Cohen Moves On From Week of Controversy

By Bill Dries

With a two-year term of office, members of Congress are never far from re-election mode.

The odd-numbered years are off-election years but not years with time off from politics or the incumbent’s advantage of a record in Washington to tout.

That’s just what U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis was doing in a week that saw him change the channel from a week of national cable news show interviews in July over the DNA testing that revealed he is not the father of a young woman he thought for three years was his daughter.

The revelation snowballed into Twitter and Facebook comments Cohen made as he reacted to the coverage. That segued into a public split between Cohen and longtime aide Randy Wade that happened privately in 2012.


The split became public when an ethics complaint Cohen filed against Wade stemming from Wade’s endorsement of state Rep. G.A. Hardaway in the 2012 Democratic primaries for state House was leaked.

Wade denied any wrongdoing and called for a consensus black challenger of Cohen in the 2014 Democratic primary.

“It’s good to be home among friends,” was how Cohen began last week when he spoke to about 100 at the Memphis Rotary Club.

With that he talked about being in the minority party of what he termed a “know nothing Congress.”

“This is the least productive Congress to date for any Congress since they started keeping records,” he added, noting 22 bills have been signed into law. And he said sequestration cuts continue to threaten Defense Department jobs as well as federal funding to food stamp programs, Head Start and health care programs.

“I’m not going to submit to you that we don’t need a Department of Defense. Indeed we do. But the Department of Defense budget that was approved by Congress was more than the department asked for and had more than the president asked for,” Cohen continued. “And we’re just getting out of two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Why we need more money for defense and not less is beyond me.”

Cohen welcomed U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to Memphis Wednesday, Aug. 7, for a tour of Main Street Memphis. Uptown to South Main is about to get a major facelift with $15 million in federal grant funding from the Obama administration making up half of the $30 million cost of the project, which includes a boardwalk across the Mississippi River on a rail bridge.

On Friday, Cohen was scheduled to be on the campus of LeMoyne-Owen College, the city’s historically black college, to announce a $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation over five years.

Cohen spoke from prepared remarks to the Rotary audience. He normally has some notes when he speaks and adds remarks along the way. This time he didn’t ad lib nearly as much.

The questions from the audience were about issues in Congress with none about the parting of the ways between Cohen and Wade or DNA tests.

That isn’t to say local Democrats have stopped talking about it among themselves.

Few want to venture anywhere near public comments.

But it signals a beginning of a campaign season for the 2014 elections in which local Democratic partisans are trying to improve on the drubbing they took in countywide races four years ago. They differ on how to do that.

The Democratic slate for those nine offices was swept by Republicans.

Wade was the Democratic nominee for sheriff four years ago in a race with no incumbent.

He lost to Republican nominee Bill Oldham. But his 48 percent of the vote was the best percentage on the ballot for anyone on the party’s countywide ticket.

Some Democrats want more new faces who can win beyond low turnout primaries with crossover appeal.

Other Democrats want more support and unity within the party beyond the primaries once the primaries are decided.

Before Cohen and Wade went public with their parting, there were already indications the coming Democratic primaries in May will be hard fought. Cohen’s primary isn’t until August.

New district lines for the Shelby County Commission and the conversion of the commission to a set of 13 single-member districts could be a factor in 2014.

The commission is currently 13 members spread across five districts. One is a single-member district.

The other four have three representatives each.

Not only are the district lines changing. Of the six incumbent commissioners who cannot seek re-election because of term limits, four are Democrats.

Democrats now have a one-seat majority on the 13-member body.