Dan Cohen’s Gambit

In a crowded field to replace Council Member Mark Levine, this lifelong resident hopes his story and platform will speak to voters

| 25 Jan 2021 | 12:35

In talking about his candidacy for City Council in District 7, Dan Cohen puts a lot of emphasis on his being a product of New York. He’s a lifelong resident of Upper Manhattan, a graduate of the city’s public schools, a New York City marathon runner, a PTA dad, and, while in high school, he worked a summer job that could only exist in this city: suiting up in a King Kong costume and greeting visitors at the top of the Empire State Building.

“I was like Mickey at Disney World,” Cohen recalled.

Though these biographical details do not exactly serve as credentials for the job of council member, he says these experiences do add up to a motive for running for office – and that is to ensure others in his district are afforded the same opportunities he has to make a home and life in New York.

On the policy front, Cohen’s perspective has been formed by his years as a housing advocate, working in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Most recently, he has served as vice president of Housing Partnership – a nonprofit group that works to develop and preserve affordable rental housing in the city.

“I care about this issue very much, and to know how important affordable housing is to the district is part of what is motivating me,” said Cohen.

In a crowded field of candidates, all of whom vying to replace the term-limited incumbent Mark Levine, Cohen hopes his story and platform speaks to voters of the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, Hamilton Heights and Washington Heights.

On Affordable Housing

“The problem with this City Hall and this administration is that there’s too much of a focus on higher income affordability level, and we really need to target affordability for the district. And right now, that is probably for people who make less than $30,000 a year, and we’re building affordable housing for incomes almost twice that. And certainly people who make you know $50-$60,000 need affordable housing too, but there’s a far greater need for people at lower income levels, and you need to really address that.”

On Homelessness

“It’s important to note that about 60,000 people in shelters each night, and another 15,000 or so are sleeping on the street. The overwhelming majority of those people in shelters are families, mostly women with kids. And sometimes there’s a perception of the homeless constituency that is mentally ill or has these issues, such as substance abuse issues, and certainly that is a component of the homeless population, but the larger population is just people who cannot economically afford housing. So, we need to build more family size apartments at lower income levels that people can afford. And we need to we need to, as much as possible, get out of the shelter business. It’s a lucrative business for shelter owners, but we should be working as much as possible to be building permanent stable housing. And, and even for folks who are dealing with the challenges of mental health, behavioral challenges or substance abuse, I still think that housing has to come first.”

On Help for Small Businesses

“We need to create a capital fund to invest in small businesses, particularly businesses that are owned by women and people of color, who were the most significantly impacted populations in the pandemic so that we can help businesses start and restart. There’s a lot of small businesses that just don’t have access to capital and the city has often provided low interest loans, but the loans, put a burden on those small businesses that I don’t think is worthwhile. I think in the end the city should say, ‘We’re going to invest in your business and we’re going to rise if you rise and fall if you fall.’ The idea that somehow we can get a few more big companies to come in and hire a couple thousand people is immaterial to the city of almost 9 million. What we need to do is to encourage entrepreneurship, reduce the burdens of starting a new business and helping people to recreate old ones.”

On Public Safety & Police Reform

“I do believe that we can look at reallocating and some resources from law enforcement into other areas. But I also think this will be something that would be beneficial for everyone involved. Because right now, if someone’s having a mental health crisis, you don’t have a lot of other options than calling the cops, and a police officer is not the best solution for someone having a mental health crisis. What we need is a mental health corps – people who are trained professionals who can respond, instead of a police officer, particularly if there’s no risk of immediate injury to oneself or another person. We should be calling mental health court who are trained professionals who know how to deal with people having mental breakdowns and to help them through it.

We had about 500,000 felonies in the 1990s, we had about 25,000 police officers. In this decade, we’re gonna have about 100,000 felonies and we have 36,000 police officers. We have a tremendously large police department. We could probably reduce the number of police without impacting crime... we need to focusing much more on community policing: less cops in cars, more police being visible and interacting with people and businesses in communities, and we have to stop the broken windows theory which sounded nice to start, but it’s mostly a tool to harass mostly black young men.”

On Climate Crisis

“This city should be the standard bearer there for a response to climate change. We have the economic will, and we have the reach to make the city carbon neutral between solar panels on the roof and closing Rikers to make it into an energy generator, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and testing offshore wind farms. We need to bring everyone forward into a new green economy, and that means jobs, investment and thinking broadly and deeply about where we put our green dollars.”