In an effort to help you make informed decisions during the General Election, ABC Action News has reached out to dozens of candidates running for office. The following statements have been submitted to ABC Action News by the candidate. Every candidate was given the same set of questions. These are their responses in his/her own words.
Name: Harry Cohen
Office: Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners, District 1
Elected to Tampa City Council in 2011 and 2015. Ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Tampa in 2019. Served as Co-chair of Mayor Jane Castor’s Transition Advisory Teams (2019-2020). Served on Tampa City Council, 2011-2019; Chair Pro Tem, 2012-2018; chairman of the Finance Committee, 2011-2019. Served on boards of Metropolitan Planning Organization (Vice Chair, chair of Policy Committee, and chair of Transportation Disadvantaged Coordinating Board); Hillsborough County Public Safety Coordinating Council; Straz Center for the Performing Arts; Opera Tampa; and the Florida Aquarium.
In addition to the above, I am admitted to the Florida Bar and have been an attorney in private practice as well as General Counsel to the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court.
Why should voters vote for you?
Our community is facing challenges that will require everyone to step up and serve where we can be of the most use. The decisions made at the local government level in the coming years may literally affect whether or not people live or die, are able to stay in their homes, or even can make a living to feed their families. I believe that my experience both as an elected official (Tampa City Council, 2011-2019) and as a citizen who values compassion, science, equity, and fairness, make me an ideal choice for service on the Board of County Commissioners. I am a consensus builder, I respect the opinions of both colleagues and citizens, and I have always worked hard to bring people together. These are the skills we will need to bring to bear as we rebuild the economy in the wake the coronavirus here in Hillsborough County.
If elected, what are your top priorities?
In the short term, the public health crisis combined with the economic fallout from the shut down of the economy is the greatest single challenge facing the community. This is exacerbated by the collapse of the tourism and hospitality industries, the closure of retail and personal service establishments, and the stress of the temporary closure and then partial re-openings of (some) restaurants. While the moratorium on foreclosures and residential evictions has kept people in their homes for now – back rents and missed mortgage payments covering multiple months are due. Since many landlords will struggle or be unable to pay their mortgages and property taxes as a result of the loss of income, there is a monumental crisis brewing absent additional intervention. Our first priority has to be to rebuild the economy.
Another ticking time bomb is the staggering loss of revenue for local and state governments. Without a federal bailout many local government services will have to dramatically downsize. This could even reach to “essential” services given the size and scope of the potential cuts. While Hillsborough County has healthy reserves that have allowed it to maintain a triple-A bond rating across multiple categories, any significant reliance on reserves to weather the crisis will be looked at unfavorably by credit rating agencies. Any decrease in the bond rating equates to a tax increase for our citizens.
In addition, as entities like the City of Tampa and the mostly fee and fine funded court system see significant drops in revenue, there will be increasing pressure on Hillsborough County to fill in the gaps. The coronavirus has also decimated some of the most important arts and culture institutions in the community and they will need assistance if they are to survive. The BOCC may be forced to rethink its spending priorities in light of the drastically changed circumstances facing so many of our residents and their businesses.
What are three key messages of your campaign?
- That experience and judgment matter.
- That we must work to find common ground and build consensus in order to solve problems.
- That all people should be treated with dignity and respect.
What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?
In my view, our biggest challenge continues to be the need for infrastructure to support the projected continued population growth. This includes robust workforce development initiatives, housing that is attainable, affordable and accessible, multi-modal transportation options to serve a diverse public with differing needs and expectations, and a re-evaluation of our comprehensive plan with an eye toward mitigating for climate change and sea-level rise. I am a passionate supporter of the arts and I will fight for resources to support our arts and cultural institutions.
As it relates to the role you are seeking, how has that governmental body handled the Covid-19 pandemic? What would you do differently/the same in handling both the public health risk and the economic recovery?
I feel that the national and state response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been inadequate. I think the response at the local level has been far better. This situation is completely unprecedented and there is no handbook related to how to adequately deal with it. I am particularly sympathetic to the school board members who have had to make some very difficult and consequential decisions.
In the role you are seeking, what will you do to address issues of racism and inequality?
There is a desperate need for progress related to racism and the undeniable difficulties facing people of color in our country. The coronavirus mortality rates alone demonstrate the serious disparities that are systemic in our society. At a local level, whether it relates to gentrification, affordable housing, education, health care, or relations with law enforcement, there are serious inequities that need to be addressed. Constructive dialogue and a clear commitment from elected officials to hear from diverse views is critical but nothing can substitute for real resources and funding to be directed where it is needed.
What motivates you to run for public office?
Serving in local government is really wonderful because you can actually make a difference in your community. The satisfaction you get from opening a new fire station – or a park – or even the completion of a drainage improvement project – it is very rewarding. We are at an important inflection point in our country right now and it is vitally important that we all step up and do what we can to help.