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Vasco Smith

Funeral services are Friday for Vasco Smith.

Much has been written and said about the former Shelby County Commissioner and civil rights leader since he died Monday.

With his wife, Maxine Smith – the long time executive secretary of the Memphis branch of the NAACP and a Memphis school board member – the dentist from South Memphis provided much needed leadership.

That leadership took Memphis from the whitewashed version of Mayberry civic leaders of the 1950s, 60s and early 70s wanted us to believe the city was to the much more complex version of a big but unique city that Memphis has always been.

Vasco Smith brought the truth to our civic discussions and deliberations. Whatever discomfort that caused – and at times it was most uncomfortable – it was done in the spirit of someone who cared deeply about Memphis. He could be a fiery advocate for his point of view. But Smith could also come to terms with those who met his determination with an equally well thought out counter argument. To get there, you had to rise to the occasion and the result usually got all of us closer to some lofty goals. Those goals weren’t easily obtained. We are still working toward some and many will be works in progress for some time.

Relegated to the sidelines of officialdom in the 1950s and 60s, Smith was restless and not content to remain a sideline critic. He wanted political power for the best of reasons – because he wanted a voice and a seat at the table in the community he loved and called home.

The best evidence of his intentions was the life he built as a small business owner and a homeowner. He lived in the city he worked to improve. What Smith saw and experienced in his everyday life informed his actions as a political leader. And when he retired from elected office in the mid 1990s, it was to a life that informed his political identity.

In the late 1960s and into the mid 1970s, the Smiths were the most hated public figures in some parts of this city. They never talked about the full extent of the hatred they experienced on a daily basis in the smallest personal ways as well as what passed for political rhetoric by “leaders” of the day. It had an intensity that others might have felt compelled to return with hatred. Somehow they kept their eyes on the goal. They maintained an unwavering belief that on the other side of the ordeal was a better day. And most important of all, they continued to fight with the belief that the means are just as important as the end result.

They opened their home to one time adversaries as well as allies. They attempted to talk with those who remained adversaries.

Not all of the battles came with a clear victory. Some will point to court ordered busing as a failure that has resulted in a defacto racial segregation between the two public school systems as opposed to schools within one school system. To pin the failure on any one person is much too simple. To believe the issue is over is naïve. Already there is a heavy undercurrent in the discussions about single source education funding and consolidation that suggests it isn’t realistic to talk about either issue without dealing with the question of why Shelby County needs two public school systems.

In the life of Vasco Smith is the guide for how we should approach that civic discussion – honestly, passionately and openly.

It is common for political leaders to make a big deal out of how they are just like you and me. In too many cases, there is nothing there beyond the practice of politics. They might as well be a cardboard cut out. And aside from the personal tragedy of a life that thin, it is also dangerous. Those whose existence and identity depends entirely on winning elected or appointed office lack a necessary reality that brings a value and vitality to the practice of politics.

Vasco Smith never forgot that politics must have a larger purpose than living to practice politics for another day or another term.

The Jefferson Saga & Byrd Is In County Mayor’s Race

The latest from City Hall on this very busy City Council day is that the council will take up the fate of City Attorney Elbert Jefferson at its full session at 3:30 pm. Jefferson made a brief appearance at morning committee sessions. But the council quickly decided to put off a committee discussion and do all of this “downstairs” as the council says in describing items that will go to the full body without committee discussion. Jefferson has indicated he will need an hour to tell his side of the story which includes an accounting of $55,000 in legal fees he ordered paid to the attorney representing former Mayor Willie Herenton in a federal investigation of Herenton’s private finances.
This morning, Mayor Pro Tempore Myron Lowery sent a memo to the council that reads:
“I have previously indicated my desire to terminate the services of Elbert Jefferson. Recent developments simply underscore my previous request. I also wish to reiterate that I am not asking that Mrs. (Veronica) Coleman-Davis be confirmed as City Attorney, but that the council simply accepts my recommendation to terminate Elbert Jefferson.”
The memo has caused a slight but important change in the wording of the council resolution, proposed by Bill Morrison, that would fire Jefferson. Instead of simply firing Jefferson, the resolution now makes it clear that the resolution “approves (Lowery’s) termination of Elbert Jefferson from the office of City Attorney.”
There is lots going on with several other political fronts.
Watch the Wednesday edition of The Daily News for the latest of the city mayor’s race. Several of the contenders are now focusing some of their rhetorical fire on not only rival and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. but the idea of consolidation as well.
And just in the old e-mail bag within the last few minutes, a statement and link to a video in which Harold Byrd declares he is running for Shelby County Mayor in 2010. This comes the same week that outgoing Shelby County Commission Deidre Malone is expected to kick off her bid in the 2010 Democratic primary for County Mayor as well.

What Might Happen Tuesday: Elbert Jefferson Vote

For anyone counting votes in advance of Tuesday’s Memphis City Council meeting – during which the council is scheduled to take action on whether to boot City Attorney Elbert Jefferson from office – here’s one forecast on how it could shake out.

There’s a strong possibility the vote on Councilman Bill Morrison’s resolution authorizing Memphis Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery to cut Jefferson loose could result in a tie vote.

For council resolutions to pass, they have to have support from a majority of councilmen present for the vote. Ordinances, on the other hand, need a majority of the body – seven votes – regardless of how many are in the room at the moment a vote is taken.

A tie vote on the Jefferson resolution Tuesday would mean it dies, and the City Attorney lives to fight another day.

There are 13 City Council members. Lowery is not voting while serving as the city’s temporary mayor. Councilman Jim Strickland regularly abstains from votes relating to the city’s legal division because of case work he has involving the city.

That’s two down, leaving 11 council members in play. For the Jefferson resolution to succeed, six of those members would have to support it.

Morrison, the sponsor of the resolution, will no doubt support it. Councilmen Kemp Conrad, Bill Boyd, Shea Flinn and Reid Hedgepeth also can be expected to line up in support.

Council members Barbara Swearengen-Ware, Joe Brown, Janis Fullilove, Wanda Halbert and Ed Ford Jr. are either definite or likely candidates to oppose the resolution.

That’s a lineup of five to five.

At this point, it seems like the deciding factor is City Council chairman Harold Collins.

Collins has made comments to reporters over the last few days that can be interpreted as critical of Jefferson’s recent actions. But Collins also is a special assistant to Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Bill Gibbons, whose office has opened an investigation into Jefferson’s recent actions – meaning Collins could decide to recuse himself.

That would leave things at 5-5, killing the measure.

We’ll see what happens Tuesday.

Try Again — How Many In The Mayor’s Race?

First of all, thank you for your patience as we wrestled with conflicting numbers and names in the field of mayoral contenders after today’s filing deadline.
And now, a word or two of explanation.
For those of you who saw the story on our website change several times in substantial ways between noon and around 7 pm Thursday, welcome to the uncertainty that comes in the wake of the deadline.
What’s different is that it unfolded with near real time reporting. There are usually two central items of interest at the filing deadline — surprises and the number of candidates. In this case there were no surprises. That left the number of candidates. And that can be a hard detail to nail down with petitions that are scrutinized line by line by Election Commission staff. It takes time and in some cases, candidates get another page or so for more signatures that can be filed at a later date. In one case, the later page of signatures got separated from the original petition. Thus Sharon Webb’s abrupt departure from the race and then her abrupt re-entry.
There could be even more changes between now and the withdrawal deadline — noon Sept. 10. Candidates sometimes contest their disqualification and sometimes they win the challenge.
The Oct. 15 election will be our first with Twitter and we’ll learn even more with that experience.
Politics is an area of coverage that seems, at least to me, to be uniquely suited to the revolution underway in how we get this vital information to you. Those changes are in turn demanding changes in the way we report. We are evolving on both fronts.

Le Bonheur Sees Upsurge in Kids With Flu Symptoms

Swine flu could be rapidly spreading in Shelby County based on the numbers of children with flu-like symptoms visiting Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center’s emergency department.
The hospital has been treating about 100 to 150 additional children each day in its ER since Aug. 23, said Jennifer Parris, a spokeswoman for the hospital. Le Bonheur has scheduled a press conference Monday morning with physicians to communicate key points about the flu.
In the meantime, the hospital is circulating a question and answer sheet.
H1N1 (swine flu) and seasonal flu have similar symptoms of fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, lack of appetite and stomach symptoms (which occur more commonly in children.)
The hospital advises parents to use the same judgment as with any flu season in deciding when to seek treatment for a child with these symptoms.
Parents are also advised to teach their children the importance of frequent and thorough hand washing and to teach them to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.
For more information about protecting yourself and your family from the flu, visit www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/ or http://health.state.tn.us/ or www.lebonheur.org.

Dansette

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