Backed by a roomful of enthusiastic supporters in his Monroe Ave. office down, lawyer Ricky Wilkins formally announced his candidacy on Wednesday for the 9th District Congressional seat, and, for the most part, he ignored the subject of his opponent in the Democratic primary, four-term incumbent Congressman Steve Cohen.
Boasting his “record of community service,” including 20 years with the Memphis Housing Authority board, during which, he said, MHA was transformed from “one of the worst to one of the best,” Wilkins reflected on his personal odyssey from an impoverished boyhood to a successful career and said he would bring “a message of change and hope” to the voters.
“I know what it’s like to live off food stamps,” he said. “Who better to represent the people of the 9th Congressional district than one who has walked a mile in their shoes?”
Wilkins avoided specifics in his remarks, suggesting that in what would be “a long campaign,” there would be ample time to delve into those and into the differences that might exist between himself and Rep. Cohen.
He said he had “no bones to pick” with the congressman, seeming to acknowledge that Cohen had “served the community, but said,. “I simply believe it is time to move on. He represents the past, I represent the future. it’s time to move on.” He may have been targeting Cohen, however, with he later contrasted himself to “career politicians who live off the community.”
Asked how he expected to triumph over an incumbent who has defeated recent primary opponents by margins ranging from 4 to 1 to 8 to 1, Wilkins said the answer would come from a “bottom up” campaign and cited the presence of “the people behind me.”
That remark drew applause from his backers and a shout of “We’re fired up and ready to go!” from supporter Randy Wade, who until a falling out with Cohen that culminated with his resignation last year had been the Congressman’s local field director.
Other well-known activists in his support group Wednesday were Fred Dorse, Randall Catron, Henry Brenner, and campaign manager Carla Stotts.
Wilkins was asked whether he expected criticism during the campaign about his profitable relationship with Linebarger, a company hired by the City of Memphis to collect delinquent taxes and later accused of overcharges, or about the expense to the City of his long and costly litigation against John Elkington and Performa regarding Beale Street management.
Answering that he was “very proud of clients I represented” during his 23 years of law practice, Wilkins added that “most will tell you I’m a hard worker. that that I produce results, that justify any fees that I earned.”