Likeable Harry Cohen Has Avoided Controversy


Cohen at the Hillsborough Dems’ Spring Fling

By Jim Bleyer

After two full terms and hundreds of votes on the Tampa City Council, you would think mayoral candidate Harry Cohen would have made a few enemies.  Tampa Bay Beat hasn’t found any, at least any that bear a grudge.

Somehow Cohen has sidestepped those political tripwires that plague many aspirants for higher office.

In his two runs for city council, the term-limited Cohen connected with 61 and 71 percent of the voters respectively.  Not a guy to be messed with.

Like all his opponents in the mayoral race,  he promotes a “regional transit plan.”  This includes a long look at where congestion occurs, autonomous vehicles, consideration of leasing CSX train routes, and more bike lanes.  The streetcar needs to be modernized and more “agile,” he added.

Asked about compliance with the American Disabilities Act, Cohen noted most mainline train systems are not compliant and that wouldn’t occur under his watch.

Cohen calls for aggressive action on flooding and addressing sea level rise.  The city is playing “catch up,” he said, as far as sewer infrastructure goes.  Bond rating agencies, such as Moody’s, want to see specific plans.

Asked if he believed climate change and rising seas are manmade, Cohen replied, “It really doesn’t matter, does it?  We need the best technologies…anything that reduces emissions and supports cleaner air.”

He criticized the state legislature and governor for co-opting home rule.  The City of Tampa, for example, cannot hold a referendum on sales tax-supported light rail.

Like other candidates, Cohen said he will continue promoting downtown amenities and refocus neighborhoods on parks and pools.  He foresaw a healthy debate with former county commissioner Ed Turanchik and council member Mike Suarez plus the three opponents who are newbies to public office: businessman Topher Morrison, former police chief Jane Castor, and billionaire David Straz.

Cohen is not without his vulnerabilities.  He could be questioned on whether or not he has “brought home the bacon” to his South Tampa neighborhood where roads and drainage have been sorely neglected.

The Bayshore Boulevard speeding problem has been brought into sharper focus in the past couple of weeks.  That same thoroughfare and many others in the district flood regularly after a heavy rainfall.  They have for years and years.

Then there is Cohen’s penchant of voting for issues that have proven downsides.  His attitude: let’s see what happens and fix it later.

Two cases in point:

Last year the council voted to approve the use of a controversial pesticide in Forest Hills and adjacent neighborhoods despite resident protests.  Cohen tried to calm the furor saying he also voted for the EPA to test the course after it’s sprayed and determine if the pesticide was applied correctly.

Earlier this year, the council voted to crack down on massage parlors ostensibly to stop human trafficking.  Critics filled council chambers to protest the measure claiming it would criminalize those in the sex trade.  Cohen told opponents the ordinance could still be improved later on.

Good guy Cohen will have that blank page enemies list severely tested in the months leading up to city elections next March.


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