Rep. Cohen the Subject of Two New York Times Analyses

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Rep. Steve Cohen
  • Rep. Steve Cohen
9th District congressman Steve Cohen has been no slouch at garnering national publicity since his first election in 2006. Cohen has appeared on various high-profile TV shows, has figured in numerous interviews by Capitol Hill journalists, and has made more than his share of news, most notably in the world-wide coverage of his sponsorship last year of a congressional resolution apologizing for slavery.

Cohen figured prominently twice this week in the New York Times, the Good Gray Lady itself, and whether these two mentions accrue to positive or negative outcomes is something for time, and not the Times, to unravel.

The first mention was in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times Magazine, in James Straub’s article “The New Israel Lobby,” which deals with the emergence of J Street, a progressive Jewish lobby which, among other things, aims at a more even-handed approach to Middle Eastern questions, especially the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, than traditional organizations like AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).

Cohen figures in the article as a representative Jewish congressman drawn to J Street’s positions. A paragraph reads as follows:

“Even J Street’s staunch friends on the Hill acknowledge the potential costs of their position. Steve Cohen, a Democratic congressman who represents Memphis, told me that in his mind Israel had squandered its heroic status through its wars in Lebanon and Gaza and had come to be seen as “the neighborhood bully.” But he recalled that “when J Street first surfaced, the talk among members was, ‘Do we get near them?’ ” The organization had endorsed Cohen and asked if he would record a video for its Web site. “Several veteran Jewish members cautioned me not to do it,” he said. “They were afraid I would be attacked by Aipac. Some people whispered about the possibility of having an opponent.” He went ahead and made the video. He also signed the J Street letter calling for deeper American engagement in the peace process. I asked if there had been any repercussions. “I’m thinking about it,” said Cohen, a significantly wryer-than-average legislator. “I did have some strong Aipac supporters who didn’t come to my last fund-raising party. And they’re normally the first people to come forward.”

Though “the New Israel Lobby” is generally sympathetic to J Street, the section on Cohen, like the article as a whole, stresses the possible political dangers of breaking with AIPAC and other established pro-Israel lobbies.

Monday, a day later, would see the appearance of a Times article by reporter Robby Brown, who spent several days in Memphis recently, interviewing various people about next year’s pending Democratic primary showdown between incumbent congressman Cohen and former mayor Willie Herenton, who has indicated he will oppose Cohen.

Brown’s article makes the usual stops, alluding to Cohen’s easy go of it against African-American opponent Nikki Tinker in 2008, his efforts to attend to the interests of the disproportionately black constituency of the 9th, Herenton’s oft-quoted “Cohen is an assole” remark to the Flyer, and the ex-mayor’s essential challenge, summed up in Herenton’s analysis of the contest: “It’s going to be about race, representation and power.”

A representative quote comes from the Rev. Ralph White, pastor of Bloomfield Baptist Church who has been a vocal supporter of Cohen: “There are those who come up to me and say, ‘Even though I love Steve, this is a very important seat to the African-American community,’ It’s a very sticky, touchy situation.”

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