Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Picnic, Politics and Predictions

Sidney Chism hangs out at the both of Joe Jenkins (left), who is running for
Chancery Court Judge in the county general election on Aug. 4. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
     Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton will beat the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump to win the White House in November. That’s the prediction that former Shelby County commissioner Sidney Chism made on Saturday, June 11, during a sun-baked afternoon at his 16th annual community picnic on Horn Lake Road.
 Chism was forthright, as well as right, when he predicted that former city councilman Jim Strickland, a longtime friend and ally, would wrest the seat from A C Wharton Jr. to win the Memphis mayoral race on Oct. 8 before the final votes were tallied.
Chism is not in the business of predicting elections; however, since the federal and state primaries and county general elections are coming up on Aug. 4, predicting the outcome of an election may be Chism’s personal opinion rather than an exact science.
He said Trump’s “disruptive” nature, however, is a telltale sign that President Obama’s former Secretary of State would likely succeed him as the next commander in chief if African Americans in Shelby County in particular and a groundswell of Democrats all together make their way to the polls and vote.
“We can’t stand for Donald Trump to be elected. If we stay at home, that’s what’s going to happen,” said Chism, former chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party (SCDP) whose influence has been felt in local elections in the past.
A solid turnout in West Tennessee, he said, would give Clinton a much-needed catapult in the race against Trump. Although the rest of Tennessee is coated GOP red, the state’s western voting bloc generally favors the Democratic presidential nominee – Obama in 2012 and 2008 and Secretary of State John Kerry in 2004.
Chism said the party’s get-out-the-vote for Clinton and the slate of African American candidates running for local offices in Shelby County depend on the unwavering leadership and conviction of new party chair Michael Pope steering the local party forward.
“He can’t go in as a weakling. If he runs it the right way and don’t take no stuff, the party will grow,” said Chism, noting that the only countywide seats occupied by African Americans are Shelby County Assessor of Property Cheyenne Johnson and General Sessions Court Clerk Edward L. Stanton Jr., who is running for re-election.
“We don’t run nothing,” said Chism. “It doesn’t make sense that we’re 80 percent of this population and we don’t run anything. If we create a movement, we will be able to turn this thing around.” The Republicans, he added, “don’t want a little bit, they want it all.”
The party, however, is grappling with discord and disarray. Party chairwoman Randa Spears resigned in April and vice chairwoman Deidre Malone a month earlier. A year earlier, party chairman Bryan Carson resigned during an internal investigation into the party’s finances.
“The party has had difficulties for the last 15 to 20 years,” said Chism, blaming much of the brouhaha and internal conflict on longtime party loyalist and flag-bearer Dell Gill, a member of the executive committee.
“The party is never going to change until we get rid of Dell Gill,” Chism said.
The back and forth feud between the two Democrats is spilling over into the public arena. Gill said whatever is happening with the party has nothing to do with him, except that there’s a faction supporting him a faction supporting Chism.
“I am the most senior Democrat of the Shelby County Democratic Party,” said Gill, surmising that Chism “has no real influence or strength in the party. If I have anything to do with it, I would have him de-bon a fide as a Democrat.”
The ire that he feels for Chism is based on the Democrat crossing party lines in 2010 to endorse Republican William “Bill” Odom for sheriff over Democratic nominee Bennie L. Cobb, a retired caption with the sheriff department.
Chism is Odom’s community relations specialist.
“If Dell Gill doesn’t like what the party is doing, he needs to start his own party,” said Chism. “The party has got to take a stand against Dell Gill and leave the personal stuff at home.”
Gill did not attend the picnic and forbade the party to set up a booth. The park, however, was replete with political signs in myriad colors contrasted against green treetops. Under sparse shading, politicians hawked election material and asked for votes.
The picnic has become a meeting place for politicians. “I started the picnic for kids,” said Chism. “Very few kids get out of the neighborhood.”

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