Democratic activist behind unusual campaign ads - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Democratic activist behind unusual campaign ads

If you listened to Memphis radio during the weeks leading up to Tuesday's Shelby County primary, you may have heard a series of ads telling you not to vote for Walter Bailey or Cleo Kirk.

The radio ads were crystal clear.

"If you vote for Cleo Kirk or Walter bailey, your vote won't count. You have thrown away your right," they warned.

The state supreme court ruling at the end of March upheld term limits and meant Walter Bailey and Cleo Kirk could not serve if they did win.

Both Kirk and Bailey campaigned anyway. The radio ads aimed to keep them from winning.

But the ten thousand dollar radio campaign wasn't paid for by Republicans. It wasn't paid for by their primary opponents either.

"Paid for by the Shelby County Voter Education Committee," the ad said.

It was paid for by a group that has no obligation to disclose the identities of its members.

But we now know who was pulling the strings.

Who organized the effort?

"I did," says Richard Fields, well-known civil rights lawyer and longtime Democratic party activist.

"There wasn't the will of a lot of people to try to get things straight and we thought we'd just try and educate folks," he says.

In Tuesday's primary, Bailey lost to political newcomer J.W. Gibson.

Cleo Kirk was clobbered at the polls by Sidney Chism.

And many in the political community credit the ad campaign with making a difference.

"The Democratic party has to stand for something. And one of the first things it has to stand for is fairness in voting. And there are people within the party who just don't believe in that. We don't want to be known as the party of dead voters, the party of people voting from outside the district or the party of people who have candidates who can't serve," says Fields.

And - he says - the final vote tallies indicate the voters heard the message.

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