Most of the heavy weather at City Council chairman Myron Lowery’s annual New Year’s Day prayer breakfast last Thursday came either from Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s unexpected suggestion that city employees’ salaries should be raised or from Lowery’s awkward bait-and-switch praise of fellow Councilman (and potential mayoral candidate) Jim Strickland, followed by a public endorsement of Wharton for reelection.
But 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, the event’s keynote speaker, had some choice things to say, as well — ranging from the Nashville-Memphis rivalry to the effects of GOP domination in Congress to the assassinations of two New York police officers to what Cohen referred to as the “3-C” issues: Cuba, Commutations, and Cannabis.
After first paying tribute to the two mayors — Shelby County’s Mark Luttrell and Memphis’ A C Wharton — who had spoken before him, Cohen recalled for the crowd his trip to Nashville in December aboard Air Force One and subsequent ride in what the congressman called “Limo One.” Along with President Obama, who was in the state capital to address the subject of immigration, Cohen’s companions in the car ride to the speaking site were Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and fellow congressman Jim Cooper of Nashville, who had also flown down on the presidential aircraft.
Much of the conversation in the presidential limousine came from Dean and Cooper had to do with the glories of Nashville, according to Cohen. The congressman — keen to make the case for ways in which the federal government could aid his own bailiwick — waited out his companions and then said, “Mr. President, everything they told you about Nashville is correct. Nashville is great. They don’t need your help. Memphis needs your help!”
Cohen said he asked the President, known to like a basketball scrimmage now and then, which NBA star he most resembled. When Obama demurred at the idea of such a comparison, the congressman made his own comparison — of the President to Bill Russell, the former Boston Celtics great whose defensive prowess was as renowned as his offensive skills.
As was often the case for Russell, Obama, a Democratic president confronted with a Republican House and Senate, would be called upon to play defense, Cohen said, telling Obama, “You’re going to block shots, every time you veto one of those bills.” The President, said the congressman to the prayer breakfast crowd, “stands between us and some really bad legislation.”
As for the three C’s, Cohen praised the President for opening the door to resumption of relations with Cuba, “a natural trading partner,” called for more commutations of drug sentences, and argued stoutly for loosening of regulations affecting medical use of cannabis.
The congressman, a onetime legal aide to the Memphis Police Department, observed that he was a co-sponsor of two pending bills relating to police-minority relations — one to determine ethnicities in deadly-force situations involving police; and another requiring that decisions on whether to prosecute in such situations, like that of Ferguson, Missouri, will not be made by local D.A.’s. Cohen said Mayor Wharton had collaborated in coming up with the latter bill. He said such bills, by helping to weed out bad apples, would end in increasing respect for policeman.
Apropos the recent assassination of two New York police officers by “a crazy man,” Cohen said there was “no blood on [New York Mayor] DeBlasio’s hands.” Numerous police officers attending the two officers’ funerals, had pointedly turned their backs when DeBlasio, who had defended protesters after Ferguson and the “chokehold” death of a police detainee in New York.