Greeting a large crowd of supporters and other attendees, including numerous local officials, at the formal opening of his newest campaign headquarters at Poplar and Collins on Saturday. 9th District congressman Steve Cohen said, “I get better at my job every day,” recounted a list of achievements for the district, and rebutted a charge from the camp of Democratic primary opponent Ricky Wilkins that he isn’t “local” enough.
“Even if I weren’t the candidate, it makes no sense not to keep ‘goin’ with Cohen,’” the congressman said, contending that “in Congress, experience counts.” Noting that his own campaign slogan is subject to re-use in campaign after campaign, Cohen teased Wilkins for “being smart enough to copy us” with billboards that proclaim “Our Next Congressman.”
Said Cohen to appreciative laughter from the crowd, “He can use those again and again and again!”
Focusing on his work in Washington and his relationship with President Obama, who has endorsed him, Cohen said his good relations across the aisle with Republicans like Appropriations Committee chairman Frank Wolf had allowed him to add $5 million to the federal budget for local rape-kit testing. He said he had received a call at the time from Mayor A C Wharton who was with a group of women “singing my praises” for doing so.
Cohen also cited his efforts on behalf of minimum wage and unemployment insurance legislation, on drug sentencing reform, and on his success in securing funding for local projects as a member of the House Transportation Committee.
A congressman’s main task, Cohen said, is to keep local officials supplied with federal funding, “the tools they need,” to support projects of their own devising. “Congressional people don’t administer We can’t tell them [local officials] what to do,” he said, adding to applause, “If you want a political boss, we can bring back Crump!”
Settling a score of sorts with his former district director Randy Wade, now a cog in the Wilkins campaign, Cohen recounted a conversation between the two at a time when a local tax-refund company was in legal trouble. “When Mo Money Taxes was ripping people off in his co0mmjunity, my district director came to me and said ‘don’t mess with that, that’s so and so’s nephew.’ I said I don’t care whose nephew it is. They’re messing with our people….Now they’re no longer in the tax business and they won’t rip off anybody.”
Cohen also said he had resisted pressure to get aboard the charter-surrender bandwagon at the onset of the local school-merger crisis in 2010. “You don’t get on the Titanic,” he said, contending that supporters of the Memphis City Schools charter surrender “shouldn’t have got involved with ‘local issues’ because they were working for lawyers, who made millions and millions of dollars and have messed up our city schools.”
That last thrust doubled as a hat-tip to the Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr., who had stoutly resisted the charter surrender as an MCS board member. Whalum, a long-time supporter of Cohen, had introduced the congressman on Saturday with a spirited endorsement that included a warning to the crowd.
“Be cognizant of a real truth in this city,” Whalum had said, predicting “one of the most mud-slinging races we’ve seen in the 9th District in a long time, particularly among African-American ministers,” based on “the red herring that a Jew cannot effectively represent the black community in Memphis.”
This was “disingenuous, especially in Memphis, Tennessee, for a group of Christian African-American ministers,” said Whalum. “We preachers get in the pulpit every Sunday and preach about how a Jew is effectively representing us in Heaven for 2000 years!”