On Tuesday, April 26, a former teacher and non-profit founder, Zeke Cohen won the Democratic nomination for the 1st district council seat that is being vacated by Councilman Jim Kraft.
Cohen was the first candidate to run, announcing his campaign over a year ago.
He said he made the decision before Councilman Kraft said he wouldn’t seek reelection. Instead of competing against Kraft, Cohen had to beat out five other Democrats for the seat.
“The reason we won is that I think we’re in a moment in our city where people are looking for someone with the leadership experience and the foresight to be able to bring people together over lines of difference,” said Cohen.
He described the community as being “palpably shaken” after last year’s unrest and said they wanted solutions to the problems that facilitated and promoted this violence.
“The racial and class divides have never been more stark. You can either go one of two ways: further retreat and say build a wall around the community and make sure nobody else gets in. But the other is to say, look, these challenges are very deep and very complex and in order to solve them we need to care not only about ourselves but the larger community that is Baltimore.”
Cohen said that announcing his candidacy so early did help him, as it allowed people to get to know him and create an infrastructure of volunteers and fundraiser.
“I was able to create relationships that served me throughout the campaign, I had built relationships with so many people in the neighborhood and by the end of the campaign, I was talking to people on a first name basis and they knew my face and would see me out and go, ‘hey Zeke!’ That was the key. We built these early on and people learned and knew that I was going to be consistent and show up.”
If elected, Cohen said that he would use his position to build a cohesive community that is concerned for all of the Baltimore, not just the 1st district.
“The welfare of the people that live north of Fayette St. is fundamentally connected to our lives. We all prosper together or we all fail together,” he said.
Cohen said that his experiences with his non-profit, the Intersection, allows him to work with people of diverse backgrounds.
“Our message really resonated everywhere throughout the 1st.”
Following his primary win, Cohen said he will use the months leading into the general election to listen to the people.
“There’s a lot of power in stepping back from the campaigning and actually just listening to folks. There’s going to be a lot of interest in this race. My challenge is to energize my base and my people and really reach out across lines and expand that base of people,” he explained.
During his campaign, Cohen held a ‘listening tour’ where he talked to local business owners, community leaders, developers, and residents about their concerns for the city.
Half of City Council will be replaced this year as the eight newly elected members of the 14, including the winner of 1st district race, will be freshman. Cohen said he is “incredibly excited about the new energy” that will be brought to City Council.
There are friendships between him and the new candidates that predate the election. By working together, he said they all will work to bridge the divides between the districts, ensuring cohesion, cooperative leadership, and eventual wide-scale changes.
“The crazy thing is that we all won. That to me is the most exciting thing about this next iteration of our city. We have some brilliant young progressive champions coming in.”
Cohen believes that the new City Council is the result of a re-energized, re-engaged and passionate about the potential of Baltimore.
“The community wants leadership that works for the people and does the work they say they’re going to do.”
For more about Cohen and his campaign, visit www.zekecohen.com.