State Rep. Joe Towns, a dark horse candidate in Memphis' 9th Congressional District Democratic primary, came charging out of the gate Wednesday - quite literally, with most of his charges being levied against opponent Nikki Tinker.
"She's a neophyte in our community who expects to walk into a congressional seat, who has never served this community in any way whatsoever," said Towns, interviewed on Capitol Hill in Nashville after attending the weekly luncheon held by the Shelby County legislative delegation.
And Towns was just getting started. He continued making the case against Tinker, an attorney for Pinnacle Airlines who moved to Memphis from Alabama some years ago: "She represents corporate interests, not the community. She's bought and paid for by corporate interests."
Towns accused Tinker of spreading "silly" reports that he had entered the race as a stalking horse for incumbent congressman Steve Cohen or as a means of splitting the district's black vote. "That's paranoia. That's dirty politics," he said, and he further charged that the Tinker campaign had encouraged perennial candidate Roderick Ford to file against him for his District 84 House seat in an effort to prevent his congressional race.
"Cohen's the one to beat, and I'm trying to beat him," Towns insisted, and he accused the incumbent of having overstated his role, while a state senator, in establishing the current state lottery and of taking an elitist position toward scholarship recipients by favoring relatively rigid standards for eligibility.
"But he's served the community for an extended period of time, and I've served the community for an extended period of time, and she [Tinker] never has. She doesn't even know very much about it," Towns said. "I'm not saying she couldn't grow into the role, but right now she's a lot less equipped to be in Congress than somebody who's been serving the people as long as we [Towns and Cohen] have."
Race should not be a factor in deciding who represents the 9th District, said Towns, an African American like Tinker, whose supporters he blames for accenting the issue. "Voting solely on race doesn't make any sense," he said.
Towns, who frequently has been cited by the state Election Registry for lateness and irregularity in his financial-disclosure reports, said he hasn't begun his congressional fundraising campaign yet, but intends to soon and has an ultimate goal in the neighborhood of $200,000 to $250,000.
"Money's not the key to this race, though," he said. "Usefulness to the community is." Towns said he had closer ties to average people than either of his major opponents. "I know the average Joe. In fact, I am the average Joe. That's what I'm running as."