Sherrie Cohen, the daughter of the late Philadelphia Councilman David Cohen and an out lesbian, has declared her candidacy for an at-large seat on the city council because “it’s past time for our community to be represented,” she said.
Cohen, who ran for an at-large Philadelphia City Council seat in 2011 and again in 2015, said the “third time is going to be the charm.”
“There has been no openly LGBT person elected to city council. I tremendously appreciate our allies on city council, but it’s crucial to have someone from our community there,” Cohen said. “I believe we must be at the policy table when decisions are being made that impact our community, and I believe that every decision does — whether it’s about housing, education, jobs or healthcare.”
Cohen comes from a history of family members dedicated to public service. Her father served as a city councilman for 29 years. Her mother, Florence Cohen, was head of the New Democratic Coalition of Philadelphia from 1969-1972 and served as her husband’s chief of staff from 1980-1996. Mark Cohen, her brother, was the state representative of the 202nd District from 1974-2016 and now serves as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas in the city.
In 2011, Cohen was narrowly edged out of securing one of the top five Democratic at-large seats, coming in sixth place with 9 percent of the votes (43,690 votes). In 2015, Cohen came in eighth place with 7.1 percent of votes (45,847 votes).
During her second run for city council, Cohen was the only non-incumbent and LGBT candidate to be endorsed by the Democratic City Committee. She added that support from the Democratic party was “significant and is seeking to build on all the support [she’s] had in the past.”
“I’m grateful to members of the community who participated on prior campaigns and I’m hoping that more folks will get involved this time,” Cohen said.
All 17 council seats are up for reelection in 2019. City Council consists of 10 members elected by district and seven members elected at-large. At-large members are elected to serve the city as a whole, compared with members who are elected to serve a specific district. The five Democratic at-large candidates receiving the most votes earn the seats.
Cohen’s latest bid for city council is an effort to “build bridges among communities so we can embrace our common ground and build stronger coalitions,” she said. “When we come together, we can really make change.”
Cohen said one of her main priorities include finding solutions for the unemployment crisis facing transgender people of color, which she noted is five times more than the unemployment rate of the general U.S. population.
“I’d like to work toward a city-wide employment initiative for transgender and gender non-conforming people,” she said.
Cohen said she is looking to funnel more “access to PrEP as well as seeking more housing for queer youth on the street. There’s still so many young people in our community on the streets, in large part because kids are still getting kicked out by their families because there’s still not enough understanding,” she said. “That’s the importance of having visible people from the LGBT community in public places and with public profiles — we can highlight what our concerns and needs as a community are.”
Cohen, who is a tenants’-rights attorney, added that other priorities include focusing on the displacement of longtime residents in neighborhoods caused by gentrification, high eviction rates, creating more affordable housing options in the city and a minimum-wage increase to $15 an hour. She also is looking to dismantle the racial bias in policing, prosecution and incarceration.
“I want to see community oversight of our police. I believe that one of our major problems is that poor and working people are disempowered in our city. I’m looking to engage with as many people from as many neighborhoods throughout the city as possible. We need officials who prioritize the needs of the poor and working people and candidates who speak to these concerns,” she said.
Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, co-founder of the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative — a direct action social-justice group that claim to represent more than 400 workers in Philadelphia — joined Cohen’s team as her campaign manager. Cohen said the two are working with other activists to create a campaign platform that addresses the needs of the community with an emphasis on developing “a grassroots participatory campaign” strategy.
“I call myself a ‘movement candidate.’ When I talk about coming together, I talk about the participation of movements in our city, whether it’s racial justice or educational justice. We need that inside-outside approach where we build strong bridges and have people in city council who are accountable to these movements.”