Saturday, April 24, 2010

Herenton, Kyles, and Cohen: The Case of the Averted Glitch

Posted By on Sat, Apr 24, 2010 at 12:28 PM

(from left) Herenton, Kyles, and Cohen
  • (from left) Herenton, Kyles, and Cohen
Casual observers of the funeral observances last Wednesday for the Rev. Ben Hooks at the Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ might have missed a key circumstance — though attendees who were acquainted with the principals and were asked about it later had been fully aware of it.

During the lengthy ceremony, one of the chief presiders was the Rev. Billy Kyles, a major ally of current congressional aspirant Willie Herenton and a politically active minister who had not supported 9th District congressman Steve Cohen during either one of Cohen’s successful congressional races.

The Rev. Kyles was in charge of announcing which dignitaries would speak and in which order. Despite the fact that Cohen was unmistakably and quite prominently sitting on stage (alongside, first, Lamar Alexander, and, later, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia), Kyles never formally recognized his presence (although he acknowledged virtually everybody else of consequence, on stage or off) and never announced that he would speak.

Nor, for whatever reason, was Cohen’s name included among the speakers in the event’s official program.

Cohen, who bore with him a House resolution praising Hooks, bided his time and then, finally, after Lewis had been announced and had spoken, merely hastened to the podium before anybody else was called, made his speech, then walked down to the floor of the sanctuary and presented a copy of the resolution to Hooks’ widow, Frances, who reciprocated with a hug of gratitude.

Cohen and Frances Hooks embrace after presentation of House resolution
  • Earl Stanback
  • Cohen and Frances Hooks embrace after presentation of House resolution
Had Cohen not seized the moment, he would presumably have been left sitting there, unannounced and unheard — though later, trying to put the best face on things, he suggested that “one of the ladies” who was assisting backstage had told him he might speak after Lewis.

And the congressman declined to blame Kyles for the snafu, theorizing that the minister, in the confusion of a three-hour-and-a-half observance that was constantly being reconfigured, might have been honestly confused.

Members of Cohen’s support group in the congregation were not so generous in their estimation of the situation. They had in fact made plans to convey an urgent message to other principals at the event, alerting them to the fact of Cohen’s being overlooked and of his need to present the resolution. The congressman’s move to the podium on his own obviated the need for such action.

At a later point in the funeral observance, Cohen was observed whispering into the ear of the seated Kyles. Asked what his message had been, the congressman said he had informed the minister that State Rep. Johnnie Turner, the former longtime local head of the NAACP, was present and available to speak. But she, too, was never acknowledged or called upon.

As for Herenton, the former longtime mayor of Memphis and Cohen’s current Democratic primary opponent? He did not attend the ceremony -- though at least one passerby had seen him crossing the street, apparently leaving the church, several hours beforehand.

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