Cohen heads to bench, council race heats up

Special election to pick new council member could come next March


If it feels like Joe Biden has been campaigning to replace Donald Trump for a long time, he has.

The former vice president officially announced his presidential campaign April 25, 2019, and now with just 80 days or so to go before the election, Biden is in the home stretch.

Yet, when Biden was just getting started, two men had already been on the campaign trail for nearly a year. Dan Padernacht and Eric Dinowitz launched their campaigns in Summer 2018, seeking not the White House, but a place in city hall.

The councilman they want to replace, Andrew Cohen, wasn’t due to finish his last term until 2021. But that didn’t stop the lawyer and educator, both of whom expected Cohen to step down early, triggering a special election.

And Cohen would have done just that if he had been nominated for the Bronx supreme court bench. Except it didn’t happen in 2018. Nor 2019. Dinowitz and Padernacht continued on, however, picking up some additional challengers along the way like Dionel Then, Jessica Haller and now Abigail Martin.

Patience has paid off. On Monday, the Bronx Democratic County Committee nominated Cohen and two civil court judges to supreme court seats. All three are expected to win the general election in November, since Democrats have what seems like an almost absolute majority in the Bronx. But it also means all five candidates who, so far, seek to replace Cohen can now officially get under way.

“You know, I’m coming toward the end of my city council term,” Cohen told The Riverdale Press after the Bronx Democrats made his nomination to the bench official. “This has been an aspiration since I went to law school. I’m really very, very excited. I’m a little overwhelmed. It’s going to be an awesome responsibility.”

Knowing that the bench is all but guaranteed, Cohen could step down from his council seat right now, triggering a special election maybe even around the same time voters cast ballots to have Cohen fitted for a black robe.

That could be good news for Eric Dinowitz, son of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who has been a longtime ally of Cohen, back when Cohen worked as a Dinowitz staffer in the early aughts. Holding an election this year would likely mean a traditional election. Waiting for 2021, however, could mean being one of the first to use ranked-choice, which some observers say would not be beneficial to frontrunners like Dinowitz.

Cohen, however, says he has no plans to leave his current job before 2020 is over.

“I’m telling you 99 percent,” the councilman added. “What I said up there (in his acceptance speech to the Bronx Democrats) was true. It’s not over till it’s over.”

Even Dinowitz resigned himself to a 2021 context — nearly three years after he first launched his campaign.

“I look forward to asking the voters for their support in a March special election,” Dinowitz told The Press through a public relations company Monday afternoon.

Dionel Then, a museum docent who also was once an intern at The Press said a March special election could be a good bellwether for what’s to come in other city races later in the year.

“Now we know that the campaign is on,” Padernacht said. “We have an idea of timing. We’re looking at a spring election, and I think it’s great. We’ll get out there and spread our word, and try to get voters.

“What we want to do more than anything is just inform the community and informed the electorate. An informed electorate is an empowered electorate.”

Haller, however, wasn’t celebrating the Bronx Democrats nominations, decrying it as “yet another example of machine politics.”

“Our campaign is ready, willing and able to run against the local political machine whenever an election is scheduled,” Haller said. “We have, in a short time, demonstrated momentum and support, with much more coming.”

Similar sentiments were shared by Martin, who just jumped into the city council race last week.

“The people of the northwest Bronx deserve a city council member they can trust and who will fight for them,” Martin said, in a statement. “I will beon the ballot, no matter when this election is.”

Padernacht has been out there campaigning the longest, although Dinowitz is close behind. Even after learning earlier in the day Monday that Cohen was bound for the bench, Padernacht wasn’t ready to celebrate the official start of the campaign until Cohen accepted the honor.

“Someone was joking earlier, and they said, ‘What if Andy declines it?’” Padernacht said. “I’m like, I’ll kill him. It’s three years of kind of an unknown. And now Councilman Cohen is getting the nomination.

“It’s an exciting time right now.”

Andrew Cohen, Bronx Judicial Convention, Eric Dinowitz, Dan Padernacht, Jessica Haller, Dionel Then, Abigail Martin, Bronx Democratic County Committee, Bronx Supreme Court, Kirstyn Brendlen, Michael Hinman