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In Southeast Baltimore’s 1st District, Cohen looks to hold Democratic challenger at bay

City Councilman Zeke Cohen says regardless of whether the residents in Southeast Baltimore’s 1st District agree with all of the positions he takes, he shows up for them, promises to be present and listen — and to always deliver on constituent service.

But Paris Bienert, his Democratic challenger in the June 2 election, says Cohen’s priorities sometimes take him far afield from District 1 needs. Bienert says she will put more emphasis on how well city government works for residents.

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The district includes some of the city’s most affluent areas, like the waterfront community of Canton and the ritzy Harbor Point business district that is under development. It stretches from old Baltimore neighborhoods Little Italy and Greektown to O’Donnell Heights and the Eastwood enclave that many would mistake for Baltimore County.

“Your City Council person is your go-to when it comes to city services,” said Bienert, 27, who recently completed a master’s in social work and worked for a women’s political caucus.

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“I really think if we focus on the basic city services that aren’t being provided then we can start to improve things on a small scale and eventually on a macro level.”

Cohen, 34, said he is committed to both.

A first-term councilman, Cohen said his emphasis is on “world-class constituent service." He and his team have resolved more than 2,500 constituent service requests that include installing a traffic light at “crash corner” on South Wolfe and Bank streets, new benches to replace rotting ones in Eastwood and a public-private partnership to light up O’Donnell Square to welcome revelers and keep them safer.

“Our campaign is centered on the idea that community comes first,” Cohen said. “We value and support people. Nothing I have accomplished in my first term on council have I accomplished alone."

He said he also has worked to pass far-reaching legislation, including the Elijah Cummings Healing City Act. Cohen was the lead sponsor on the legislation that Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young signed into law in January after receiving unanimous council support. It creates a “Trauma-Informed Care Task Force” to inform city policies and coordinate trainings for city workers.

Cohen also pointed to his work on government accountability. Along with a broad coalition, he helped shape the “Transparency in Lobbying Act." The 2018 legislation tightened restrictions on lobbyists and required the city’s ethics board post lobbying disclosure forms online.

Amid the coronavirus crisis, he helped spearhead and create the Baltimore Neighbors Network, which uses trained volunteers to connect people to mental health services.

An educator who founded a nonprofit to get young people ready for college and trained in community organizing, Cohen is chairman of the council’s Education and Youth Committee.

With almost $220,000 in the bank as of April, Cohen has one of the largest fundraising balances among all the candidates across the city running for the council. Bienert reported about $63,000.

Bienert said she built a proposed agenda for her first 100 days in office around a listening tour she conducted in the district before the pandemic. She says she would introduce legislation to create an office to coordinate services for people returning home from prison.

She also wants to ban future employers from asking what a job candidate earned in previous positions to help address the wage gap between women, minorities and white men. And she wants to create a work group to study transportation issues from the perspective of women.

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Bienert said she would also open a constituent office in the community, something Cohen said he too is considering. And she said she would acknowledge all constituent calls within 48 hours, a time frame Cohen said he also meets.

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