WASHINGTON (JTA) — The National Jewish Democratic Council condemned a political attack on a Jewish Democratic congressman who was criticized for not being able to appropriately represent African-American voters.
"While NJDC does not usually speak out regarding Democratic primaries, we are deeply concerned by the developments in the congressional campaign in Tennessee’s 9th district between Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Mayor Willie W. Herenton," said Ira Forman, NJDC’s CEO. "Herenton’s divisive rhetoric is unacceptable in a Democratic primary or anywhere in our political discourse."
Herenton said in a radio interview, according to a New York Times article, that Cohen "really does not think very much of African-Americans." And the African-American campaign manager for Herenton, the former mayor of Memphis, told the Times that the Memphis-area congressional seat Cohen holds — which represents a majority African-American district — "was set aside for people who look like me."
"It wasn’t set aside for a Jew or a Christian," said Sidney Chism. "It was set aside so that blacks could have representation."
"Herenton’s apparent campaign strategy and deeply unfortunate, racially-charged comments are the type of tactics that were soundly rejected with the election of President Barack Obama last November," said Forman. "Herenton must change his tone dramatically, and he owes the citizens of Tennessee’s 9th district — and their member of Congress — a higher level of discourse."
It is not the first time Cohen has faced attacks over his race and religion. In the 2008 primary, Cohen’s opponent ran one ad suggesting that his religion made him an outsider in the district and another which tried to link him to the Ku Klux Klan. Cohen, who in the House has sponsored legislation apologizing for slavery and the Jim Crow era, won that re-election bid by 60 points.
The primary election in the district, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, will be held in August.