Zeke Cohen

Zeke Cohen Artist and interviewer: Audrey Gatewood

Zeke Cohen

Artist and interviewer: Audrey Gatewood

We have a beautiful community in Southeast Baltimore, it’s one of the most diverse areas in the whole city. It is an epicenter for cultural renaissance. But I haven’t felt like city government is up for the challenge of meeting the diversity and resilience of our community here. The people here are some of the first to get left behind when decisions are made for the city. I felt like our city government hasn’t advocated for our citizens as they should.

I look at this job through two lenses: one is equity, one is innovation. Equity is a fair allocation of resources. Often times our wealthiest communities are able to best access local government. People who have resources know how to ask for policing, trash clean up, and so on. They have more capacity and time to advocate for themselves. Folks that are living in entrenched poverty just don’t. I think about O'Donnell Heights, a much neglected community in the First District. When people think about the First, they think about Canton, Harbor Eastplaces where we have seen tremendous growthwhich is excellent. But there are also communities in our same district that have been left behind, either by the recession, industrialization, a lack of access to transit. Folks living in O'Donnell Heights are living in World War II  housing that is crumbling, with little access to buses. We have huge issues with violent crime, with slum landlords. We’ll have three families living in one house, which is unacceptable. When I think of equity, I think about these neighborhoods that were traditionally blue collar and as the jobs disappeared, the well being of the community took a hit.

Through partnership, through reaching out to the different institutions that are here, we can bring new innovations to the city—to look at things through new eyes. In Southeast Baltimore we have the fastest growing Latino community in the city, and they are a community that does not often see the representation that they deserve. What we’ve done is hired a young man through Baltimore Corps who is an organizer and liaison to the Hispanic community, named Julio. He was born in Mexico but grew up in Bayview, his mission is to engage our Latino folks in local democracy. When we talk about what equity looks like in practice it’s that every voice is represented. No one is left behind.

The complicated dichotomy in the First District is that many people supported both me and Donald Trump, which is a weird thing to wrap your head around considering I am a progressive Democrat and my message was built around inclusivity. I’ve had people tell me that they feel, on a national level, that politicians have completely forgotten about them as working people. They want someone who is going to take a bat to the whole system and smash it. What I get from this is that there is a segment of our population in Southeast Baltimore that feels deeply disaffected and that part of their vote for Mr. Trump is a repudiation of the status quo. Given what Trump stands for, you may find this strange. But it behooves us, and especially me as someone who is seeking to represent this district, to not push that story aside and to really listen to these folks who are experiencing a lot of pain. If we’re going to heal, we are going to have to listen and engage with each other and see our struggles as being fundamentally connected.