By Liz Murray Garrigan
Several top partners with one of Nashville's largest and most prestigious law firmsone with a reputation for being particularly influential in government and politicsare urging their attorneys to support Bill Purcell for mayor.
The firm, Bass Berry & Sims, is considered one of the city's most conservative, blue-chip outfits, and many of its lawyers have had significant political roles in Nashville. Attorney Dick Lodge, for example, is the former chairman of the state Democratic Party and is closely aligned with Mayor Phil Bredesen as chairman of the Nashville Sports Authority.
Another Bass Berry & Sims attorney, Mark Tipps, served as Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Frist's chief of staff, and last year, was deputy chief counsel for U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson's special investigation on political fund-raising abuses.
An e-mail addressed last week to all attorneys at the law firm notified them about a luncheon this week with Purcell at the firm's offices. It went on to urge the attorneys to support the former state legislator from East Nashville in this summer's race for mayor.
Of the three announced candidates for mayor (former Mayor Dick Fulton and Vice Mayor Jay West are the other two), ``We believe that one...has the vision and energy to build on Mayor Bredesen's legacy and is by far the best candidate for the future of Nashville,'' the e-mail said. It went on to encourage the lawyers to support Purcell's campaign independently by making political contributions.
The development may be significant for Purcell, whose campaign is said to be well-organized if ultimately less equipped to raise the kind of campaign cash mayoral races require. His name recognition is not as high as Fulton or West, since Purcell represented only a piece of Nashville in the state Legislature.
Generally, those in the Bass Berry & Sims family have been considered Bredesen supporters, so it may be significant that, with Bredesen out of the running, Purcell is picking up that support. Still, it's possible that the benefits of the firm's support for Purcell, or anyone else for that matter, can be overstated. Those among Nashville's legal elite who themselves have entered the political fray have suffered some difficult political losses in recent memory.
Juvenile Court Judge Andy Shookhoff, for example, whose support was strong among the Nashville intelligentsia, was knocked off the bench in May by the down-to-earth Betty Adams Green, a highly qualified opponent with a more common touch. And Bass Berry & Sims attorney Cliff Knowles, who made a bid for a newly created circuit court judgeship in Nashville, was also defeated in May by the scrappier, union-supported Carol Soloman.
Bass Berry & Sims attorney Mark Tipps is making rounds again. After political stints with both U.S. Sens. Bill Frist and Fred Thompson in the past several years, Tipps this week accepted a job as former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander's presidential campaign manager.
Alexander, who has filed papers with the Federal Election Commission creating a presidential exploratory committee, is expected soon to formally announce his presidential candidacy.
Since dropping out of the Republican presidential primaries in 1996, Alexander has focused on fund-raising for his political action committees and on advocating his family-friendly message.
Tipps is expected to leave the firm in the next several weeks and start as Alexander's campaign manager full-time.
Former Mayor Dick Fulton, whose fund-raising, at about $400,000, is far outpacing that of his opponents, has hired Nashville political consultant Bill Fletcher to help direct his political campaign.
Fletcher, whose political consulting extends far outside the bounds of Nashville, has committed to concentrate on the Fulton candidacy this summer. A former journalist and a keen strategist, Fletcher has been described, even by himself, as ``the dark knight of Nashville politics.''
When Gov. Don Sundquist announced last week that new license plates will start appearing above Tennessee tail pipes in 2000, he described the design with the bright yellow sun as ``moving billboards'' for the state.
In fact, Sundquist's own campaign billboards from his gubernatorial races in 1994 and 1998 bear a striking resemblance to the official ``Tennessee Sounds Good to Me'' design that will be imprinted on the new plates.
``A guy named Sundquist has put a sun on the state's license plates,'' one detractor noted wryly. ``What is this, Japan?''
To reach Liz, call her at 244-7989, ext. 406, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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