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"With Friends Like These...": Cohen's Advantage Over Tinker

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In his lifetime of political prominence, 9th District congressman Steve Cohen has been lucky in his network of friends - ranging from the late state Senator James White, who in acquiring a judgeship three decades back backed Cohen as a long-term successor, to ever-loyal mega-developer and political maven Henry Turley, to former lieutenant governor John Wilder, to the late music legend Warren Zevon, to the venerable Detroit congressman John Conyers, on whose Judiciary Committee the freshman Democrat now serves. (With apologies to all those many left out of the list.)

Cohen has also been fortunate, from time to time, in the nature of his enemies.
Not to downgrade the Rev. LaSimba Gray, who has his accomplishments, but Gray's espousal of color-line politics in the 9th District and his all-out assault on federal Hate Crimes legislation have not exactly made him an exemplary advocate for an alternative to Cohen.

Gray, however, has been sagacity itself compared to Cohen's latest foe - one George Brooks, a minister in Murfreesboro way off in Middle Tennessee, who recently authored and distributed a flyer bearing the incendiary slogan, "Steve Cohen and the Jews Hate Jesus."

Not only is that message slanderous concerning the Jewish faith; it also belies the actual predilections of the congressman himself. In the course of a lengthy interview in 2001 for a profile in Memphis Magazine, Cohen demonstrated both a familiarity with and a fondness for the ministry of Jesus and noted that, in his upbringing, he and his family had participated in Christmas observances even while keeping to the tenets of Judaism.

The nature of these onslaughts against Cohen had surely created problems for the congressman's only declared election opponent, Nikki Tinker, who, insofar as she has campaigned at all this year, has kept the same distance from issues as such that she did during her first try for the office in 2006. Generally speaking, too, she has kept a distance from reporters and was not heard from during last year's locally generated controversy over Hate Crimes. It may have been unfair to impute her solidarity with views like Rev. Gray's, but her silence made it possible for many to do so.

Nor did Tinker come front and center during the immediate outcry over Rev. Brooks' flyer, though a campaign spokesman made statements to The Commercial Appeal that amounted to a disavowal of the minister's slurs. But ultimately Tinker herself, interviewed on camera by WMC-TV's Kontji Anthony, would say this: "I would not stand for any attacks on the Jewish faith or any other faith for that matter and I just want to make sure everybody knows that Nikki Tinker doesn't play those types of politics."

One can empathize with Tinker. Assuming the absence of common cause between herself and such other declared adversaries of Rep. Cohen as those cited above (and, failing evidence to the contrary, she is entitled to the benefit of the doubt), the axiom that best applies to her case is: With friends like that, who needs enemies?

And, unlike the case in 2006, when she was but one of a dozen or so active competitors for the congressional seat, Tinker is one-on-one with the incumbent now, and she should know that the pressure for her to be explicit on contentious issues is likely to mount, and mount progressively.

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