Thursday’s Republican and Democratic primaries for the 9th Congressional District seat look like anything but a toss-up, observes Bart Sullivan. Name recognition and funding heavily favor incumbent Steve Cohen and challenger Dr. George S. Flinn Jr. In fact, in a speech to the United Transportation Union’s meeting at The Peabody last week, Cohen was already predicting a Democratic primary win over Memphis City Schools board representative and Memphis Urban League CEO Tomeka R. Hart.
“Then we’ve got a general election going up against a self-funder,” Cohen told the union members. “He’s going to spend probably $3 (million) or $4 million dollars.”
He wasn’t talking about 2010 Republican nominee Charlotte Bergmann, who has raised $19,495 this election cycle and had $531.93 in cash on hand in her most recent Federal Election Commission report this month.
Flinn, 68, raised $3,385 in the period between July 1-13, has loaned his campaign committee $1 million, has already spent $354,417 and has $442,948 in his FEC account.
…Flinn also appears to be looking to November, and Cohen. He said he will take issue with Cohen’s liberal voting record, saying “my views are more in line with Memphis and Shelby County,” which he said he believes are “middle-of-the-road conservative.”
…Flinn, who owns more than 40 radio stations from California to Florida, including Hot 107.1, a hip-hop station in Memphis, said he will spend “whatever it takes to get the message out.” Flinn spent $3.6 million in 2010 in his loss to Fincher in the GOP primary.
State Rep. G.A. Hardaway Sr. owes Memphis and Shelby County $39,000 in taxes and weed-cutting fees on three local properties, reports The Commercial Appeal. Hardaway says his mother died in 2007 and left several properties to her four children, and that there’s confusion over who’s responsible for them. “Well, from my understanding all of the (children’s names) should be on all of the properties,” Hardaway said. He also said he believed his former attorney had made arrangements to pay the taxes.
Hardaway’s situation was just one of the discoveries The Commercial Appeal made as it reviewed paper trails for more than 40 candidates in contested races in the Aug. 2 elections. The newspaper looked at criminal records, bankruptcies, civil lawsuits and property tax payments, among other documents.
…House District 84 (Democrats)
Hendrell Remus: The University of Memphis sued Remus and in January won a judgment of about $6,000. Remus said the case came about when he used a check to rent a stage for a performance of an inspirational play he had written. The check bounced.
He said he’s almost cleared the debt. “I think next week will be the last payment and we should be done with that.”
Incumbent state Rep. Joe Towns Jr. has missed the deadline to pay 2011 Shelby County taxes of $1,050 on his property.
…Incumbent Rep. John DeBerry Jr. agreed to a General Sessions consent judgment of about $6,500 in 2008 after not making payments on two leased recliners from Ashley Furniture. The company attempted to garnish his state wages, but paperwork shows the state won’t do it because it’s already garnishing his legislative wages for another judgment.
I didn’t default on anything,” DeBerry said Monday. “Those recliners are sitting in my office right now, paid in full.”
A judgment in a Chancery Court lawsuit filed by Penton Publishing Inc. in 2003 led to years of garnishments against DeBerry’s state legislative salary, according to an online summary of the case. The case file wasn’t available in the Downtown courthouse.
DeBerry says the garnishment is an old business dispute involving his advertising agency. “I’m responsible and I was the logical person to go after, and everyone went after me.” He said he’s let the garnishment stay in place because the opposing side “went behind my back and got the judgment when we could have had a settlement.”
He added: “I don’t have much debt. I’m 61 years old, and the only thing I haven’t paid in full is my house and my car.”
…(In the 9th Congressional District Republican primary)
A collection agency sued Charlotte Bergmann in Shelby County General Sessions court earlier this year, seeking payment for $9,600 owed on her Chase Bank account. Bergmann said this case is related to a foreclosure of her home in 2006. She said the foreclosure forced her to sleep in her car for some months; that the bank actually owes her money, not the other way around; and that the issue is coming up now for political reasons. “I am the strongest candidate at this point, so there is some political dirt being thrown up.”
Savage Construction Co. filed suit against George Flinn in November 2008, saying that it had agreed to renovate a house near Memphis Country Club for about $621,000 but that changes ordered by Flinn and others caused the size of the contract to increase to about $1.4 million.
The contractor filed suit in Chancery Court, seeking to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars. The two sides settled last year. “We’re friends and we’re moving on,” Flinn said.
Ernest Lunati is a perennial candidate whose Shelby County criminal record lists a nickname, “The Amazing E,” and more than 30 encounters with police, starting in the 1960s. Several of his arrests are for promoting prostitution or pornography, and he was convicted under an obscenity statute in 1983.
In 1998, he fired a shot at a father and son who were looking at what a police officer described as a possible stolen pickup truck on a parking lot on Summer Avenue. The bullet bounced off the truck’s tailgate and hit the father in the leg, according to a police affidavit. Lunati later pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment charges and was sentenced to a year in prison.
It has been a long time since Memphis and Shelby County saw a truly competitive Republican primary race in the 9th Congressional District, observes Bart Sullivan. And then came 2012. Charlotte Bergmann, 59, a Republican businesswoman who won 25 percent of the general election vote in 2010 when she ran against incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, drew a primary election opponent this year in deep-pocketed Dr. George S. Flinn Jr., 68, a former Shelby County commissioner. Two other candidates, Ernest Lunati and Rollin Wilson Stooksberry, both of whom have little support and few resources, are also on the GOP ballot this year.
…Bergmann had two little-known Republican opponents in 2010 and won the nomination with 13,285 votes. Voting records dating back to 1980 show only seven contested Republican Party primaries in the 9th District and nine uncontested races.
The contested race this time, and the prospect of big money being spent, “shows that there’s a lot of interest on the Republican side to replace Steve Cohen,” said Justin Joy, the Shelby County Republican Party chairman. With the changes in the 9th District’s boundaries that resulted from this year’s congressional redistricting, he added, “there’s a possibility” a Republican could win.
Flinn ran in the 8th Congressional District in 2010 and lost in a three-way Republican primary to political newcomer Stephen Fincher despite spending $3.6 million, most of it his own money
Flinn has loaned his campaign $1 million, and according to his most recent quarterly statement to the Federal Election Commission in April, he had raised $11,599 and had $699,092 in the committee bank account. Bergmann had raised $7,497 and had $3,283 in cash on hand in April.
Bergmann’s campaign manager, Randy Lawson, resigned last week because of what she described as “the impact of the current severe economic conditions.”
Flinn’s campaign-spending history translates into a man accustomed to “dropping big bucks” with nothing to show for it, according to Bergmann.
“I respect Dr. Flinn; don’t get me wrong,” she said. “His heart is in the right place. But he’s been a nine-time loser. It’s not only just money that enables one to win a campaign.”
Dr. George S. Flinn Jr., a radiologist and radio station magnate who has sought or held public office in Shelby County since 2002, said Wednesday he will seek as a Republican the 9th Congressional seat held by Democrat Steve Cohen.
From the Commercial Appeal: “It’s a winnable district,” Flinn said. “The redistricting really changed the makeup of the district. I’m looking forward to winning.”
Flinn, who spent $3.5 million of his own money losing the GOP primary in the 8th Congressional District to Stephen Fincher in 2010, said Cohen “has not done a very good job in Congress.”
“We’re not as well off as when he started. Gas prices are up. Unemployment’s up. It’s time for me to get in there and make some difference because I’m worried about what I’m going to leave to my children and grandchildren.”
Cohen dismissed Flinn’s candidacy, saying, “I take care of my constituents. My relationship with my district is based on how I treat my district and it doesn’t make any difference who should run — Democrat, Republican or independent.
“My analysis of it is, on the worst day possible, I’ll get 71 percent of the vote,” Cohen said of the November general election.