Is Wilkins the man to unseat Cohen? | 3/20/2014, 11:18 a.m.


The district is 60 percent African American and 33.5 percent white. Wilkins is mindful that basing his campaign solely on race likely would be counterproductive and lessen his chances of unseating Cohen in the Democratic Primary on Aug. 7.

"I'm planning on running this campaign based on my qualifications and the issues. The fact that I'm African American has nothing to do with it," said Wilkins, alluding to the hotly contested congressional races that pitted Cohen against Democratic challengers Nikki Tinker in 2008, Dr. Willie W. Herenton in 2010 and Tomeka Hart in 2012.

Undaunted by the incumbency on Cohen's side, Wilkins intends to run a grassroots campaign that highlights who he is, what he has been doing and what he plans to do for the Ninth Congressional District.

"Nobody thinks it can be done," said Wilkins. "We intend to prove them wrong."

Wilkins' supporters include Randy Wade, Cohen's former friend and one-time district director of his Memphis office. Wade parted with Cohen last year after the congressman filed an ethics complaint linked to Wade's support of a state representative's re-election bid.

Wilkins pulled a petition for Congress on Jan. 3rd, bringing onboard Wade at the onset of the campaign.

"Mr. Wade is an active and enthusiastic supporter of mine in my quest for Congress," said Wilkins. "I appreciate Mr. Wade's support and his continued efforts to help me identify other supporters in the community."

Wilkins said those who have confidence in him are stepping up to help.

"I'm encouraged by that and intend to bring on new supporters," he said, "people who have not been a part of the political process."

Two other Democrats besides Wilkins and Cohen have pulled petitions to run in the Democratic primary and two Republicans have placed their names in contention for the Republican primary. Only one candidate has filed so far.

The qualifying deadline for both Democratic and Republican primaries is April 3rd at noon.

Fighting the tough fight...

Wilkins said a change in leadership is needed to solve the district's problems.

"The economic conditions in this community must not be ignored," he said. "It must be a front-burner issue, and I intend to spend an appreciative amount of time working hard."

After graduating from Carver High School in 1983, Howard University in 1987, and Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1990, Wilkins said the South Memphis community where he grew up is still blighted and neglected.

"I'm embarrassed. And my heart hurts every time I drive through the community," he said. "Thirty years later, the community in some areas looks like a war zone."

As congressman, Wilkins said he'd bring new ideas, new approaches, and new alliances to improve the district. "Those who have served I respect and appreciate, but we're taking this to another level," he said.

The level Wilkins is referring to comprises his campaign platform, which includes growing small businesses, providing economic opportunities, improving education, fixing the crime problem, making provisions for veterans, and uplifting people in the district.