Friday, April 24, 2009

All Oldies All The Time

Cohen, Herenton: more of the same? And where are the young?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2009 at 10:13 AM

Where are the young?

A lot can be said about a theoretical political match-up of Steve Cohen and Willie Herenton, but three days after the mayor's surprise announcement, what's striking about Cohen-Herenton is not how different they are but how much alike they are.

The differences are as obvious as black and white and tall and short.

But the similarities stand out, too.

When the 2010 congressional election rolls around, both will be over 60. Both have been eligible for AARP membership since 2000 or earlier (disclosure: me too), and by 2011, Cohen, like Herenton, can start drawing Social Security.

Both are Democrats.

Both are male and single.

Both are career public officials who got their first public jobs in Memphis in the 1970s -- Herenton as school superintendent and Cohen as a member of the Shelby County Commission.

Both held on to an elected job -- Cohen in the state senate and Herenton in the mayor's office -- so long that burnout and fatigue and ineffectiveness became issues.

Both won key elections with less than a majority of the vote – Herenton the 2007 mayor’s race (42 percent) and Cohen the 2006 Democratic primary (32 percent).

Both have been household names in Memphis for years. Google "Steve Cohen" and Memphis and you get 45,400 entries. Google "Willie Herenton" and Memphis and you get 34,700 entries. Google "Fred Smith" and Memphis and you get a mere 19,900 entries.

Both formed their fundamental philosophies in the 1960s and 1970s, when the big issues were the war in Vietnam, desegregation, busing, and Watergate.

Both have childhood memories of teeter-totters instead of Twitters.

Both were around when Stax and Elvis and disco were alive and well.

Both remember Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, and Jim Brown.

Both are three times as old as Derrick Rose and old enough to be Josh Pastner's father.

Both are tied to the old guard of the Democratic Party, which makes them formidable candidates. They're both "80 percenters" -- politicians who can win the all-important 80 percent or more in multiple precincts in an election.

Both have aspired to hold other political jobs -- county mayor for Cohen, city school superintendent redux for Herenton.

Both have long associations with Republican senator Lamar Alexander and Democrat A C Wharton, who are also in the over-60 club.

Being young and bright is no guarantee of success in politics. Witness the disgraced former mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, and Cohen’s vanquished opponent Nikki Tinker. But if I'm active in New Path or Mpact Memphis or Memphis Tomorrow or Young Democrats or Young Republicans or campus politics -- especially if I'm a woman -- I'm all over this one.

There are three big-time political jobs in Memphis -- county mayor, city mayor, and Ninth District congressman, especially with all that stimulus money flowing.

Where are the young?

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