Longtime Democratic Party power Sidney Chism says he will be leaving public office and front line politics when his term as a county commissioner is completed in 2014.
Now 73 and looking forward to enjoying time at home with his wife and grandchildren, Chism laments that, "Our younger people have lost interest in politics. The fight is not there as it should be because us older guys did not provide an avenue for them to become involved."
In short, Chism said he and his generational peers dropped the ball by not making sure that every segment of the community was fairly included to advance its needs and dreams.
"But I don't think it's permanent," said Chism. "We have to find the right candidates. Not candidates that's running just to make a payday, but that really want to make a difference."
As Chism looks to take his leave, Shelby County Democratic Party president Bryan Carson is positioned to forge ahead. Selected by the party in April, he is the son of respected party activist Gale Jones Carson, a member of the Democratic National Committee.
"I ran on unity and believe that we will be a strong cohesive group that can get people out to the polls," said Carson. "We had a huge presidential election, resulting in the fact that nearly everyone over 18 at the time is registered to vote. The challenge is to get them engaged. Fully 33 percent of the Democratic vote in Tennessee resides in Shelby County."
Noting 76 members on the Executive Committee, Carson said he was surprised that so many are in their twenties and thirties.
"We are going to form a think tank to come up with ideas to reach out to the younger generation and get them out to vote," he said. "We have to get them engaged and educate them on how their vote counts and how these people sitting here doing their jobs on a day to day basis affects them in their lives."
Still, Carson and the local Democrats have a formidable challenge ahead as the party prepares for a wide slate of elections in 2014.
In Chism's view, the right wing of the Republican Party is dead set on turning back the hands of time.
"They know there is no election that African Americans in this county is not capable of winning if we have the right candidates," he said. "But the truth of the matter is, and your paper has to own a part of this, is the election of Steve Cohen.
"I have nothing against Steve, he's a good guy, but we had qualified African Americans running for that office several times and Steve won. A line was drawn to create a district that would have African-American leadership and we let it slip by. Why?"
Harking back to the era of former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., Chism said the occupant of that office was able to marshal the strength of local Democrats in a way that Cohen has been unable to match.
On the horizon
Democratic Party Chairman Carson succeeded another young professional, attorney Van Turner, who used Chism's annual political picnic to announce that he plans to run for the District 12 seat on the County Commission.
"We need economic parity in this community for all citizens that are willing to work hard," Turner said.
Former Memphis City Schools Board Commissioner Patrice Robinson announced that she would be challenging current Shelby County Commissioner Justin Ford to represent District 3, Position 3.
Other prospective candidates in the May 6th, 2014 Democratic Primary include:
Henri Brooks, Juvenile Court Clerk;
Tarik Sugarmon, Juvenile Court Judge;
Reginald Milton, County Commission, District 10.