The two biggest names among local African-American office-holders headed an all-star cast which, at a Wednesday morning press conference, conferred enthusiastic support on the Democratic nominee for the 9th District congressional seat, state Senator Steve Cohen.
Speaking on Cohen's behalf at a stand set up in front of the Federal Building downtown were Memphis mayor Willie Herenton and Shelby County mayor A C Wharton. Neither left any doubt as to his preference in a general election race which matches Cohen against Republican Mark White and independent Jake Ford.
"It is very simple: Steve Cohen is the best qualified candidate for this job," Herenton said of Cohen, whom he characterized as having "a wealth of experience and a knowledge of the governmental process." As for Ford, who is the beneficiary of a movement among some ministers and other blacks who support him on racial grounds, the mayor was scornful. "No one can convince me that Jake Ford has a modicum of qualifications for this position. All he brings to the table is the Ford name.... He has simply no qualifications to serve."
In his turn, Wharton noted the somewhat festive atmosphere of the endorsement ceremony, which attracted a goodly crowd, including several legislators and other local officials, both white and African-American. The county mayor said, 'This is a joyous day in which we're looking at those things which unite us and not those things that divide us."
He praised Cohen for "what he has done for the entirety of Shelby County" and for "the "knowledge of legislative process he has mastered in Nashville," and said pointedly, "There will be no learning curve for him." The county mayor predicted that Cohen would not only faithfully represent the district but, "He will serve our nation well, both here and abroad."
Two figures whose personal histories link them to the history of the Civil Rights movement - just-retired General Sessions Judge Russell Sugarmon and longtime NAACP head Maxine Smith -- also spoke on Cohen's behalf.
In his own brief remarks, Cohen stressed his determination to help revise national priorities -- in the case of Iraq, by "bringing peace to the table with strength but bringing our troops home."
Said Cohen: "We dont need more troops on the streets of Baghdad, we need more cops on the streets of Memphis. And, Mayor Herenton, Im going to work to get more federal money to bring more policemen here."
Asked afterward if something other than racial consciousness might be involved in the stop-Cohen movement, Herenton alluded to his running quarrel with the extended Ford family over questions of political influence locally. "You know I've resented for decades the politics of the Ford family. You know, the family seems to think they should have a monopoly on all elected positions in this state and this county. I've always rejected that," he said. As for Jake Ford, "Because his name is 'Ford,' does that bring magic to the seat? I don't think so."
Herenton said he had no plans to make an endorsement "at this point in time" in the U.S. Senate race, which matches the current 9th district congressman, Democrat Harold Ford Jr. (Jake Ford's brother) against Republican Bob Corker.
As it happened, Corker would be addressing the downtown Kiwanis Club within the hour, and afterward acknowledged an earlier conversation with Mayor Herenton, which he said, however, was not political in nature.
Meanwhile, Jake Ford released a statement later in the day that began, "As a democrat [sic], I am a supporter and admirer of both mayors; however, I disagree with their choice for Congress," and went on to promise the continuation of a "tradition of service...that the district has enjoyed for thirty-two years, under my father and my brother."
Ford's statement also made mention of such issues as "President Bush's continuance of allowing record oil profits," crime, and "adequate health care."
In a response of his own, GOP candidate White lambasted what he called "career politicians," and said, "I don't believe in gay marriage and legalizing drugs, but by endorsing Cohen, they are endorsing his outrageous policies."