Democrats unite behind Paul Smith at fundraiser

Even though some of the local Democratic Party faithful expressed their displeasure with Chairman Paul Smith by refusing to attend, the Choo Choo Imperial Ballroom was fairly filled with cheering supporters on Wednesday at the party’s annual Kefauver Dinner. Organizers said the event was sold-out.

Smith and his longtime friend, former Senate Majority Leader Ward Crutchfield, each received several ovations from the crowd at the urging of speakers ranging from Sen. Beverly Marrero of Memphis to Crutchfield’s daughter Missy, who heads the Chattanooga Department of Education, Arts & Culture, and who emceed the event.

The majority of those in attendance seemed willing to forgive and forget the elder Crutchfield’s 2005 arrest and 2007 conviction on federal bribery charges, though some were seen keeping their seats while the rest stood.

A few party stalwarts privately hinted that Smith may face a leadership challenge at the next re-organization meeting (to take place in Spring 2013), even as they asserted that the current rift is more personal than political. One member expressed a desire to see younger people move into party leadership, but said that the fundraiser is a time to emphasize party unity, adding that the re-organization will be the time to “air the dirty laundry.”

Missy Crutchfield used some of her time at the lectern to rather openly lobby mayoral candidate Sen. Andy Berke to continue the department she administers, which was created in 2005 by current Mayor Ron Littlefield, should he win the March 2013 election. (She also alluded to a common perception that Berke is a shoo-in by referring to the election as a “coronation.”)

D. Bruce Shine, a Kingsport attorney and former staffer for Estes Kefauver, gave a biographical sketch of the Tennessee Congressman, U.S. Senator, and vice presidential candidate. Other speakers included Rev. Kenneth Love, Rep. JoAnne Favors, Sen. Beverly Marrero, and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen. Collectively they extolled the virtues of organized labor and excoriated Republican-led legislative changes such as the requirement for voters to show photo identification at the polling place.

Candidates in the November election were recognized on the podium: Favors, Frank Eaton, Dr. Mary Headrick, Jim Lewis, AndraĆ© McGary, and Sandy Norris Smith all were declared “winners” by Love. Following their recognition, candidates in the 2013 municipal election were invited to stand.

The annual Kefauver award, chosen by the party chair, was presented to Sandy Lusk, Missy Crutchfield, Jane Bowen-Forsythe, and Roger Graham.

Full disclosure: I was not able to stay through the entire event, and therefore missed the keynote speech by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis). Times Free Press reporter Shelly Bradbury covered it through its conclusion.

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