MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - The war of words between 9th Congressional District incumbent Rep. Steve Cohen and his opponent, former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, is heating up.
In an interview Friday, the eve of his campaign's kick-off, Herenton said he was gearing up for a fight against Cohen.
"We will document from a comparative perspective that the incumbent has not done a good job," Herenton said in an interview with Action News 5.
But Cohen said he welcomes the challenge.
"Being a legislator you know how the budget process works and how to get appropriations," he said. "I'm very good at it and I'm proud of my record."
Herenton said he intentionally held off announcing his campaign to coincide with Black History Month to call attention to the lack of African American representation in Congress.
"Willie Herenton isn't playing a race card," he said. "What is this? How did this happen? It seems like a whole lot of people have been playing a race card."
Cohen wasn't buying it.
"The 9th district was not drawn on the basis of race, but on the other hand it can't be changed, because the basis of it is that the African American population gets to choose their congressman and twice they've chosen me," he said.
Herenton claims he was insulted when Cohen advocated an apology for slavery.
"My ancestors were slaves," he said. "I'm African American, but I'm not gonna go to Congress and ask somebody to apologize for something that happened in my history."
"The Congressional Black Caucus supported the apology for slavery 100 percent, and the chairman of the caucus said it was an historic day for our country, and so did the NAACP," Cohen responded.
While Herenton accused Cohen of 'playing' the African American community, Cohen said his passion for civil rights started decades before he went to Washington.
"I take umbrage to his statement, but if that's what he has to work with, it will be an interesting six months," Cohen said.
Since his retirement from Memphis City Hall, Herenton has been keeping up with the debate in congress by watching a lot of C-SPAN. He plans to reveal his stance on various issues throughout his campaign.