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<br />Hart sets sail for 9th district seat

With Rep. Steve Cohen fortified by a reelection chest of $800,000-plus and poised for all comers, Memphis City Schools board member Tomeka Hart has decided to bring it on. With Ninth Congressional District Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) fortified by a reelection chest of $800,000-plus and poised for all comers, Memphis City Schools board member Tomeka Hart has decided to bring it on.

Tomeka Hart

Steve Cohen

Hart says she is going to seek the seat Cohen has held since his election in 2006, although she has not yet filed. The Internet and rumor mills have been abuzz for some time with talk that Hart might run.

In a discussion Wednesday afternoon with Tri-State Defender President and Publisher Bernal E. Smith II, Hart shared that she will officially file in the coming weeks, with a formal launch of her campaign later in the year.

“In assessing the challenges of the community and particularly the citizens of the 9th Congressional District, there is a need for focused, purposed leadership dedicated to dealing with issues that continue to exist for so many,” said Hart, president and CEO of the Memphis Urban League.

Her decision to run is not driven by any actions or inactions of Cohen, Hart said.

“My decision is about the issues and challenges of the district and the future, the growth of our community. My passion and experience align with those challenges and I have the knowledge, insight and energy to deal directly with those challenges at every level with an eye towards a better future for Greater Memphis.”

Pressed for more details, Hart, 40, declined, indicating that more information would be shared at later dates as her campaign moves forward with the next steps, including the official filing.

Hart and Cohen both are Democrats, setting up a showdown in the Democratic Primary in August of 2012, followed by the general election in November.

Hart’s profile has been elevated in recent months, as she and fellow MCS board member Martavius Jones were out front in the push to unify city and county schools via a move that involved the surrender of the MCS charter.

Cohen on Wednesday told the Tri-State Defender that he is running for reelection because, “I’ve gotten better every day. I’ve got 32 years of legislative experience and I’ve learned that every year you get better. In Congress, I’ve got more seniority, I’ve got more relationships and more knowledge of issues than I had yesterday and more every day. I’m at my peak.”

There are a number of bills that have been sown to seed, said Cohen, that he hopes to see come to fruition next year and the year and years to follow. That includes the Equal Employment for All Bill (See page 7), with infant mortality programs and jobs programs also among his top priorities.

In addition, Cohen, 62, said he also has been active relative to concern about racial disparities in the justice system and pursuit of a minority business center, which could possibly evolve this calendar year.

“These things take time,” said Cohen. “The lottery took 20 years. I’ve not had any legislative accomplishments that did not take a few years. But we have sown a lot of seeds and we think we are going to be doing more and more harvesting as the years go on.”

Cohen said the upcoming election would be a referendum on him and the office and the type of constituent services rendered and the representation provided.

Previous elections and the polls he’s seen indicate that he is doing a good job, said Cohen.

And yes, he and staff have heard at meetings and through the grapevine about efforts to have a so-called consensus African-American candidate in the race.

“The fact is I am the consensus black candidate,” said Cohen. “The people decided that in 2008, the people decided that in 2010. We had me and (former) mayor (Dr. Willie W.) Herenton, and me and Nikki Tinker (who opposed him in 2008.) The African-American community voted for me by about 75 percent, overall 79 percent. There already is a consensus African-American choice. That’s me.”

President Barack Obama extended himself into the 2010 campaign, backing Cohen.

“I certainly hope and expect that the President would continue to support me as I support him,” said Cohen, who rode back to Washington on Air Force One with President Obama after the President spoke at Booker T. Washington High School last month.

“I think things are better than they have ever been,” said Cohen of his relationship with President Obama.

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