Dear Friends, The time has come to defend what was rightfully won in the last Congressional election, and put an end to the Ford family's stranglehold on Memphis politics. It was a great day for representative democracy when Steve Cohen won the District 9 race over a Ford brother, cousin, and Jr.'s protege Nikki Tinker to fill the unexpired term of Harold Ford, Jr., but that was two years ago. We always knew that when re-election time came, it had the potential of becoming very ugly, very fast. But who could have imagined that Cohen would be targeted by a local group of "ministers," as well as the Ford family, from his first day in office? Memphians remember Cohen's courage in accepting an invitation to speak before these "ministers," only to be humiliated and attacked in public. And who can forget the awkward and embarrassing spectacle the Ford family caused during former President Clinton's visit to Memphis in 2006? The following is the text of a letter written to MoveOn.org on behalf of the Cohen campaign. Please use the link to visit Cohen's website and to volunteer or donate. We must fight for our incremental gains in the political arena, and Steve Cohen is a warrior deserving of re-election. Thank you, Randy
May 2, 2008
Adam G., Eli, Karin, Daniel, Patrick S., Ilyse, Justin, Peter, Laura, Lenore, Tanya, Nita, & Anne and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team
I am writing as a MoveOn.org Member and a volunteer supporter of the re-election campaign of Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District, where he won his seat the old-fashioned way, he earned it. In an historical political year, fraught with racial and gender overtones, Rep. Cohen is under attack by an unusual group of people; a cabal of long standing Democratic family political machine operatives, in league with the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association, a group of right-wing preachers who lament the loss of a traditionally African-American seat in Congress to a white man, and a Jewish one at that.
That is not an opinion. Here are their words: “He’s not black and he can’t represent me, that’s just the bottom line,” Rev. Robert Poindexter, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church; or the open letter sent to Cohen from Rev. LaSimba Gray, of New Sardis Baptist Church, where he protested, of all things, Cohen’s support for the same federal hate crimes legislation that was backed by the very organization Gray represents in Memphis, Operation Rainbow/ PUSH, and demanded that Cohen protect their “Christian Values” to preach against homosexuality from the pulpit. A former and future contender for the seat, Jake Ford, brother of former Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., has publicly declared that Cohen’s intention in Congress is, “Not to get money for black people, but only for Jews and Israel.”
Cohen won election to Ford, Jr.’s old seat by defeating Ford’s protégé, Nikki Tinker, an attorney, and Joe Ford, Jr., his cousin, in the Democratic Primary. Then, in a desperate move to hold the seat, the Ford family ran Jake Ford, a high-school dropout with an arrest record in both Memphis and Washington, as a “Democratic Independent.” This maneuver cost Cohen the endorsement of Harold Ford, Jr., although Cohen unreservedly endorsed his candidacy for Senator. Imagine the dream team of Ford campaigning with Cohen in west Tennessee, but as a result of unintended consequences, Ford’s refusal to support Cohen only angered local Democrats, which may well have contributed to his loss for the Senate. Although the national media fell in love with Harold, Jr., many local Democrats, like me, viewed him as a Joe Lieberman acolyte.
Now, Steve Cohen again faces Nikki Tinker in the Democratic Primary over his re-election. Ms. Tinker is a well financed, attractive, and intelligent woman. Her problem as a candidate is that she is supported by the same Ministerial Association that has been attempting character assassination on Rep. Cohen for two years, and her major financial backer is her boss, Phillip Trenary, President of Pinnacle Airlines, who was a major contributor to the campaigns of Bob Corker and George W. Bush, and other Republican causes. Ms. Tinker’s law degree speaks to her scholastic ability, but her legal work is, and has been, on behalf of the management of Pinnacle Airlines and to the detriment of labor. The help Tinker now promises the workingman have been prefaced by years of working on the wrong side of the table.
In contrast, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, and former NAACP National Secretary Maxine Smith have all endorsed Steve Cohen, as has his Congressional mentor, Rep. John Conyers. Marion Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund has given Cohen their highest rankings, as did the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and the Genocide Intervention Network, which works on behalf of the humanitarian crises in Darfur. Cohen is a vocal advocate for our military’s prompt withdrawal from Iraq and publicly defended MoveOn.org during the Petraeus ad controversy. He has endorsed Barack Obama, while himself being endorsed by Bill Clinton, who was quoted as saying “Steve has done a fantastic job.”
We are in danger of this honorable man going down to defeat at the hands of conservatives masquerading as Democrats with a heavily financed campaign of smear. He will be attacked by ministers of the gospel for being “pro-gay,” for his support of the hate crimes bill, and pro-Israel because of his religion. In this historic election, when the nation will be concerned about our ability to transcend racism, in the 9th District there will be racism and sexism of a different sort; directed at an able public servant, because he is white, and because he is a Jew. Unlike the situation with Harold Ford, Jr. and the slavish media attention he received, and still receives, this race needs to be brought into national focus to illustrate how the Ford family will use their power and influence to defeat a true Congressional Liberal, and replace him with a conservative, “Blue-Dog,” surrogate. As a Democrat concerned about fairness and our progressive values, I implore you to make news with the situation about Congressman Cohen’s struggle for re-election in Memphis against devious forces, and let others know what is being attempted in the party’s name. Should this good man be punished for doing a “fantastic” job?
Thank you most cordially for your attention,
Randolph J. Haspel