VOL. 129 | NO. 79 | Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Obama Backs Cohen, Brooks Charges ‘Voter Suppression’
By Bill Dries
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen is touting the endorsement of President Barack Obama in his current re-election bid.
Cohen, a Memphis Democrat and an early supporter of Obama’s bid for the presidency in 2008 at a time when U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton was heavily favored to win the Democratic presidential nomination, also said he hopes to be a superdelegate for Clinton at the 2016 Democratic national convention.
Cohen is on the August ballot in a Democratic primary race in which attorney Ricky E. Wilkins is challenging Cohen in the heavily Democratic 9th Congressional district.
“I’m just going to do my job and run on my record. I do expect that on the other side – we’ve seen things on Facebook and social media that kind of show where they are coming from, and it’s really vicious,” Cohen said Monday, April 21, without referring to the Wilkins campaign by name. “We’ve heard things that have been said that are … questions about not so much my integrity, but my private life, which is absurd. But the last person to jump off the Titanic probably had to do some pretty drastic things.”
Wilkins has been busy with lots of appearances at campaign events in advance of the August primary, many times looking for votes in the same crowds where Cohen is campaigning.
The cover photo of Wilkins’ campaign Facebook page says he shares Obama’s vision “and I’ll be there fighting by his side.”
In the May primaries, Cohen is endorsing incumbent Assessor Cheyenne Johnson as well as incumbent County Commissioner Melvin Burgess and commission candidate Reginald Milton.
“I think we are going to have outstanding county commissioners,” Cohen said as he also touted Democratic commission candidates Van Turner and Willie Brooks. “There will be some difficult choices in the other races, and the Republicans will have a good slate, too.”
Cohen is not endorsing any of the three contenders in the Democratic primary for county mayor, saying they are all friends.
Meanwhile, County Commissioner Henri Brooks – a candidate for Juvenile Court clerk – on Monday charged that the start of the early voting period, specifically allowing early voting only at the Downtown Election Commission offices, amounts to “voter suppression.”
Brooks likened it to forceful efforts to suppress black voter registration in the civil rights era.
“This time it’s the reduced number of voting locations, reduced numbers of voting machines, reduced voting hours, and the reduced number of days to vote,” she said. “All in inner-city communities – echoes of the 2012 presidential election.”
She was joined at Election Commission headquarters by Democratic mayoral contender Deidre Malone, who specifically faulted the Republican majority on the five-member Shelby County Election Commission, which sets early voting locations and dates.
“I do think with the Republican-majority Election Commission, I think this was a strategy of theirs,” Malone said.
“We want everyone to vote,” said Suzanne Thompson, spokeswoman for the Election Commission. “It’s all according to voter turnout.”
Total turnout – election day and early voting – for the county primaries in the election cycle has never hit 20 percent since 1994, the first time partisan primaries for the county offices on the ballot this year were held. Turnout four years ago was 10 percent.
Brooks predicted there will be long lines when early voting expands Friday to 20 other locations across Shelby County through May 1. Election day is May 6.
Election commissioners indicated last week they plan to discuss moving early voting for future elections out of their Downtown office.
Election Commissioner Norma Lester suggested the change, saying the Downtown site is a problem in terms of parking, and that dozens of campaign signs on the corners of Poplar Avenue and Second Street and Poplar and Third Street are a hazard to auto traffic and pedestrians.
Candidates themselves have been a regular sight at the Downtown polling place on the legal side of the 100-foot limit for signs and campaigning. Democratic mayoral contender Kenneth Whalum Jr. has been tweeting about his encounters with voters and using the tweets to encourage more early voting.
Rival Democrat Steve Mulroy observed a milestone there Monday when his daughter, Molly Mulroy, voted for the first time.