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The 9th Congressional District is in our hands

Early voting has already started, making it unlikely that there will be any announcement of a withdrawal among the Black candidates in the race to fill Harold Ford Jr.’s vacated congressional seat...
Early voting has already started, making it unlikely that there will be any announcement of a withdrawal among the Black candidates in the race to fill Harold Ford Jr.’s vacated congressional seat.

The most talked about issue in Memphis and Shelby County right now is whether after the election the majority Black population of the 9th Congressional District will continue to be represented by a Black.

The obvious fear is that the number of relatively well-known and visible African- American candidates in the race will split the vote and prevent all of them from winning the election.

Steve Cohen has come under intense criticism for even being in the race. Many Blacks feel that Cohen should respect the fact that the lines of the 9th District were drawn as they are specifically for the purpose of facilitating the election of a Black representative.

Some suggest that Cohen is being opportunistic and taking advantage of what many perceive as the selfishness of the Black candidates to run a consensus Black candidate. Due to this perception, whether it is real or imagined, there has been no shortage of criticism directed toward the Black candidates.

There is even some speculation that the situation is as much a result of the desire of the Ford family to retain control of the seat as it is Cohen’s taking advantage of an opportunity to “slip” into it. The theory here is that Harold Ford Sr. has encouraged two, three or perhaps more of the Black candidates to run for the seat being vacated by his son. One of these candidates (speculation has it) would obviously be his nephew, Joe Ford Jr. The others are Atty. Julian Bolton and Nikki Tinker. The basis for the fingers being pointed at these candidates is interesting to say the least.

It is no secret that Bolton had the support of Harold Sr. when he ran against Minerva Johnican for the County Commission seat to which he was elected several years ago. Johnican incurred Ford’s wrath when, encouraged by Republican backers, she had the audacity to challenge him for his congressional seat.

Tinker is relatively new to the district as a resident but has close ties to Harold Ford Jr., having previously worked on his staff. She has also raised an enormous amount of money for her campaign — the overwhelming majority of it (more than 80%) coming from outside the district— far more than a novice “would-be” elected official could normally expect to raise.

So here’s the way the scenario would play out. Joe Ford Jr., who just moved back to Memphis and who can’t possibly win the election, will garner a few thousand votes simply because his name is Ford and he is a member of that family. Tinker has the campaign dollars that will give her the tremendous exposure and name recognition that will net a substantial number of votes. And then there is Bolton, who with a loyal following and more than adequate name recognition, can also be expected to garner a representative number of votes.

This then leaves Edward L. Stanton III, Marvell Mitchell, Ron Redwing, and Joseph Kyles to vie for votes that likely would not be there, thus insuring a Cohen victory in the primary election.

But a factor unnoticed by many is the fact that Jake Ford, the brother of Congressman Harold Jr., and a son of former Congressman Harold Ford Sr., will be on the ballot in November as an independent candidate against the August 3 primary winner. Normally, he would have been a candidate in the Democratic primary if there were any real chance of his being elected. His chances of winning an election against Cohen would be better one-on-one than in the crowded primary field (even if there were only two or three other Black candidates).

Whether the scenario depicted here is by design or merely coincidental, the results could very well be the same unless one particular option that is available to Black registered voters is employed: if there is an unusually large turnout of Black voters (which we strongly encourage) between now and election day.

Since neither of the Black candidates appear to be willing to sacrifice their candidacy in order to reduce the risk of losing Black representation, a tremendous increase in the anticipated turnout is virtually mandated.

Without such an increase of Black voters supporting the Black candidate of their choice, Cohen is likely to be the Democratic primary winner.

Last week, the Tri-State Defender narrowed down the field of Black candidates to four. This week we provided a description of the positions and qualifications of these four. Next week, we will make a final endorsement of the individual whom we believe is the strongest and best qualified to serve the district.

However, in the large scheme of things, our endorsement is of little value. These days, your vote is the strongest currency in town.

It is of tantamount importance that the voter turnout far exceed what has been the traditional response. If this option is not employed effectively, there is a disturbingly high chance that the feared loss in Black representation in the 9th District will become a reality.

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