Woody Baird, AP, February 14, 2008
Steve Cohen, a white congressman representing a mostly black district, is no stranger to political attacks tinged with race. A new political flier circulating in the district is forcing him to confront anti-Semitism, too.
The flier, which showed up in mailboxes this week, aims to rally black Christians to oppose Cohen because he’s Jewish. “Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen and the Jews hate Jesus,” the flier reads in bold letters.
The flier, which was also sent by mail to the Memphis Jewish Federation, included a contact name, the 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’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.
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 local newspaper 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.”