Racial overtones in Cohen/Herenton race featured in New York Times - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Racial overtones in Cohen/Herenton race featured in New York Times

Rep. Steve Cohen Rep. Steve Cohen
Willie Herenton Willie Herenton

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - The 9th Congressional District showdown is making national news. The front page of Monday's edition of the New York Times features headline about the racial overtones of the contest between Congressman Steve Cohen and his opponent, former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.

The first line of this New York Times article reads: "A Congressional race in Tennessee has become freighted with racial overtones..."

The article calls attention to Doctor Willie Herenton's call for black leadership of the majority African American 9th Congressional District that Jewish Congressman Steve Cohen won by a landslide.

Reverend Ralph White, who is friends with both candidates, is quoted in the article.

"It's going to be a very difficult situation to choose that person," White said.

Nearly 18 years ago, former Mayor Herenton became the consensus candidate for the African American community in White's church.  But White was also one of few Memphis pastors to endorse Cohen for Congress over African American candidate Nikki Tinker

"I think Congressman Cohen does speak for the district, but for some they feel that voice should be one that looks like them and that becomes the argument," he said.

The New York Times article also references former Mayor Herenton's exit interview with Memphis Flyer Senior Editor Jackson Baker, where Herenton used strong words to describe Cohen.

"I think it's part of a strategy to see if he can get under Cohen's skin," Baker said.
Cohen won't respond to Herenton's comment.  But Baker believes if Cohen takes the bait, it could heighten racial tensions.

"If you could get a classic showdown between a white guy and a black guy, then the chances of polarizing their representative bases - their demographic bases - increase," Baker said.

And if that happens, Herenton could have an edge in the 60 percent African American 9th District.

"It's going to be an exciting race," White said.

The primary election while be held in August of 2010.

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