Maxine Smith Says She's Pro-Cohen

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Memphis civil rights legend Maxine Smith says her support of Congressman Steve Cohen has more to do with Cohen than it does with any perceived loss of confidence in Mayor Willie Herenton.

"I just think Steve is doing a good job as congressman," said Smith on Monday in a brief telephone interview. "It has nothing to do with Mayor Herenton on his merits. I supported him every time he's run for mayor and will continue to support him as mayor."

Cohen and Herenton could face off in a congressional showdown in 2010. Herenton, whose mayoral term does not end until the end of 2011, has filed papers to run against Cohen for the Ninth Congressional District seat previously held by Harold Ford (who is holding two fundraisers for Cohen) and Harold Ford Jr. The district is majority black.

Smith's support is a coup for Cohen and could make it easier for other black leaders and voters to support Cohen when the campaign heats up next year. The longtime executive secretary of the Memphis NAACP before she retired, Smith was a member of the Memphis Board of Education when Herenton was city schools superintendent. Her support was instrumental in him getting the job in 1978 when the board initially selected a white superintendent from Michigan.

Asked if it would be a mistake for anyone to assume she has lost faith in Herenton, she said, "Yes, that would be a misperception."

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