State House District 86 incumbent Rep. Barbara Cooper participated in the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators' recent Memphis tour stop. Will Richardson, who is challenging Cooper for the Democratic Party nomination, was among those who engaged members of the caucus during their visit to Memphis. (Photos: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Will Richardson and his supporters believe the District 86 Tennessee House of Representatives seat needs a vibrant infusion of new ideas. Backers of incumbent Rep. Barbara Cooper maintain that House relationships built by Cooper across the aisle are invaluable to the state Democrats.

 “Representing constituents of a House district requires the ability to know what’s going on in that district, and what residents need to make their lives better,” said State Rep. G. A. Hardaway, a staunch supporter of Cooper, 92

“Rep. Cooper is still as sharp as she ever was. She is our go-to person in all things education. Her ability to serve is still a relevant asset in the state legislature.”

Will Richardson (Courtesy photo)

Richardson disagrees. He says constituents feel that District 86 needs a change in leadership.

“I have canvassed the district and voters, who have been loyal to Ms. Cooper in the past, are saying now that it’s time for fresh, new ideas. They want someone energetic, who is able to spend more time in the district to understand what residents in Cora Lake and Westwood are really concerned about.”

Cooper pushed back on Richardson’s assertion.

State Rep. Barbara Cooper (left) at the National Civil Rights Museum for the 2020 Living Legends Awards that she launched three years earlier. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

“To say I don’t get around my district, and I don’t know what’s going on is ludicrous,” said Cooper.

“I was approached by Mr. Richardson before the primary to express interest in running for my seat. I wasn’t sure about another run at that point. But, of course, I decided I would in the end. Attacking my age is his main strategy, I guess.”

Richardson said 25 years in the state legislature is long enough. He suggests that age prevents Cooper from “getting around in the district” and taking an active part in meetings, activities and other public functions.

“As I have campaigned, I have moved around the district every day,” said Richardson. “Even at age 45, it is very taxing for me. I can’t imagine how someone in their 90s would be able to do it. The district needs a vibrant, energetic representative. Rep. Cooper needs a driver wherever she goes. This isn’t about beating Ms. Cooper. This is about continuing her work.”

Cooper says mobility has not been a hindrance in either getting around the district or drafting insightful and far-reaching legislation.

 “Last year, I sponsored a conflict resolution bill that would include a school curriculum for resolving conflict among young people,” she said. “Children would be taught age- and grade-appropriate strategies as alternatives to picking up a gun. I know my constituents want something done about all the killing.”

Richardson, a 1994 Central High School graduate, grew up in Frayser. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1996. He is the proprietor of Community Services, LLC, a home healthcare company, and Fat Charlie’s Speakeasy, a bar in Harbor Town.

Richardson is also an ordained minister at Golden Gate Cathedral, where he is chief minister with Mobile Homeless Ministry.

Real estate agent Tish Plummer Alexander supports Richardson’s candidacy as an “exciting” prospect.

“It’s good to see young leaders emerging,” said Alexander. “Our youth can relate to young leaders as inspiring role models. Mr. Richardson is a very humble man, and he is ready to serve. He would be a great state representative. It’s exciting to see new energy in that district.”  

Richardson is married to Latonia Richardson. The couple has three children and one grandchild. He made an initial run for public office in a 2019 city council race.

Hardaway called Cooper “one of the hardest-working” legislators in Nashville.”

 “I start work early,” said Hardaway. “When I get to the office, no one is there with me, except Rep. Cooper. Sometimes, I stay there working until 10, or 11, at night. She and I are the only ones still there. At 92, that is still her level of commitment.”

Cooper has no plans to change her campaign strategy to fight “ageism.”

“We are running our campaign, just as we are accustomed to doing,” said Cooper.

“Money can’t buy a House seat. The voters decide. I will continue to serve my district as long as I am sent back to Nashville.”