off easy. Demand specifics. If they can’t give them to you, then maybe they’re not the right horse to back no matter how many votes they’ve locked up.

  • Who are they supporting for Chair, and what is that candidate’s platform?
  • Like I said, most of the sorting with the usual suspects happened weeks, maybe even months ago. Make them say it out loud. Make them email it to you. If elected, they’ll be working for you. You need to make sure you have something tangible to hold them to.

  • How committed are they to developing and building a precinct based organization in their House district to strengthen the Party
  • If they look at you like you’re crazy, or seem confused by the question, they haven’t considered the fullness of their responsibility as a potential member of the Executive Committee and may not deserve your vote.

    2. Show Up – It happens every two years…a bunch of delegates don’t show up to the second round (which will be held March 28th), and that swings the election of Executive Committee members, and ultimately the Chair, one way or the other. Usually it doesn’t end up as an upset, but with several candidates vying for the Chair spot, it could this time. Regardless of whether the candidates for Executive Committee met your expectations in answering the questions above (and possibly others), if you don’t show up, you have forfeit your vote, and from my perspective, ill served the people who voted you in as a delegate. Don’t be that guy/gal.

    3. Stay Strong – Don’t get too disappointed if you want to be an Executive Committee member and don’t make it. There are only 29 spots for 14 districts. Chances are, you won’t make it. But if you stay involved, show up to meetings, and keep your constituents informed, there may be a spot for you either on a committee, or on the EC when/if someone resigns, or gets kicked for not showing up. It happens every term. Being there is the best way to ultimately get what you want.

    4. Learn Something – Anyone who thinks the work of the party is sexy doesn’t really know what the party is supposed to do. The main things are:

  • Raise money
  • Recruit/train/elect candidates/volunteers
  • Get more people involved
  • The party regularly fails at at least two of these each term. These things sound intuitive, but they’re not. Raising money is tricky. Training and recruiting candidates and volunteers requires a special skill set. Getting folks involved means there has to be something for them to do.

    I mentioned the training conference in Spring Hill in my last post, but if you can’t make it to that, there are plenty of other opportunities out there from all kinds of progressive groups like Democracy for America, Wellstone Action, and many more. Some have online training options. No matter how much you think you know, you can always benefit from learning something new.

    5. Do Something – Another thing to think about…you don’t have to wait for the party to get it together to do something. You can start today.

    Maybe its something simple like registering voters. That’s easy. Just print out copies of this form, then get some friends, and some pens and clipboards, and set up a registration drive. Here are some good guidelines for doing a voter registration drive. Make sure you have permission to do this on any private property. You can do it at any number of places, even church.

    There are other things you can do as well, like throw a house party, or a neighborhood meeting. These take a little more organization, and usually need to be tied to a specific goal (financial or policy driven). If you want to do something like this, feel free to shoot me an email or contact your Executive Committee member for details on what information you need to collect and the state rules (for donations). Raising money is great, but also just making contact is a step. Don’t underestimate its importance.

    (Quick Note: Be sure to communicate your plans to your EC member. They may be willing to help, or get more people involved. The more the merrier.)

    6. Demand Accountability – As a delegate, you have a voice in determining the future of the party. That voice doesn’t have to end with the election of a Chair. If you’ve done your due diligence, and networked your way into people’s email/phone lists, you’ve positioned yourself to stay on top of the Executive Committee members who represent you…and you can make some demands.

    Most importantly, you should encourage EC members to inform their constituents. All too often they expect to be sought out for information. Members that think that way have the relationship exactly backwards. Its their job to inform you, not your job to track them down and ask questions (though if you do have questions, its on you to ask them). Demand that they do this (in a nice way). This will be foreign to some, so some coaching might be required. Set up meetings, or email lists or other networking opportunities to inform yourself, and the people you represent. This way, you won’t be surprised if something goes horribly wrong, and you might even be able to catch a problem before it becomes a problem.

    Ask for meeting agendas, copies of the rules (and that they adopt real rules not the bullshit standby of ‘Roberts Rules’ which no one really understands), and resolutions. If they can’t/don’t live up to that expectation and you’ve made contact/expanded your network of people, you’ve set in motion the beginnings of booting them in two years for someone (like yourself) who will do what you believe needs to get done.

    For the past 10 years, I’ve seen EC after EC come in good intentions, then behave like the Caucus and Convention are the end of organizing. They’re wrong, its just the beginning. If you can treat it like its the beginning, stay in touch with people in your House District, keep them informed, and prove you’re interested…you’re a step ahead for the next time around.

    As a delegate you need to demand the EC treat it like the beginning. Do that, and you’ll have played a role in helping strengthen the party going forward.

    The truth is, elections are a 24/7/365 affair now. They have been for a long time. It begins with the first actions those elected officials take in office, and while 2/4 years may seem like a long time, its not. Staying up to date on what these folks are doing (in your name) is the best way to: 1. Communicate and eventually get what you want, and 2. Hold them accountable if they aren’t moving the ball forward.

    Remember, you are a part of the party…simply by saying you are. Showing what you’re willing to do to move the party forward is just one of the many ways you can be a part of getting this County Party and this County back on track.

    Mar 14 2015

    The Caucus is the first step to rebuild the party

    Posted by Steve Ross in Memphis Politics, SCDP, Shelby County

    Its time to step up Shelby County Democrats

    Its time to step up
    Shelby County Democrats

    Today, the Shelby County Democratic Party will begin the process of selecting new leadership for the next two years at its Ward and Precinct Caucus.

    For the first time since 2007, I won’t be there.

    Truth be told, I haven’t been directly involved with the County Party since I resigned my post back in January of 2014.

    Time is not on my side. I have too many things to do, and too few hours in the day to do them. And while I would love to be in the thick of rebuilding the party, I also know that doing so is more than a two year job.

    So while I won’t be there today, I’m also not going to sit on the sidelines. And participants, neither should you.

    With that in mind, I do have a message for the people who will be participating today.

    It doesn’t matter whether you are selected a delegate or not, you are the party, and whomever you select to be your delegate to the convention in two weeks, is your representative.

    And while it may seem (and some may wrongly contend) that after today, your role with the party is over, this is not the case.

    The Executive Committee is not the Democratic Party…rather, they make up the leadership. You are the party, and its incumbent on you that some things get done to ensure the party moves forward in a positive way:

    1. Know your delegate – Before you leave today, get the name, phone number and email address of your delegate (if you aren’t one). Tell that person that by electing them delegate, you expect them to be involved in the process (regardless of whether they’re on the Executive Committee), and that you will be checking in with them periodically to find out what’s going on and what you can do to help.

    2. Host a Precinct/House District meeting – After the March 28th Convention, get together with people in your area, and host your Executive Committee members. Let them know who they work for (you), and what you hope to see in the upcoming term. It doesn’t have to be something elaborate…but get folks from your precinct or house district there in numbers, and make sure your Executive Committee members know you’re not playing around…you expect results. Let them know what those results might look like.

    3. Contact the new Chair – The field is thick right now, and no one really knows who will win. But once a winner is selected (March 28th), reach out to the Chair, introduce yourself (if you don’t already know him/her), and let them know you want to be a part of the process. There are 11 Committees and only 29 members. The Party will have to reach out beyond the Executive Committee to get these Committees functioning again.

    4. Go to a training – The Tennessee Democratic County Chairs Assn. and the TNDP are hosting a Spring Conference April 10th and 11th. Go there, and meet folks from across the state. Share ideas. Learn something new. Shelby County may be the largest Democratic County in Tennessee, but clearly we don’t know how to elect a Countywide candidate. Maybe some outside ideas will help.

    5. Don’t let up – Its easy to get discouraged, and God knows, there is plenty to be discouraged about, but don’t. The Executive Committee won’t right this ship alone. They’re going to need you, even if you have to drag them to success kicking and screaming (something this past Executive Committee was exceedingly good at). Demand access (without being a dick). Demand inclusion. But most of all, demand that the Executive Committee stop behaving like an exclusive but reclusive clique, and begin behaving like the legislative body for the Democratic faithful of Shelby County that they’re supposed to be. Make sure they know you expect to be in the conversation, even if you don’t have a vote. Demand that they adopt some real rules for the Party and rules of procedure to regulate the meetings, and that proposals and meeting agendas are sent out to all who want them, not just the Executive Committee. Show up to meetings. Talk to people outside of meetings. Find allies. Organize.

    Most of all, meet new people from outside your neck of the woods. Find areas of interest that you share with those people. Build relationships. Politics is about relationships…and relationships are something we desperately need right now to begin to grow and prosper as a party.

    Have fun at the caucus!

    Mar 06 2015

    Shakedown 2: Role Reversal

    Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Memphis Politics

    Memphis Mayor AC Wharton

    Memphis Mayor AC Wharton

    After the announcement from Memphis City Hall that Jack Sammons would be taking over as the City’s CAO, I wrote this post, pondering the issue as either a shake-up or a shakedown.

    At the end of the post I posed a question:

    Is this shakeup the move of a leader who recognizes he’s got a problem and is trying to fix it, or is this a shakedown of the city’s business community/Poplar corridor voters, basically saying, stick with me or else?

    In light of recent events, it seems the answer is neither. The power in relationships that brought this along are exactly reversed from my original assumptions.

    Shakedown: Who’s Driving the Bus?

    The first clue came in this post by Toby Sells of the Memphis Flyer.

    There are two very telling quotes in this post, that have become more telling in light of recent events.

    The first, is that Mayor Wharton wouldn’t comment on the discussions to install Sammons in the post.

    Lets think about this, if you’re trying to “shake-up” your administration in a way that brings a sense of additional political competence to the equation, wouldn’t you be ready to talk about it? The idea that “negotiations” are the stumbling block here lead one to believe that Mayor Wharton isn’t driving the bus on this one, but going along for the ride.

    Second, when asked if this might bring more changes to 125 N. Main, Mayor Wharton said, “It might”.

    This also brings a “driving the bus” question. First of all, as a Mayor, if you had division directors that you had lost confidence in, its your prerogative to replace them. But Mayor Wharton is either playing coy, or he truly doesn’t have an opinion on the issue. If that’s the case, then one has to wonder if he really wanted to replace Little with Sammons, or if he’s being pressured externally to do so.

    Then there’s this little gem from Informed Sources.

    Here’s the money quote from Susan Adler Thorp from about 1 min 10 seconds in.

    Susan Adler Thorp:Because it really was created by some strong supporters of Mayor Wharton’s in the business community. Because we all know Mayor Wharton’s numbers have fallen, in the African-American community, in the White community, and in the business community. …He apparently has not been raising the kind of money for his campaign that he has in the past. So this was an attempt to recreate some faith in the Mayor’s ability to have a strong administration…and that’s what happened.

    Mary Beth Connley So are you saying the finanial support was going to be pulled or reduced or removed if he didn’t replace George Little? and why?

    Susan Adler Thorp: Well, there was a little threat there that there would not be any financial support. So, did the Mayor buy in to this? I’m not so sure, but as George Little confirmed, it looks like political strategy to help him raise money for his political campaign.

    The quote Thorp is referencing is from this CA article that I linked in my last post, where Little is quoted saying:

    “I’ll tell you what I don’t bring to this job, and I don’t mind saying it. I’m a longtime civil servant. … Where I can’t serve the mayor is in terms of political strategy.”

    All these things together make it clear, the Mayor is being taken for a ride he didn’t buy a ticket for, and didn’t want to get on.

    Quid pro quo?

    Anyone who’s watched Silence of the Lambs has an idea of what quid pro quo means….It’s latin phrase that literally means “something for something” or, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

    So what kind of ‘back scratching’ is the business community after? Bill Dries is on the case:

    Little said Monday that the administration is prepared to move ahead with changes to police and fire operations as well as begin movement again on its bid to outsource more solid waste sanitation services.

    These are the things the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce have been pushing since day 1 of the Wharton Administration. And while Police and Fire services have endured a great deal of pain over the past several years, that pain isn’t satisfying the business community. They want more.

    Now it seems they’ve finally taken the opportunity to force the Mayor’s hand using the thing they excel at most…money.

    Political Fallout

    One thing’s for sure… If I were Mayor Wharton, I’d be thanking my lucky stars that this snow happened when it did. It effectively put any discussion of the goings on with the Sammons situation on ice…literally.

    Because there are some serious political problems with the appointment.

    The first issue is getting it done. With State offices shuttered, and reluctance from the Republican County Mayor, Wharton has a little bit more time, with the issue out of the spotlight, to decide just how hard he’s going to push the issue in the coming days.

    Secondly, the question of how much money will Jack Sammons command as the CAO of the city is ripe for being played up in the media. Les Smith at Fox 13 took a cursory glance at that earlier this week.

    But while the money may ultimately be a drop in the bucket, its the appearance that will hurt the Mayor more than anything else. As Thorp points out on Informed Sources, the Mayor’s support across the board is flagging. One has to question how installing a new CAO under extreme political pressure will play with the public. My sense is it won’t play well, even if Sammons did it for free.

    So now comes the question of political strategy. Specifically, will the promise of the money faucet actually help the Mayor in his re-election bid with folks who aren’t a part of that world?

    Lets be very clear here. There’s no question that money is required to make a real go of it in October. And there’s also no question that Mayor Wharton has some real competition for those big money donors in the race.

    But money alone doesn’t win elections. The truth is, there’s a promise…a contract if you will, between voters and elected officials. That promise comes right down to making people’s lives better, in some measurable way…and there’s plenty of room for debate that the Wharton Administration has fulfilled that promise.

    Crime reduction and job creation are the biggies here Bluff City. But there are also some other promises that are more localized to specific constituencies that play a large role in their support. And while there’s no question the unemployment situation in Memphis has gotten better (10.1% in 2011 to 7.6% in 2014), the median household income over the same period of time (not adjusted for inflation) has dropped and the number of households making less than 35,000/yr has increased.

    So while there may be more people employed, working people in Memphis aren’t making as much money today as they were four years ago. If you need one metric to gauge discontent…the “are you doing better now than four years ago” question comes back as a no.

    The Long Road to October

    With all these things in mind, one has to wonder who will emerge as the candidate that speaks to the wants and needs of the long ignored regular folks in Memphis?

    Narratives haven’t been launched, and the field is nowhere near being set, but right now, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in place ready to take up that mantle. And with dissatisfaction with the status quo being high, the contest is ripe for someone to come forward with a message that’s geared toward regular working people, that doesn’t, at the same time, rely on the oft heard policy tropes that keep getting forced down our throats.

    The truth is, there hasn’t been a real public policy discourse about the direction of the city in a long while. Most of the conversation has been about these supposed “gotta do it” issues, with no other options presented.

    Maybe the city doesn’t have any options. Or maybe it suffers from a lack of imagination and intellectual curiosity. Maybe instead of focusing on cutting services (which has been the hallmark of the past 8 years) we need to be looking for ways to increase our tax base. That’s something I never hear coming from City Hall quite frankly.

    As for the cutting, I think its fine to study the size of various divisions of the city. I think its fine to consider that maybe there’s money being spent poorly. But if tax rate is as big of a deal as some folks think it is, then increasing property values ought to be a big part of the equation, and to do that, we have to start working on parts of town that are typically ignored.

    That might also be a good strategy to reduce some of the property crime, not to mention violent crime in the City.

    I’m just saying, the city seems to cater to one group of people, and its a pretty damn small group.

    But for politicians to change their song and dance, it takes citizens, and a damn lot of them, to start singing a new tune. That means enough of us have to be on the same page that there’s something there to dance to. And, we gotta keep singing it until they get it right.

    Otherwise, we’ll keep getting the same song and dance over and over again…no matter how little its doing for us, or how poorly its performed.

    Mar 03 2015

    Education: Tennessee’s Under-Funded Mandate

    Posted by Steve Ross in activism, State Politics

    The State of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools. The General Assembly may establish and support such postsecondary educational institutions, including public institutions of higher learning, as it determines. -Tenn. Const. Art. XI, § 12

    Back in the dark days of 2013, I wrote a series of posts (1, 2, 3) that delved into the issue of education funding.

    The posts were written in a time where the County Commission was trying to beat down the new Unified School Board, to keep their budget tight so the County wouldn’t have to raise taxes to fund their part of education.

    The debate featured a lot of red herrings, trojan horses, and outright lies…most foisted upon the School Board by folks who aren’t there anymore, but who, ironically, are or were involved in trying to build up a municipal school district now…through tax increases (Yes, I’m talking about you Mayor Bunker and your former City Manager Chris Thomas).

    Through those posts, I sought to show regular folks just how the money comes in, what the money goes for, and that much of the debate about the money was just plain out of line.

    Now there’s a new debate about funding brewing, in school board meetings across the state. This time, the State of Tennessee itself is in the crosshairs, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

    Basic Education Program

    Teachers just wanna teach

    Teachers just wanna teach

    The State funds its portion of the education pie through a program called the Basic Education Program.

    This program uses a formula to determine how much financial support a system should get based on a lot of things, including: number of students, salaries, and cost of doing business (which varies from area to area). The number of students, rightly I might add, is the primary driver of how much money a district gets from the state.

    This formula not only determines how much money the State will pitch in, but also the ‘maintenance of effort’ that local governments must provide to stay good with the law. Unfortunately, the State’s portion of the BEP has been underfunded (to the tune of $500m this year alone) since its most recent revision in 2007.

    Finally, some school districts are starting to cry foul, as the State demands more with essentially less funding.

    Its way past time this happened.

    Demanding their Due

    scsLast week, the Shelby County Board of Education voted unanimously to join Knox and Hamilton Counties in a lawsuit against the State of Tennessee for underfunding the BEP. Shelby County Schools loses about $103m/yr. because of the BEP shortfall. That’s about 9% of Shelby County Schools proposed budget.

    The MNPS (Nashville) School Board is set to vote on joining a potential lawsuit in the coming days.

    This post from Bluff City Education gets into the nuts and bolts of the issue…I won’t repeat it here, but its a good read for those of you looking to get into the history of the problem.

    The basic crux of it is this: The state has a duty to fund public schools in a certain way, as set forth by the State Legislature. But neither the Governor’s office (who sets the budget), nor the legislature (who amends and approves the budget) has adequately funded education based on the law.

    They have, however, lowered taxes on the wealthiest Tennesseans by about $120m/yr in 2012 (source).

    While tax collections have exceeded expectations by about $300m this fiscal year, generally tax collections have missed the mark in the past two to three years, which has led to more cuts of state departments after being cut drastically in 2011-12.

    On top of that, the state has sought to increase standards for schools, and in many cases, while underfunding schools, taken over low performers for not doing more with less, which is just another example of the Dickensian approach the State has taken on schools.

    Moving the Bar

    Last year, Governor Haslam appointed a Task Force to examine the BEP. The idea was, that if you can’t fund the thing, then move the bar so it looks like you’re funding the thing.

    In the minutes from the second meeting of the task force Governor Haslam’s Chief of Staff, Mark Cate notes that the focus of the group is not to make the ‘pie bigger’, but to adjust how the pie is cut.

    Those minutes also erroneously note that the BEP is fully funded, which is false, and has been since 2007.

    The point seems to have been to change the way the BEP was calculated to ensure districts couldn’t sue a ‘low tax’ administration who’s hell bent on lowering taxes, even though their obligations and standards are increasing.

    But the proof is in the pudding. Since BEP 2.0 was passed, both Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged that the formula isn’t fully funded…despite the new money the governor wants to put into education, which is little more than a drop in the bucket.

    Schools Struggling…even the ASD

    asdThis comes as schools across the state are struggling to meet state standards that seek to use funding as both carrot and stick…with the threat of a state takeover if they don’t get it done.

    This, in effect, is putting the weight of society’s legacy ills (low wages, scant opportunity, low educational attainment, and heavy tax burdens for the working poor) on the back of the schools, making them both educators and social workers while not giving them the tools to even do one of these things.

    At the same time, the ASD is looming, ready to sweep in and privatize schools and hand them off to companies that are friendly with the Governor so they can profit off of a public good.

    If the aim were really to better education in struggling schools, it would seem the State would work to give those schools the resources to be both educators and social workers…but they’re not.

    Now, the ASD itself is under fire. Three years into its existence, the ASD argues they’re still a work in progress. But legacy public schools wouldn’t have been given the amount of time the ASD has had for many of its schools…and Shelby County’s i-Zone schools, many of which are out-perorming ASD schools pose a real threat the the ASD model in the state’s most target rich environment. Combine that with a growing sentiment of ‘get off my lawn’ from the community, and the ASD is heading into dark days…and still not fully meeting expectations, which would get any other school shuttered.

    Conclusion: Sleight of Hand and Twist of Fate

    Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    The honest to God truth is the past five years in education policy have been predicated on a wish that the wizard turns out to be as wonderful as we thought he might be. But just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the power to get what you want doesn’t lie in some all powerful external thing…it lies with us.

    We’ve been sold a bill of goods.

    Its not the first bill of goods, and it likely won’t be the last.

    But the promise we’ve been promised isn’t happening and won’t happen until we acknowledge that there’s more to education than warehousing kids, or threatening school districts. Unions aren’t the problem…and they may not be the solution either. The problem is simple: We’re not fulfilling the broad range of promises our elected officials have made to the public, and we haven’t been doing that for a very long time. Now we’re seeing the fruits of that inaction.

    And its on us too. We’ve seen all kinds of things happen, and we’ve, by and large, bought in to the distractions based on faulty preconceived notions. Instead of calling bullshit when bullshit needed to be called, we’ve bought the bullshit.

    Now its time to dig out of a half-decade (or more) of bullshit, and start looking at the system (our society) as a system, rather than trying to ‘fix’ one part or the other while ignoring how that part fits with the other ones.

    Because that’s been our strategy for the majority of my life. And maybe that’s been the strategy all along. But if we’re serious (and I’m not convinced we are) we need to stop just focusing on the ugly mole, and start focusing on the cancer that lies underneath it…

    Mar 02 2015

    A Shake-up, or a Shakedown?

    Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Memphis Politics

    George Little and Jack Sammons

    George Little and Jack Sammons

    Monday’s announcement that Jack Sammons was Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s choice to take over as the City’s CAO is only surprising in that it took so long to happen.

    The mayor’s administration has been mired in criticism from city employees, and citizens who don’t feel they’re getting much in the way of anything (tax savings or increased services) from the years of pain that have been endured and will most likely continue to be endured regardless of who wins in October.

    But the Mayor, who won in a landslide just 3 and a half years ago, should be feeling the heat.

    The political capital his 2011 win garnered isn’t gone, just long forgotten. And after years of promises, and little in the way of delivery…there’ growing discontent in the city about the way the cards have fallen, and just what the Mayor’s vision is for the city.

    Make no mistake about it…Mayor Wharton is good at stitching a yarn together, or making pretty words sound good about what a vision might look like. But when it comes to putting that vision into action in a way that the people can see…he’s left much to be desired.

    And, with a heated election just seven months away, and a more heated budget battle with at least two City Councilmen looking at his job, putting an ineffective communicator out there, with little political credibility isn’t going to help the Mayor keep his spot on the seventh floor of 125 N. Main.

    Enter Jack Sammons…

    As a player in the City game since the late 80’s, Sammons knows what’s expected, and most think he knows how to deliver. His two month stint as the CAO under interim-Mayor Myron Lowery is held up as an example of what a longer term stint might bring.

    There are some real hurdles to overcome, like his gig with the Airport Commission. But the Mayor seems to think the State Legislature will pass a law that he wants that would fix it, even though there’s no real reason to believe that.

    As for Sammons, no one questions his profile. His time in the City Council and on other boards have given Memphians a kind of comfort with him. For the most part, we know what Jack will deliver…and AC knows this.

    Its the kind of political calculation that one might expect from an election year. In the CA article, outgoing CAO George Little laid the play bare saying:

    “I’ll tell you what I don’t bring to this job, and I don’t mind saying it. I’m a longtime civil servant. … Where I can’t serve the mayor is in terms of political strategy.”

    There it is folks…political strategy. I’ll get into that in just a second.

    By the way, Little isn’t going away, just to another in a long line of mystery funded executive positions that didn’t exist four years ago.

    Let’s hear it for efficiency!


    Political strategy is something AC desperately needs if he’s going to hang on to the top spot in the City. Every passing week brings another candidate, tasting blood in the water, looking to exploit the Mayor’s perceived weakness.

    But the Mayor, over the past couple of weeks, has stepped his game up, making sure the media is there for every baby kissing, kid camping, and potential economic development deal he can muster. There’s no question a Jack Sammons at the helm of the CAO’s spot will only accelerate that.

    And there’s the election strategy. A Jack Sammons at the helm of the city sends a signal to the City’s business community…who have been in AC’s camp since 2011, that all will be ok, we’re working on it, and don’t jump ship just yet.

    This is a big blow to the Strickland campaign, who no doubt sought to at least divide the business folks out of AC’s camp, and unify voters in the Poplar corridor. Sammons’ entry to the AC administration puts a damper on that effort. I’m not saying Strickland’s sunk…just that the bar got raised a little bit.

    As for the rest of the crowd, they’re left fighting over the voters that aren’t as sexy to the media…you know, regular people. I’m not saying Strickland and AC won’t reach out to them too, but with those two at the top of the ticket, you know the local media was salivating over a Poplar corridor showdown. Now, that could play second fiddle…and with some of the things the Mayor has up his sleeve right now, he could use those to grab just enough to win a plurality in October with Sammons’ help.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not counting out the top tier of the front-runners, but if they don’t have a bad case of heartburn right now, they’re fooling themselves.

    Shake-up or Shakedown

    But the real political question to me is this:

    Is this shakeup the move of a leader who recognizes he’s got a problem and is trying to fix it, or is this a shakedown of the city’s business community/Poplar corridor voters, basically saying, stick with me or else?

    Anyone who’s watched Season 4 of The Wire knows the basic playbook this campaign was going to take. But this is a curve ball for those folks looking to keep some plot purity.

    And while the State Legislature may stand in the way, that may still not be a loss for Mayor Wharton. There are political fortunes to be made using the ‘foreign other’ (Legislators standing in the way) as a blunt instrument to rally the troops.

    Regardless of whether or not Sammons actually takes the CAO job with the city, he’s put himself out there, ready to use his considerable political skills for the Mayor, and that’s more than just a moral victory for Mayor Wharton.