MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A fiery Dr. Willie Herenton held a hastily assembled press conference Friday to say he still wants to debate his opponent in the 9th Congressional District race, Rep. Steve Cohen. Outside Cohen's campaign headquarters in Midtown, Herenton issued a challenge.
"I want to debate Cohen," he said. "I'm here today to respectfully call Steve Cohen out to give the people the right to hear us debate."
Cohen's campaign spokesperson, Stephanie Young, said staffers were surprised by the visit.
"We had no idea that he was deciding to come here to hold a press conference to discuss a debate situation at all," she said.
RAW VIDEO: Herenton's complete comments; Cohen campaign spokesperson reacts
Discussion about a televised congressional debate stalled this week when Cohen's camp backed out of a meeting with Action News 5 and other media outlets. By afternoon, Young said Cohen's campaign never agreed to a meeting to consider other debate venues.
The Memphis Urban League's Andre Gibson was planning to attend that meeting.
"I'm representing a group that wants to see a debate. You know, press conferences and all the statements are good, but we want to actually see the candidates go head to head on some issues in front of the people," Gibson said.
Cohen's camp now says they're keeping their commitment to WREG to debate on July 11th. But Herenton refuses to participate in that one.
"I will debate you in front of your office," Herenton said. "I know you're not coming to South Memphis. That's where a lot of your constituents are. You're here in Midtown with a million dollar war chest."
Herenton said he would debate Cohen anywhere except WREG-TV, but Cohen's campaign maintains WREG is the only place their candidate will debate.
"We agreed to debate last September at Channel 3 on July 11th, and so that's where we'll debate," Young said. "I don't think there's any more discussion about it."
Herenton backed out of that agreement due to his dislike for two of the debate's panelists: Otis Sanford of The Commercial Appeal, and WREG-TV's Norm Brewer.
"If I'm in public office 30 years from today, neither one of those individuals will ever have the privilege of asking me a question, because they're not fair," Herenton said.
Some question if a single debate, no matter where it airs, will be enough.
"I don't think that one debate could do justice anyway," Gibson said Friday afternoon. '"So I'm not sure why the congressman has dug his heels in the sand on this particular debate."
Other than the occasional curbside press conference voters aren't getting the information they need, according to Memphis Flyer political columnist Jackson Baker.
"The Mayor does seem dependent on free events - making charges, accusations, and seeing how many cameras will show up for it," Baker said.
Young said Cohen was not inside his campaign's headquarters while Herenton was outside throwing down the gauntlet. At the time, she said, he was traveling back to Memphis from Washington.
"We are not about a political show," Young said. "We are about doing work, and real work is not calling a press conference five minutes to get attention about a commitment that you have let go."