It’s a solid year before the congressional race kicks off in Tennessee, but already race is the main issue of the day.
Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton, who argues that Tennessee is living behind the times by failing to elect an African American among its all-White delegation, believes he should be chosen to represent the mostly Black Ninth Congressional District over the incumbent – White, Jewish Democrat Steve Cohen.
“To know Steve Cohen is to know that he really does not think very much of African Americans,” Herenton told radio station KWAM in a recent interview. “He’s played the Black community well.”
The primary doesn’t begin until August 2010, but Herenton is making it clear early on that Cohen, who coasted to victory over a little-known Black candidate last year, should not be allowed to return to Congress to represent a 60-percent African-American district. “This seat was set aside for people who look like me,” said Sidney Chism, a Black county commissioner who runs Herenton’s campaign. “It wasn’t set aside for a Jew or a Christian. It was set aside so that Blacks could have representation.” In 1973, the district was redrawn and renumbered, which substantially increased the number of Black voters. Since Reconstruction, Tennessee has had only two Black members of Congress – Harold Ford Sr. and Harold Ford Jr. – both of whom have served the Ninth District.
But Cohen, 60, would argue that representation is about much more than race. “I vote like a 45-year-old Black woman,” says Cohen, who wrote a national apology for slavery and the Jim Crow laws, and received an “A” rating from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “I don’t know the Black experience, but I know about being a minority and being discriminated against because of religion.”