The New Tri-State Defender received completed questionnaires from incumbent Steve Cohen and attorney Ricky E. Wilkins in the Democratic Primary for the 9th Congressional District. We will publish the questionnaires with the candidates’ responses on our website, TSDMemphis.com.
In 2010, the TSD endorsed Congressman Cohen over former Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton. At the time, Cohen was the right choice for the right reasons, which our endorsement detailed this way:
“Congressman Cohen clearly has been an effective legislator over the course of his two terms and certainly during his tenure in the Tennessee General Assembly. He has been a champion for causes and policy intended to positively impact the African-American community. He has built relationships and worked across racial and political aisles as a masterful diplomatic statesman. Ultimately he has done everything he could do to best represent the broad interest of the constituents he represents.
“Congressman Cohen’s positions, relationships and proposed legislation are all on point towards bringing to bear a climate that will allow for positive changes in the 30 percent poverty rate, double-digit unemployment, negligible business revenues, high rate of illness and health challenges and 40 percent dropout rate. Ultimately to truly improve the plight of Memphis, we must have leadership derived from within the African American community that identifies with and intrinsically understands the ‘family’. No matter how empathetic, Congressman Cohen will never be the direct catalyst to initiate and foster the change necessary for the African-American community in the 9th District and beyond to make significant strides in improving the challenges that we face. In fact it can and will only come from within.”
Those words rang true then and were in some sense prophetic. Wilkins presents himself not based upon his race but truly upon his experiences, qualifications, understanding of the issues and certainly vision, passion and capabilities to be an effective legislator and leader for the 9th District and the Greater Memphis community.
Birthed from the heart of South Memphis, Wilkins trained at some of the nation’s best universities and professionally prepared as a dynamic legal mind to be an effective maker of laws. He is articulate, passionate and a servant leader that has practiced law for 23 years. He has built a business, obtained financial success, is not beholding to anyone and can speak and act freely on the issues that most impact constituents. He would bring to public office fresh energy and ideas meshed with seasoned statesmanship and diplomacy nurtured through his experiences practicing law. He also represents a shining example of what we should be asking of every young African-American male in this community: work hard, learn, get all the education you can get, build positive relationships, build business, give back and ultimately serve.
Congressman Cohen has been an elected official in Memphis and Shelby County since 1978. He has served with dignity, integrity and conviction and that is to be respected. Yet, despite some positive contributions, progress for the 9th Congressional District – and particularly African Americans – has been stagnant to retarded over the past 6 years. The recovery from the Great Recession has been slow. Losses in homeownership and net worth have been great. Job losses, unemployment and under-employment continue to be significantly higher among African Americans in the district. Despite the establishment of a Minority Business Center, growth in revenues and scale for African-American business continues to be woeful at less than 1 percent of all revenues generated in Shelby County. These factors continue to drag Memphis and Shelby County down and lower the quality of life for all citizens.
Yes, State Sen. Cohen helped establish The Med (now Regional One Health) and fought to establish the Tennessee Lottery and Hope Scholarship program. Those things are to be commended. Still, health disparities persist and outcomes for African Americans in the district continue to lag. Too few African Americans are able to get or retain Hope Scholarships, with too many “paying into the system” playing the lottery on the hopes of a come up.
Over the last eight years, Cohen has failed to lend leadership where leadership was desperately needed. Although the most well coffered candidate in the Shelby County Democratic Party, the senior and most influential standard-bearer has failed to lend resources and influence to help the party achieve success in the last several election cycles.
Asked to lend leadership to various local crises, Cohen was quoted as saying he doesn’t get involved with local issues. Wrong answer! This community deserves and needs a Congressman that understands legislation is the job but leadership is the calling.
Cohen has failed to deliver to the voters for the past three election cycles what they fundamentally deserve and that is a debate on the issues. Considering political posturing and strategy, it’s understandable why he may have been advised and subsequently decided against debates. However, it in no way diminishes their necessity in a community with so many unresolved issues and unanswered questions. The leadership the district deserves and needs would stand up to public scrutiny and live debate against any and every serious opponent.
Cohen’s lowbrow pandering in campaign commercials reflects his failure to realize and appreciate that African-American constituents are as discerning as others. In the end, track records, issues, plans and platforms are the things that matter most to voters regardless of race. No one owes his or her vote to a candidate; office seekers must consistently earn it.
Lastly, Cohen’s treatment and handling of longtime aide, ‘brother from another mother” and former friend, Randy Wade, demonstrated a startling lack of allegiance and loyalty. Had he endorsed Wade during the 2010 election it is likely that Wade would be the Shelby County Sheriff right now.
Then consider the public fiasco involving Wade’s use of his personal influence to support a candidate that Cohen did not, and the ensuing ugly breakup. A lot was revealed about the Congressman’s loyalties. To toss aside like recycled newspaper the person that was a proclaimed personal friend, his primary liaison with the African-American community and the one that walked him into churches and provided relationships and credibility that would have taken years to build, reveals maybe someone who has forgotten from whence he’s come and more importantly the work that remains ahead.
This endorsement and ultimately this race are not about race, religion or the culture of the candidate but rather the temperament, vision, energy and boldness necessary to deal with stark realities among a suffering constituent base. In the course of a relay race, there is an optimal time for the baton to be passed and 2014 is that time. This community cannot afford another dropped baton.
Wilkins is the candidate to take the 9th Congressional District into a bright new future.