Home > Democrats, Memphis, Sidney Chism, Steve Cohen, U.S. House, Willie Herenton > This Election Could Be Almost as Good as the Last One

This Election Could Be Almost as Good as the Last One

It looks like Sidney Chism did some opposition research and thinks he’s found himself some dirt on Steve Cohen.

The way County Commissioner and Willie Herenton campaign manager Sidney Chism sees it, the $396,000 budgetary earmark that Congressman Steve Cohen has recommended for a foundation honoring the work of famed Memphis photographer Ernest Withers “does not pass the smell test.”

Cohen calls the letter Chism says has been mailed to media outlets and law enforcement agencies across the country “absolutely insane” for insinuating that Cohen’s office would arrange to reward a son of the late photographer for running against Chism by directing taxpayer dollars to the Ernest C. Withers Historical Foundation.

Andrew “Rome” Withers is the only opponent Chism is facing in the May 4 county Democratic primary for the District 3, Position 2 seat. Rome Withers is also listed as the executive director of the foundation that stands to receive the $396,000 if a congressional budget committee approves the request. A similar request in 2008 from Cohen’s office to build a museum, archives and research center on Beale Street was not approved, although Chism’s letter describes the request as an “allocation.”

The letter also alleges that Cohen’s district director, prominent Shelby County Sheriff candidate Randy Wade, last year assured Chism in a telephone conversation “that he was going to make sure that I had opposition … to make sure that I was ‘busy’ — in hopes, I assume, to reduce my level of involvement in Dr. Herenton’s campaign.”

[Zack McMillin]

Sidney Chism has made a lot of enemies in his career. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone propose running a primary challenge against him, I could probably afford a nice meal downtown, or maybe even some Grizzlies tickets. To be fair to the Commissioner, I’d be sitting in the nosebleed section, but the point stands. Privately, I even proposed the idea myself shortly after the Ballotgate incident, but the idea fell apart for want of a candidate who lived in the district. Apparently, to my surprise and delight, there actually is one.

That’s just the thing that makes this so perfectly sweet: Rome Winters hasn’t really been on the radar up to this point. I had no idea he was even running. This is the first time he’s been in the news in the context of his run for the County Commission, and for a district race like his, there really isn’t a large enough budget to put together much of a media strategy. You just have to knock on doors, put up signs, and wear out the soles of your shoes. Earned media is priceless in a County Commission race.

Out on street corners campaigning Saturday, Withers says members of the community have encouraged him to challenge Chism, but said neither Wade, Cohen nor anyone connected to them played a role. “False, false, false,” he said, describing the entire scenario. “Untrue, untrue, untrue.”

Nikki Tinker, Cohen’s last opponent (who was endorsed by Chism), focused most of her campaign on winning Whitehaven. That is where the majority of her yard signs were posted, that is where she knocked on the most doors, and that is the demographic she tried to court with her ridiculous and insulting commercial about sitting on the porch waiting on a check from the government. She still lost overwhelmingly, and if memory serves, Cohen won every single precinct in Whitehaven and Boxtown, both of which, when combined, just happen to also encompass Sidney Chism’s home district.

Do you now see why I am looking forward to this election? In much the same way that Reginald French is a proxy for Herenton, Sidney Chism just tied his own opponent to Steve Cohen in a way that the congressman never intended to do himself.

Cohen specifically denied ever recruiting Withers, directly or indirectly, and emphasized the he would have supported the earmark no matter the political dynamics. He stressed that the only two local candidates receiving his direct support are Wade in the sheriff’s race and County Trustee Regina Morrison Newman.

“I haven’t been involved in his campaign, and I assure you if I were trying to beat Sidney Chism you would know it…,” Cohen said. “Now, do I think Sidney Chism should be beaten because he’s not been a good public official? Sure I do.”

Cohen never endorsed Withers, but by concocting a conspiracy theory using nothing but circumstantial evidence, Chism just effectively associated the two men with one another in the public’s mind. If there is anybody in Shelby County District 3 who has never heard of Rome Withers before, Sidney Chism just told them who he was, and what’s more, tied him to a congressman who is demonstrably popular in Chism’s own district.

In 2006 we elected Cohen, took back both houses of Congress, and began the long, arduous task of steering this country back in the right direction. In 2008, we passed a host of intelligent ballot reforms, made gains in Congress, and elected our first black president. There’s no telling how things will turn out nationally this year, but here in Memphis, it looks like we’ve got something to look forward to. We could give a hearty send-off to both Herenton and Chism in the same election.

Sidney Chism just did Rome Withers a huge favor. And for that, we should all thank him.

P.S. If you have no idea who Ernest Withers is, you’re probably already familiar with his work.

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  1. April 14, 2010 at 6:34 am

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