National Democratic campaign guru Jerry Austin, who helped guide Steve Cohen's resounding 9th Congressional District primary victory in 2008, may be coming back to Memphis politics sooner than expected. Reports that Austin will work as Carol Chumney's campaign manager in the City of Memphis's special mayoral election are "premature," according to Chumney, but Austin confirmed that he did spend some time in town recently talking to Chumney about managing her campaign.
"We ended up saying your job right now is raising money and raising volunteers and raising interest," Austin said Monday from Cleveland, Ohio, where he lives.
Austin said he told Chumney, a former legislator and one-term City Council member: "You're not spending money now. When you get to that point, let's talk again. Perhaps we can work something out."
Austin said he had not previously met Chumney, but that nationally-renowned pollster Celinda Lake, who also worked for Cohen, is doing some work for Chumney and encouraged them to discuss the possibility of working together. According to Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports, Cohen paid Austin $10,000 per month, plus Downtown living expenses. Chumney raised more than $200,000 in her 2007 bid for mayor, which was far less than her two main competitors in that race, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and former Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division president Herman Morris (she finished second, with 35 percent of the vote).
Chumney said she will not comment on specifics of her campaign team until it is finalized. She said there was a very successful campaign event Saturday afternoon at a backyard barbecue with "150 or more" people. "We had people from Boxtown to Cordova ," Chumney said. "It was the first of many backyard parties and neighborhood events we'll have across the city. Our support is continuing to grow."
Chumney said she expects to have a campaign website up later this week where she will post video, photos and transcripts of her remarks.