Everybody likes Andrew Cohen.
At least that’s what Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz told a meeting of the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club last week as he spoke in support of the councilman’s re-election bid.
“We don’t always have the same style of doing things,” Dinowitz said. “But the way that Andy works has been pretty effective.”
Cohen’s best attribute, Dinowitz said, is his habit of working with other city council members to bring resources and funding to his district.
Since replacing longtime councilman Oliver Koppell in 2013, Cohen has earned a reputation for getting along well with not only his colleagues, but also agency heads, as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio and his staff.
“I don’t know about everybody, but I really do make an effort to be collaborative, to listen to people,” Cohen told The Press during a recent interview. “Listening to people, I think, has been a hallmark of my time in office.”
Many people, he said, were skeptical of whether this guy from Riverdale was going to listen to their problems in places like Norwood or Bedford Park.
“I think if you went over there, people would tell that I have been very attentive,” Cohen said.
Those relationships have resulted in some notable successes for Cohen, including thousands of dollars in capital funding for community projects. On April 6, he told members of the Ben Franklin Club that even he was surprised by his proclivity for fundraising.
“I didn’t know I had a particular knack for bringing home the bacon, but apparently, I do,” Cohen said.
The councilman has diverted thousands of dollars’ worth of funding to his district through a number of projects from a simple stop sign on West 232nd Street and Corlear Avenue, to something much more massive, like building a playground for Van Cortlandt Park.
“It may not seem monumental … but when they put that stop sign in, Frank Patterson — the former principal of P.S. 7 — said to me … they have been asking for that stop sign for 30 years,” Cohen said. “There had to be a role for common sense in DOT policy, and ultimately that carried the day.”
To complete that project, Cohen met the transportation department commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, and persuaded her to ignore statistics from her department that claimed the location didn’t need a stop sign.
Many of the ideas for community projects are not even his, Cohen said. Instead, they come from residents through calls to his office, as well as participatory budgeting, an annual event in which residents as young as 14 can vote on capital project ideas ahead of budget talks.
“About the playground in Van Cortlandt Park, I wish I could tell you the name of the woman who came in and gave me that idea,” Cohen said, “but I’m not even sure I could pick her out of a lineup anymore. She came to my office and said, ‘This would be a great location for a playground.’ So, I went to the site and thought it was a great place for a playground, so I made it happen.”
Now, as Cohen prepares for a re-election bid, it looks as though he’s going it alone. As of this week, no one has lined up to challenge Cohen, but there’s still time to pick up a challenger or two as the deadline to file for the primary election isn’t until July.
Still, Cohen is gearing up for campaign mode, even remembering a time he was given smiling lessons by state Sen. Gustavo Rivera.
“Being a candidate is rough,” Cohen said. “It’s all of the things you have to do that you would never think about in normal life.”
As a senior member of the city’s legislature, Cohen said he hopes to be more effective at passing legislation and maneuvering past the often-congested committees that keep bills from passing.
“I have a great bill that would require city hotels and motels to rent out a room for minimum 12-hour blocks, so you can’t do it twice in a four-hour period,” he said, adding it would essentially make hourly hotel rates illegal. “The reason I haven’t passed that bill is because it’s in the public safety committee, and there is just an enormous amount of traffic. The amount of legislation trying to get through that committee is astounding.”
According to Legistar, the Council’s online legislative database, the public safety committee considered 45 laws in 2016, passing 23 of them. The public safety committee alone accounted for nearly 15 percent of all laws passed by city council.
“Now when I draft a bill, I try to control what committee hears it so I can steer around the traffic jams,” Cohen said.