With Early Voting for the Aug. 2 election already underway and running through July 28, candidates are scurrying to take advantage of opportunities to meet potential voters face to face.
Such was the case last Sunday evening (July 15) as about 30 candidates participated in a forum at Mt. Olive CME Cathedral hosted by the Memphis Branch NAACP. Those drawn to the historic church at 538 Linden at Lauderdale included Ninth Congressional District challenger Tomeka Hart and incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen.
Cohen elaborated on his record in Congress and his third consecutive "A" rating on the NAACP Report Card as qualifications for a third term.
"I'm proud of my accomplishments as a congressman and the relationships that I've established," said Cohen, pointing to other accomplishments such as the Memphis Minority Business Development Agency Business Center, the American Steamship Co., and Tiger Lane at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Hart, a member of the unified school board, also talked about her accomplishments and what she would do if she's elected to Congress.
"I've walked the walk," Hart said. "I will be a hands-on congresswoman. I will create synergy in the district and work across party lines with Republicans."
She also talked about growing up in North Memphis, making her mark in college, making inroads in the community, her leadership as CEO of the Memphis Urban League, and "helping young people pull themselves up from their bootstraps."
Four Republicans – Charlotte Bergmann, George S. Flinn Jr., Ernest Lunati and Rollin Wilson Stooksberry are competing for the uphill task of challenging the Democratic Party winner. Bergmann, the Republican nominee in the 2010 congressional race against Cohen, and perennial candidate Lunati showed up at the forum to present their cases and avail themselves to questions from the audience.
In Senate District 30, two veteran lawmakers, Sen. Jim Kyle and Sen. Beverly Robinson Marrero, are going head to head after redistricting by the Republican-dominated Tennessee General Assembly lumped the two in the same district.
Kyle didn't talk much at the forum, figuring that less is best. He did focus, however, on his 30-year tenure and leadership in the Senate.
"I'm the elected Senate Democratic leader in the Tennessee General Assembly," said Kyle. "I led the fight against extreme Republican ideas, such as the voter ID law and cutbacks to the lottery."
Marrero touted her "good" work in the district and intentionally avoided mentioning her opponent.
"I've done a good job representing all people of Memphis, even though my district was divided," said Marrero, who has a life-time membership with the NAACP.
Integrity, she added, is important to her as a public servant.
Redistricting also pitted two other veteran legislators, G. A. Hardaway Sr. and Mike Kernell, in House District 93.
Kernell cites among his acomplishments House sponsorship of the Tennessee Education Lottery Bill and strong opposition to the Tenncare cuts of 2004.
Hardaway didn't say much during his opening remarks. He reserved his comments for the question-and-answer session and focused instead on universal pre-K in public schools.
"Now is the time to force the discussion on pre-K," said Hardaway. Then he challenged school board candidates to make pre-K a priority on their agenda, "both for discussion during the campaign cycle and after the election is over."
Hardaway also talked about getting out the vote, one of the NAACP goals and objectives to empower its constituents.
Dr. Warner Dickerson, president of the Memphis Branch NAACP, said the goal of the forum was to inform the public about the candidates who are presenting themselves for public service.
"Our goal is to provide voter empowerment through voter registration, voter education, get-out-the-vote activities and election monitoring," said Dickerson, noting that the forum was just one of the events that the NAACP plans to host to achieve its objectives.
In the race for Shelby County District Attorney General, Democrat Carol Chumney spoke to why she should be the next DA.
"I have 17 years of ethical public service and 25 years in private practice as an attorney," she said after the forum. "I will be tough on crime and bring equal justice, especially to the victims of crime. I will be firm and fair, and administer justice according to the law."
Chumney's Republican opponent, Amy Weirich, was not at the forum. Weirich was appointed to the district attorney post after Bill Gibbons left in January 2011 to join Gov. Bill Haslam's cabinet as Commissioner for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.