Wilkins gains ministers' support in 9th District primary - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Wilkins gains ministers' support in 9th District primary

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) - It's been quiet so far, but the Democratic primary race for Tennessee's 9th Congressional District in Washington, D.C., is starting to pick up some steam.

Challenger Ricky Wilkins picked up a major endorsement from dozens of Memphis ministers who say his background should give him the upper hand over four-time incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-9th District).

MORE: FOX13 Voter's Guide

Do you have to be Black to truly understand what's it's like to be Black in Memphis? For past opponents of Congressman Cohen advancing that argument has been a "slippery slope" that's paid off only in defeat at the polls.

MORE: Cohen, challenger Wilkins file campaign reports
MORE: Wilkins files to run for 9th Congressional seat

That's why Wilkins isn't ready to ski down the same path just yet.

He's walked the walk of rags to riches. That's why his avid political supporters believe Wilkins is the perfect person to talk the talk about the future best interests for Memphis and Shelby County in Washington D.C.

MORE: Cohen: 'It's gonna be a really filthy dirty campaign'
MORE: Major factors that could play in Aug. 7 election

"I been living my life trying to represent the best example of what our young people can be in this community," Wilkins said. "That regardless what circumstances they grew up in, if they work hard, they can truly rise up to where they belong."

The Memphis attorney, who continues to dodge the mantle of being labeled by some in his campaign as a "consensus" candidate hand-picked to oust Congressman Cohen, accepted the spirited vocal endorsements for the Aug. 7 primary from more than two dozen of the city's clergy who gathered at a news conference in the shadow of the National Civil Rights Museum on Monday.

"He does not just know the streets of the district, he knows the people who live in the houses on the streets," said Rev. Keith Norman, NAACP Memphis chapter president. "He's not just a man who knows the locations of the churches or the pastors in the pulpit, but he knows the people that sit in the pews."

It's his life-long and continued relationships with the people in the predominately African-American district which for now is serving as the lynchpin of his campaign against the four-time congressman. You can't say other challengers to Congressman Cohen haven't desperately tried to capitalize on "like color" as a rallying cry. It just hasn't worked.

Attorney Nikki Tinker, in a disastrous 2008 losing effort, had the tables turned when even Congressman Cohen questioned her "street cred."

"I live in Midtown," Congressman Cohen said in 2008. "It's a community that's young and old, Caucasian, Black, Latino and I think she lives in Harbor Town, which probably is young and old a little bit more Caucasian than the neighborhood I live in."

But, on his way to a resounding defeat of former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton two years later, Rep. Cohen, after an enthusiastic campaign rally, fell into a free-wheeling conversation with reporters on whether Black representation in the district was all that important.

"It's not a Black versus White thing," Rep, Cohen said in 2010. "If you take all the offices and all were held by African-Americans it divides the community. It doesn't give young African-Americans the opportunity to look up to a White-elected official whose got their interests at heart."

Still Wilkins continues to stay on the "high road" on issues of race in the campaign opting instead to tout his own potential to simply do a better job than the incumbent.

"If you look at Ricky Wilkins and all you see is a Black man, then that says to me that something's wrong with your eyes and your heart," Wilkins said. "There's a lot more to Ricky Wilkins than just being a Black man. I want to say to everybody, if you like Steve Cohen, you're going to love Ricky Wilkins!"

Congressman Cohen, who returned to Washington, D.C., on Monday, issued a statement to FOX13 News: "I feel confident in my knowledge of the people of District 9, as well as polling data, that a vast, vast majority, including ministers, approve of my record and performance and will vote to keep me working with President Barack Obama for the benefit of Memphis and the country. I stand proudly on my record."

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