Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A better option for the open Council seat?

Philadelphia City Councilman David Cohen's recent passing has left more than half of his term unfinished, with no strict requirement for how that vacancy should be handled. The main argument in favor of calling a special election is to prevent it's remaining open for two years and to guarantee the maximum number of voices on important bills (especially the anti-pay-to-play measures) coming before the Council in that interval; a primary advocate of this approach has been the Committee of Seventy (see here). The main argument against a special election is that it bypasses the usual primary process that allows real democratic consideration of possible candidates, and thus puts too much power in the hands of the Democratic City Committee to annoint the next holder of the seat (and confer incumbent advantage to that person in 2007); advocates of letting the seat stay open include the Daily News editorial page (see here). Many progressive groups also worry that the virtual appointment of a replacement would mean the installation of a new Councilperson whose views were substantially more conservative that those championed by Cohen.

FlorenceToday brings the announcement that Cohen's widow, Florence Cohen, would be interested in running for his Council seat. She worked closely with him throughout his decades in city office, and would be expected to advocate for most of the same causes and viewpoints that he represented. More importantly, from the viewpoint of political wrangling (and Bob Brady's digestion; see here), she has made clear that she is interested only in serving out the balance of her husband's term, and would not seek reelection in 2007. This could afford the city leadership an opportunity to fill the seat, reassure its liberal wing that its priorities are not forgotten, and sidestep the need to pick among the various inside candidates (each with different strengths and baggage) whose names have been bandied about over the last week. A safe out for everyone on the political front, and a chance for Cohen's office and family to bring a more natural conclusion to his contributions to the city. I hope that Council President Anna Verna will give serious thought to this opportunity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a terrible idea...let the Cohen legacy of passionate yet totally ineffective advocacy go quietly into the night.

11:21 AM  
Blogger ACM said...

you'd rather have someone who is more effective in bringing about less worthy ends?!

11:27 AM  
Blogger DanielUA said...

Was he ineffective when he got wage tax reductions passed for the City's working poor?

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I'd rather have somebody effective bringing about worthy ends, silly. Yes - the tax reductions for the working poor were the only thing that he's been effective at in the last few decades of his career, and I give him credit for that. Please, examine his record of accomplishment...there's not much there - he was great at being a liberal gasbag. Being an effective liberal adovacate who gets things done is great. Let's strive for the latter and end the Cohen legacy of passionate yet totally ineffective advocacy.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

Anonymous is obviously unfamiliar with the results of David Cohen's passionate advocacy.

Among his achivements was the passage of a strong Philadelphia air pollution law, and the subsequent shutting down of Philadelphia's pollution-causing incinerators due to his persuasive efforts with Mayor W. Wilson Goode.

Two of his bills had major national impact. His chemical right to know law--giving workers and community members access to information about dangerous chemicals used in the workplace--led to similar state laws in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which were followed, in turn by national legislation signed into law by Ronald Reagan. Toxic emissions have since declined by about 40% across the U.S. The next time you see a Material Safety Data Sheet in a store, hopspital, or other workplace, you should think of him because it was his efforts that led to it being there.

A second bill the Philadelphia City enacted that had a national impact was advance notice for plant closings. I had introduced a similar bill in the state legislature, but was unable to get it enacted due to a lack of willingness of either supporters or opponents to compromise. He and Councilman John Anderson were able to get a 60 day advance notice measure through the City Council and passed over a mayoral veto by Mayor William J. Green. Congress followed by passing similar legislation, which was signed into law by President Reagan.

Anyone ever watch cable television?
Before he got to City Council, in 1966, City Council had divided the city into six cable zones, but the view of all the cable companies was that the high costs of urban cable construction could not be justified by the relatively small number of residents in each zone.

Shortly after Mayor Goode was elected in 1983, David Cohen brokered a new cable TV plan dividing the city into 4 cable TV districts. Four different cable companies got the contracts, and cable TV in Philadelphia was finally a reality.

Anyone ever shop in center city? As Chairman of the Rules Committee in the late 1980's, David Cohen patiently worked out the details for the pioneering Center City Special Services District, which was highly controversial at the time. He carefully allowed every business that objected to be excluded from the district. The Special Services District was such a resounding success that the excluded businesses later admitted their mistake and pleaded successfully to be included in the future. Numerous Special Services districts were subsequently created without controversy because of the success of the first one.

Anyone ever send their kids to a charter school? David Cohen led the successful effort to preserve the independent school for struggling students led by Principal Joseph Proietta when Superintendent Connie Clayton tried to abolish it, and this school later became the statewide model held up by charter school advocates when the legislature was considering passing chater school legislation in 1995. Today, Philadelphia has over 50 charter schools, with one of the largest and best being headed by Proietta.

Anyone ever use a public library? He successfully pushed library expansion at a time when others--for reasons ranging from agreement with Marshall McLuhan that books were becoming obsolete to the simple racist canard that blacks don't read--were talking about phasing out much of the library system.

Because of his deep interest in expanding public services, he was also intested in finding city functions that could be cut to save money. Due to his leadership, Philadelphia became one of the first cities in the country to stop spending money on fallout shelters, which he documented would be totally ineffective in case of a nuclear attack.

He saved the city the city $1.5 billion in expenditures for an unwise trash to steam incinerator pushed by the Chamber of Commerce, and thus vastly increased the current real estate value of the vast Philadelphia Naval Yard property, equal in size to Center City, which would have been vastly devalued if the trash to steam incinerator was nearby.

He also saved the city many millions of dollars by leading the fight to kill the unwanted Germantown expressway, and supporting the fight to kill the unwanted Crosstown Expressway. Baltimore had similar expressways favoring commuters over longtime residents, and its population fell much more drastically than Philadelphia's because of that.

David Cohen was my father, and I loved him deeply. But the facts are not what some of his critics appear to believe. He was one of the longest serving councilmen in Philadelphia's history (the longest serving councilman at large) because, while paying close attention to small problems, he also provided outstanding leadership on the major problems.

Without armies of big-pocket supporters funding his campaigns, without newspaper editorial support seeking to give heroic stature, he made Philadelphia a better place to live in countless ways.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some decent info from a very biased source. I mean no disrespect to Councilman Cohen as a human being, father, husband, etc. From what you've said, I can't discern whether he did much in his last couple decades...the overarching point for me is this: I really wish that people like Councilman Cohen (or T. Longstreth, Strom Thurmond) had the grace a dignity to leave public life when they didn't have the physical and mental stamina to give it 100%. I have no idea where you came up with the $1.5 billion for stopping the trash to steam's my recollection that it cost the City money. Also, you didn't mention that he sponsored the orginal recycling legislation and then did apparently nothing in terms of real, effective legislative oversight as the program struggled (and continues to struggle). Not a bad buy, definitely cared about things, and accomplished some stuff; however, lets not annoint him for sainthood.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

Thank you for pointing out that he sponsored Philadelphia's original recycling legislation, and got it enacted into law. This happened at a time in which very few communities around the country had a recycling program.

He repeatedly advocated for improvements in Philadelphia's recycling program, with mixed results. It saves the money each year, but not as much as it would if the city would invest more money in it. Hopefully, the city's newly improved financial condition will allow the capital investments needed for the recycling program to reach its initial high promise.

There are endless other achievements we could discuss: such as (1) the charter amendment to reduce the influence of campaign contributions (on the ballot November 8) that he got reported out of the Law and Justice Committee,(2) the bill limiting campaign contributions sponsored by Councilman Goode that he helped enact; (3)his pushing Mayor Street to take a hard line on city payments for huge development projects, which was followed by the state agreeing to pick up the entire cost of convention center expansion and the entire annual shortfall that the city has picked up for convention center deficits; (4) his strong and persistent support for funding for SEPTA, Community College of Philadelphia, and for community involvement in zoning decisions; (5) his support for tax breaks for purchasers of new housing, which has helped fuel a new housing construction boom; (6) his keeping of projects out of neighborhoods where they were not wanted and his advancement of neighborhood development agendas supported by residents; (7) his strong, successful and continuing advocacy for gay rights, AIDS prevention and treatment; (8) his leadership in expanding the amount of city information available on the Internet; (9) his successful leadership in developing legislation that protected the rights of women to go to women's health clinics without being harassed while simultaneously protecting the free speech rights of anti-abortion protestors; (10)his protection of public health in ways ranging from aiding hospitals and city public health clinics to banning the giving out of free cigarettes to supporting numerous anti-drug initiatives to opposing nuisance taprooms.

Beyond specific results are the methods he pursued: he continuously expanded the nember of people and interests to be considered in the decision-making process, and also forced consideration of all the relevant legal principles.

When Oliver Wendell Holmes, who retired from the U.S. Supreme Court at 90 years, 10 months and 5 days (as opposed to David Cohen's death at 90 years, 10 months, and 22 days) saw a beautiful woman at age 90, he is reported to have said "Oh, if only I were eighty again." No matter how long one lives, one can look back at an earlier, healthier time.

David Cohen faced the age issue for the vast majority of his life. He was one of the older soldiers in World War II. He was one of the older active supporters of numerous progressive candidates, beginning with Adlai Stevenson in 1952.

He was the second oldest candidate out of five in his first race for city council in 1967, the oldest mayoral candidate in 1971, and oldest Democrat in City Council from 1980 through 1983, and the oldest member of the entire City Council from 1984 through 2005.

He was not Thacher Longstreth, and was not Strom Thurmond. Powerful special interests did not spend millions of dollars to defeat him because he was ineffective. They tried to defeat him because he subjected their pet projects to the bright light of public exposure, and to the discipline of rigorous analysis.

He did an awful lot with little institutional support and the opposition of numerous powerful forces.

I hope annonymous lives a long and happy life and is treated with a a lot more respect when he becomes old than he accords to other old people.

10:45 PM  
Blogger ACM said...

just came across a quote that this thread was reminding me of:

"Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength."
(Eric Hoffer)

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about this one: "ignorance is bliss"...this thread also reminds me of the children’s' tale, "The Emperor’s New Clothes""

4:28 PM  

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