Housing advocate Dan Cohen (D) has emerged as one of several contenders vying to succeed Councilmember Mark Levine (D-Manhattan Valley, Manhattanville) when his term ends next year.
A lifelong resident of the neighborhood, a graduate of the city’s public school system, and a self-described “public school dad,” Cohen asserts that his decade-long background in nonprofits that advocate for affordable housing equip him to help New York through its crisis.
“This is the only home my family and I have ever known, and I want to put all my ideas and all my energy and all my passion into just restoring New York, but I want to make it into the city that it aspires to be,” Cohen told New York County Politics, declaring that he hopes to expand on Levine’s legacy if elected. “I wanna continue the job that he started, and we’ve been working together for over a decade, and hopefully we’ll continue to do that when he’s borough president.”
He then explained that the recent protests for racial justice have further motivated him to run for the seat.
“The brutal murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor…have moved the discussion about changing from just like potential for action into what I feel is real structural change,” said Cohen. “With the city leadership mostly turning over next year, there’s a moment when if we elect people with experience and ideas, they can make real change that we’ve been fighting for for decades.”
When asked what he has done to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic, Cohen discussed his campaign’s distribution of protective equipment and food, as well as its work to clean up the neighborhood amid budget cuts. He then linked these actions to his housing policy platform.
“The pandemic showed how the pandemic wasn’t just impacting low-income New Yorkers, but it was also affecting the middle class who were losing jobs and income, and the lack of national healthcare only reinforced how much we have to address the housing prices,” said Cohen.
As he explained the pandemic also exposed educational inequity in the city. “Not every student has had access to free or low-cost broadband, and even now, if they have the devices that they desperately need to be able to access it, 100,000 children didn’t have any in the spring, and were denied access to their education,” said Cohen.
Once the pandemic subsides, he hopes to prioritize climate change, endorsing U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-Queens, Bronx) Green New Deal.
If elected, Cohen hopes to work with Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), claiming to share common ground with them on a majority of issues. Despite being a religious Jew, Cohen said he was unconcerned about the DSA’s hostility to the State of Israel and the Anti-Defamation League, calling such matters “a distraction” from more important issues.
“As a Jew, I’ve always felt part of the work is repairing the world, which is tikkun olam, and I’m happy to be working with people for which we agree on policy issues. We’re never gonna agree on everything,” he said. “I’m trying to work to make the city a better place, and I’ll find allies where I can, and that’s what I’m looking to do.”