Calling an attack ad by his opponent “despicable,” 9th District Democratic congressman Steve Cohen called a press conference at his Midtown home Thursday to denounce charges by Republican nominee George Flinn that he had missed vital votes and indulged himself in too many trips at taxpayer expense.
Flinn had charged in a TV ad that Cohen had missed 130 votes during his tenure and laid the blame for much of this to what he suggested was the congressman’s excessive junketeering. At his press conference, held on his outdoor patio, Cohen acknowledged that he had missed a few votes out of “5000 votes in six years, “ but, he said, “none of them were of consequence to Tennessee, “ and his vote in “none of them” would have been the deciding one.
The congressman said the votes he missed were generally of the “Monday night” variety, routine ones that were got out of the way before the real congressional work week got under way. He said he had missed some votes on the occasion of his mother’s illness and death and others when he came home to attend the funerals of his friend, restaurateur Tommy Boggs, and the late civil rights eminence Benjamin Hooks.
Still other absences occurred unavoidably because of hitches in airline service from Memphis to Washington, both on Northwest and on Delta, which became the successor line providing such service.
As for the frequency of his travel, which Flinn’s ad had highlighted, Cohen defended it as being related not only to his job but specifically to national or international issues of importance to his constituents. Among the trips he mentioned were a recent one to Georgia, the former Soviet Union nation, as a member of the Helsinki Commission charged with observing that country’s first true democratic election.
He noted also that he had gone to Turkey, where he consulted with General David Petraeus on military issues, and to Iraq and Afghanistan to visit the troops.
“I take my work seriously. I work hard at my job, seven days a week,” Cohen said. He declared that “Dr. Flinn should take those ads off the air [and] apologize to me. He should be ashamed of himself…For him to suggest I was playing, that’s despicable.”
The congressman returned fire on his attacker, suggesting that Flinn, a multi-millionaire physician and broadcast executive, was using his millions to try to gain a political foothold. “This man desires to win a political election at all costs.”
Responding to Flinn’s frequent demands for a public debate between the two, Cohen repeated that he would not consider one unless Flinn released his tax information, something Cohen himself has just done. And he scoffed at his opponent’s ambition. “He’d be prime pickings” in a debate, Cohen said. “He knows nothing about Congress. He has no clue. He’s vulnerable on every subject.”