On Election Day for the first time in 11 years Riverdalians voted for a new City Councilman. The winner of the race, Councilman-elect Andrew Cohen, would ultimately coast to victory with an impressive 79% of the vote. An earnest, energetic politician, Mr. Cohen comes across as deeply committed to Riverdale and excited about the time ahead.
We sat down with Mr. Cohen recently to discuss his vision of the coming term. Overall he noted his excitement for the opportunity that this change will bring. He noted with pride that during the primary his candidacy was by far the most successful city-wide, as he garnered 60% of the Democratic vote to earn his place on the ticket. Asked about election-night jitters he spoke about the hour between the closing of the polls and the announcement of his victory as a time that went surprisingly fast.
This is the first of a two part interview with Councilman-elect Cohen.
HH: Tell us about your background and your reasons for entering politics.
Cohen: "I had a deep level of involvement in the community. I served on the Community Board, on the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park and I have a deep connection to the community. Then there was an open seat because of term limits and I thought I could put together a winning coalition."
HH: What is your single most important goal in the coming term?
Cohen: "One of the things I learned on the campaign is that there are a lot of city-wide issues that I am interested in but when I meet voters it is constituent service that matters: preserving and improving the quality of life in this district. My primary goal is to make sure that the city is functioning here. That the people have a voice in city government, not policy issues in the macro sense but dealing with issues that matter on the local level. To make sure the city is working for people."
HH: Did you have a mentor in your evolution as a politician?
Cohen: "As a staffer to Jeffrey Dinowitz I learned from someone who has very good political instincts. Over the years I also worked with Councilman Koppell too. It is hard to find anyone who has had as distinguished a career in our community."
HH: What personal changes will happen for you as you assume office?
Cohen: "My wife is a physician with a busy practice. I practiced law from the house to be with our daughter more. With a daughter in kindergarten, it has been an evolution in how my family will work to make sure that our child is taken care of and our family functions. It has been a real adjustment."
HH: What will be the affect of a new administration?
Cohen: "The planets could not have been aligned for me any better for success. We have a new administration, a new speaker and I believe the economy is getting better. A lot of the doom and gloom around the budget will not come to pass, because I think tax revenue will be higher and the city budget will be easier. Most importantly, there is a tremendous opportunity to have a partner in government now. Whether you like Michael Bloomberg or not I think you can agree that partnership was not their model. On election night I saw Bill de Blasio and I got a big hug and he said he looks forward to working with me. The planets are lined up for us to be very successful together."
HH: Where do you see the local schools during the next couple of years? Are there changes that need to be made? How will you help?
Cohen: "Ultimately the Mayor and the DOE set the policy for education. The City Council can maintain oversight but on a macro level Bill de Blasio will set the lead. If something is not working in a particular school though, I can bring that to the attention of the administration right away; having an advocate on the ground that will make sure on a micro level that the schools are working better."
Tomorrow in Part II of our conversation Councilman-elect Cohen talks about transit, the Putnam Trail controversy, construction in the area and the Montefiore project.