Herenton Cohen & More at Chism Picnic

Shelby County Commission Sidney Chism held his 9th annual picnic in southwest Memphis this afternoon. Billed as a bipartisan political event, the picnic is a rite of passage for any Democrat seeking local or state office.

2009 is an off election year, except for those of you living in Arlington and Lakeland. But there is no such thing as an off year for politics in Memphis. That is certainly the case this year.

‘Some of you I love to death but I am not going to support you,” Chism said as candidates took turns speaking.

Here are a few observations from the Chism picnic:

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton showed up in campaign mode even though he had no campaign literature or t-shirts touting his bid in the 2010 Democratic Congressional primary. As he arrived, Herenton spotted Steve Steffens, also known by his blog name Left Wing Cracker. Steffens was wearing a Cohen campaign t-shirt — the only Cohen t-shirt seen in the crowd. Herenton saw it and immediately said, “Why are you wearing that loser t-shirt?”

“I wish all of you well, except one candidate,” Herenton told the crowd weighted heavily with politicians active, inactive and prospective. “That’s the one that’s running against me. I don’t wish him well.”

Cohen showed up shortly after Herenton left. And he minimized Herenton’s presence in the race. “If I have an opponent or don’t have an opponent, the issue is Steve Cohen and how I do in my district,” Cohen said. “It’s really not the opposition, it’s me.”

Neither Herenton nor Cohen had signs up.

The most surprising campaign signage of the day came from County Commissioner James Harvey. He had three large placards reading: “Memphis Mayor 2011. James Harvey vs. A.C. Wharton. Who Should Be Mayor? Harvey 2011.”

“They are not campaign signs. It’s basically a campaign notice. I’m putting a notice to the community that there are other options, other than A C Wharton,” Harvey told The Daily News. “I think the bench of black leadership is very thin. I want to expand the bench and be competitive.”

“I appreciate him helping me get my name out. We’re glad Commissioner Harvey’s helping us out,” Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. responded when asked about the sign. “Tell him to get it right though. There’s no periods after A and C.”

Democratic candidates for governor Kim McMillan of Clarksville and Mike McWherter of Jackson were at the picnic as was Republican candidate for governor and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons. Democratic contenders Ward Cammack of Nashville and Roy Herron of Dresden had been in town the day before for a local Democratic party fundraiser at the Hatillo Theater.

State Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle had said he would make his decision on joining the Democratic pack once the legislative session ended. The session ended Thursday.

“I’m going to take a deep breath, take a break for a couple of weeks and talk to folks and see where we are. I’m awfully tired. We’ve had a hard year,” Kyle told The Daily News.

Shelby County Commission chairman Deidre Malone brought her still unofficial campaign for Shelby County mayor in the Democratic primary to the picnic along with plenty of supporters wearing t-shirts reading “Who Knows Shelby County?”

Also at the picnic, Bank of Bartlett president and 2002 mayoral contender Harold Byrd who was surprised to see some signs with his image and the slogan “United in Our Dreams.” Byrd is considering a bid in the 2010 Democratic mayoral primary but has made no decision yet. Chism has been a prominent backer of Byrd now as well as in 2002.

City Council chairman Myron Lowery was among the Malone supporters in the crowd. He took a turn on stage, saying “I am not running today, but I may be soon.” Lowery has expressed interest in running for Memphis mayor should Herenton leave before the end of his current term of office.

Herenton seemed to discourage that possibility, telling reporters that his supporters don’t want him to give up the mayor’s office while running for Congress.

Read more in Tuesday’s edition of The Daily News.

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