Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), the first Jewish congressman ever elected in Tennessee, will be running in a fundamentally new 9th Congressional District this year without a strong base of support from the Jewish community in Memphis.
On Friday, the Tennessee Senate approved a redistricting map that would effectively move most of Cohen’s Memphis-area Jewish constituency into the 8th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.).
Cohen, who represented most of the Memphis Jewish community for 20 years in the state senate and U.S. House of Representatives, expressed his disappointment with the decision and the loss of constituents that he grew up with in Memphis.
“As the only Jewish congressman ever elected from Tennessee, which I am extremely proud of, I won’t have a handful of Jewish constituents,” Cohen said. “I’m confident about my reelection, but it will be a little more difficult.”
Cohen’s former district was home to three major Jewish synagogues and he emphasized that the community pushed to keep the Jewish constituency in the 9th District.
“The folks in the community are pretty upset. A lot of letters were written and a lot of phone calls were made, but it didn’t make any difference,” Cohen said.
David Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), pointed out that redistricting was “a tremendous disservice to Congressman Cohen’s constituents, whom he’s served for so many years, and to the Congressman himself.”
Cohen faces a tough primary challenge from Tomeka Hart, who is the president and CEO of the Memphis Urban League and a member of the Memphis City Schools school board.
While Cohen will represent a fundamentally different district, he emphasized that the loss of the Jewish community will not change his actions as a member of Congress.
“I’m still going to be who I am and I’m going to vote the way I have,” Cohen said. “I’m going to represent Memphis and represent the Jewish traditions that are the basis for my political philosophy.”