VOL. 123 | NO. 32 | Friday, February 15, 2008
Anti-Semitic Flier Attacks White Congressman In Black District
By WOODY BAIRD | Associated Press Writer
Steve Cohen, a white congressman representing a mostly black district, is no stranger to political attacks tinged with race.
But a political flier that surfaced this week aiming to rally black Christians to oppose Cohen because he's Jewish now has injected anti-Semitism into his re-election bid.
"Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen and the Jews hate Jesus," the flier reads in bold letters.
"It was very bizarre," said Cohen, a first-term Democrat.
Elected in 2006, Cohen is the first white congressman from Memphis in more than three decades, and he is facing a strong black candidate in his bid for re-election.
The flier, a copy of which Cohen received in the mail, urges voters to unite behind "one black Christian to represent Memphis in the United States Congress in 2008."
The origin of the flier was unclear, but Cohen said he worried it was a sign of more nastiness to come during the campaign.
Nikki Tinker, a black lawyer expected to be Cohen's chief opponent for re-election in the Democratic primary in August, said she was incensed by the anti-Semitic attack.
"My faith teaches me to love, not hate," said Tinker, who is Christian.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement from Atlanta describing the flier as an attempt "to incite tension between the Memphis African-American and Jewish communities."
The flier, which was also sent to the Memphis Jewish Federation, included a contact name, "Rev. George Brooks," and a phone number in Murfreesboro, a town near Nashville and some 200 miles outside Cohen's district.
A woman who would only identify herself as a friend of Brooks' answered a call to the number and said he was out of town. Repeated subsequent calls went unanswered and messages were unreturned.
Cohen easily won the 2006 general election in the heavily Democratic district, but he took a crowded primary with just barely 30 percent of the vote. Four black candidates split almost 60 percent of the vote.
Cohen and U.S. Rep. Robert Brady of Pennsylvania are the only white members of Congress representing majority black districts. Cohen is alone in having followed a black representative into office.
Cohen's most vocal opposition has come from critics arguing that the Memphis district, which is 60 percent black and 34 percent white, should have a black representative in Washington.
And those arguments continue.
Cohen was challenged last year at a meeting of the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association as being unable to represent the 9th District because of his race.
"He's not black, and he can't represent me. That's the bottom line," one pastor told The Commercial Appeal as the raucous meeting broke up.
The Rev. O.C. Collins, a member of the ministerial association, later invited Cohen to speak at his church as a way to apologize for the group's "impoliteness."
Collins said he wondered why a preacher from another part of Tennessee would care about the Memphis election or launch such a distasteful attack. But he said the anti-Semitic flier is unlikely to sway Memphis voters and the racial arguments will have limited success.
"It stinks. It really, really stinks," he said. "But I think the people Congressman Cohen represents are a whole lot smarter than some people are giving us credit for."
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