On one of his few public outings since he entered the Democratic primary opposing incumbent Steve Cohen for the 9th District congressional seat, former Mayor Willie Herenton at Raleigh found himself snagged up in party-line issues.
Speaking to a “Voice of Raleigh and Frayser” meeting at Exline’s Pizza on Austin Peay, Herenton had begun his presentation by flashing his now familiar “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” composite photograph of Tennessee’s congressional delegation, all white.
He then took his audience, heavily dosed with media representatives and other political candidates, through his usual litany, designed to make the point that the predominantly black 9th District deserved a black congressman: “Is there anyone here who doesn’t believe in representative government?," "Is there anybody here who does not respect and appreciate diversity?,” and so forth.
More or less rhetorically, he asked if anyone disagreed with his conclusions. Unexpectedly, he got some disagreement — from Lexie Carter, an African American and an officer of the Shelby County Democratic Party.
“OK, our Supreme Court is diversified. We have Clarence Thomas on there. He does not represent me,but he’s black. [Former congressman] Harold Ford Jr. did not represent my views, and he was black. You supported [U.S. Senator] Lamar Alexander, correct? He fights everything that the president comes out with. He’s a poster boy for that here in Tennessee. So I can’t kind of picture that in my head how you would support me. I’m a Democrat. I’m a Yellow Dog Democrat.”
Herenton seemed taken aback, but he responded. “First of all, I’m an American,” he said. “ I’m a Democrat because I chose to be a Democrat,…that party that espouses my values [but] I’ve never been a part of any particular group…. Does that mean I would not or have not supported individuals who are Republican. I support Lamar Alexander.”
The former mayor explained that “when I get to Congress I will be able to communicate with Lamar Alexander and with [Senator]. Corker, because of a mutuality of respect that transcends party lines. And that’s another reason I’m running. If we don’t have individuals who go to Congress with some bipartisan awareness we’re not going to make progress….
“I want you to look at me broader than that. I don’t deny that I supported Lamar Alexander, and Corker, and Senator Frist. They’re friends of mine, okay? I’m that type of Democrat. I can cross party lines. Having friends that are Republican, being friends with Republicans can help us with some problems.”
Herenton, who referred to himself as “the best qualified candidate, who happens to be African American,” was asked by an attendee about the issues of legalized medical marijuana and same-sex marriage and stated positions in opposition to both.
He acknowledged there was “medical evidence that supports utilization of marijuana for various diseases,” but said, “Let me tell you that I’m lconservative and oppose that. I’m afraid that if we utilize any form of drugs, where does it stop?”