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VOL. 124 | NO. 30 | Friday, February 13, 2009

Cohen Expands on the World According to Cohen

By Andy Meek

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PUBLIC EYE: In this 2005 photo, Cohen talks to media representatives following a legislative vote in Nashville. -- AP PHOTO/JOHN RUSSELL

Minutes after casting votes on the floor of the House of Representatives Tuesday night, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen made his way to a conference call during which he took the political pulse of his district.

For close to an hour, Cohen, D-Memphis, fired off rapid answers to questions from callers who took part in what was billed as a virtual town hall meeting, a veritable “Ask Steve Anything” session.

A caller from Downtown Memphis who identified himself as James wanted to know if a news release Cohen’s office sent out last month was still correct. It said Memphis City Schools could get more than $100 million from the proposed federal stimulus package.

Emily from Midtown wanted to know if comprehensive health care reform was possible in 2009. Justin from Whitehaven asked how the economic stimulus package still being finalized in Congress earlier this week would affect the cost of higher education.

Meanwhile, Cohen, an ardent fan of the University of Memphis Tigers basketball team, found an opportunity to work in that topic.

At one point during the teleconference, Cohen aide Charlie Gerber took a poll of participants, asking how they thought the Tigers would fare this season.

“They’re having a great season so far, and Congressman Cohen’s already predicting another run at the Final Four,” Gerber said. “How far do you think they’ll get? Press 1 for the NCAA tournament, press 2 for the Sweet 16, press 3 for the Elite 8, press 4 for the Final Four, press 5 for national champions or press 6 if you think the Tigers will be relegated to the National Invitation Tournament.”

When he announced the results of the poll, Gerber said the number of Memphians on the line who predicted the NIT tournament was a larger-than-expected 12 percent.

That prompted Cohen to interrupt the next caller’s question.

“Hi Eric, Steve Cohen here,” Cohen said, before referencing a longtime rival college of the Tigers. “First I want to say after hearing that poll, this is supposed to be only in the 9th Congressional District. We’re going to check this out – there must be 12 percent of our listeners in Louisville.”

Tigers talk aside, the roughly 10 or so questioners who got to quiz the congressman had a few core issues on their minds. One of those was the economic stimulus package ambling through the halls of Congress over the past week.

Many of Cohen’s answers focused on how dimly he viewed the bill emerging in the Senate after passage in the House.

To the questioner who asked if the millions were still on their way to MCS, Cohen answered, “That amount was over two years in the House bill that passed, but the Senate took a goodly share of that out.”

To a questioner who asked about differences between the House and Senate versions, Cohen replied, “The differences in the bills are great. The Senate took out a lot of money for food stamps, for individuals who are unemployed, and money for state and local governments.”

The congressman ended his call with an announcement that he and his staff are hosting a town hall meeting in Memphis March 7 at the Hickory Hill Community Center from 9 a.m. to noon, during which counselors will be on hand to help homeowners with mortgage-related issues.

Addressing a recent Forbes magazine list that classified Memphis as one of the most miserable cities in the U.S., Cohen said, “Contrary to Forbes magazine, it’s the best district in the United States of America. We’ve got the best people, we’ve got the best barbeque, we’ve got the best basketball team, and I think I’ve got the best constituents.”

PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047