Next year is an even-numbered election year, and that means that, as in 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012, 9th District congressman Steve Cohen will have an opponent to reckon with in the Democratic primary.
The opponent for 2014 appears to be attorney Rickey Wilkins, a longtime member of the circle around former Mayor Willie Herenton, who himself tried Cohen on in 2010 and got a 4 to 1 defeat for his pains.
Other one-on-one opponents for the current congressman and former state senator, who won out in a large multi-candidate primary field in 2006, include Nikki Tinker in 2008 and Tomeka Hart in 2012 — both of whom, like Herenton, finished far back of the leader.
Wilkins, who had acquainted several people locally about the likelihood of his challenging Cohen, may start with more available cash than have other contenders, much of that being his own money. His law practice has been highly active and lucrative, and the history of it may turn out to be both a plus and a minus, politically speaking.
One of Wilkins’ signal cases was as attorney for the City of Memphis in long-term litigation against former Beale St. impresario John Elkington and his Performa Real Estate Entertainment Company, which managed Beale St. before turning it over to the city in 2010.
The City, under litigation begun by then Mayor Herenton, spent some $3 million in legal fees, at least $2 million of which were paid to Wilkins’ firm in a suit against Elkington and Performa for $6 million the City claimed it was owed under the terms of a management contract. But a settlement was ultimately reached under the administration of Mayor A C Wharton without any money changing hands.
More recently, eyebrows were raised when it was learned that Wilkins’ firm had been paid some $3.2. million by the Texas firm of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson for assistance in gaining a contract for collecting delinquent taxes owed the City of Memphis. The Linebarger firm was found by a state judge this year to have collected and paid itself more than it was entitled to.
From the Cohen camp comes word that both situations may figure a legitimate issues in a Cohen-Wilkins matchup.