Cohen and Josephs for State Representative

There are some difficult State Representative races for progressives in the city this year. In two of them, long time advocates of progressive causes, Babette Josephs in the 182nd and Mark Cohen in the 200th , are in races with younger and ambitious challengers, Brian Sims and Numa St. Louis.

How do you choose between candidates who have no differences on issues?

There are few if any differences on policy between the incumbents and the challengers. Babette and Mark simply have the best voting records in Harrisburg. (When I ran my own race as a challenger and was looking to find questionable votes taken by my opponent, Rosita Youngblood, I quickly compared her votes to those of Cohen and Josephs. There were many differences and, in each case, Cohen and Josephs had taken the progressive view.)

So when there are no issue differences, how do you make up your mind in a race like this?

Well, you could simply choose the candidate to whom you are personally closest. In that case, I would definitely endorse Brian Sims in the 182nd. We were colleagues at CPL and I really like and admire him. He is smart and energetic and will be a great political leader someday. I don’t know Numa St. Louis as well but I like what I’ve seen of him.

And there have been times when I’ve gotten into conflicts with both Babette Josephs and Mark Cohen. When I spoke for Mark at an ADA meeting a week or so ago, his sister Sherrie reminded me that Mark and I once got into a very loud public disagreement. And Babette and I have not seen eye to eye at times either. (In particular, I very much wanted her support when I ran for City Council and did not get it.)

Reaching out to the grassroots

But reasons for those disagreements are telling. In Mark Cohen’s case, we were having a heated disagreement about strategy for the campaign to raise minimum wage. That disagreement only arose because Mark was coming month after month to meetings at PUP with those of us who were building pressure for the minimum wage. We progressives always say that we can be most effective when we can combine our outside grassroots politics with the inside game of legislative leaders. Some in Harrisburg agree with us. Mark Cohen is one of the very few who follows up.

In Babette Joseph’s case, we’ve had some disagreements because she asks to speak at pretty much every rally I hold in Center City whether it is for health care reform or progressive budgeting in Harrisburg or women’s health care. Sometimes, the speaker’s list is a little too long and everyone knows where she stands, anway. But, again, we progressives always say that we want political leaders who will speak up and help us build an outside grassroots movement. Some in Harrisburg agree with us. But Babette is one of the few who follows up.

Loyalty Counts

Brian and Numa might follow the same path. But here is something important about politics: loyalty counts. We activists are always asking politicians to be aggressive in supporting our causes, to come out and speak and to help us build grassroots campaigns. We also ask them to do the hard slogging legislative work very few people see. When they do all that, especially when they do that on issues where they are pushing up hill or against the majority—as Cohen and Josephs have both done many times, most recently on gay rights—we owe them our support. If we trade them in for newer, shinier models we will lose all credibility among legislators. How can we possibly expect politicians in Harrisburg and Washington to work closely with us if we don’t offer loyal electoral support in return?

Seniority Counts

And seniority counts, too. Right now, with Democrats in the minority, it doesn’t matter much. But Democrats are not far from the majority and if they retake the House, Babette Josephs will again take over the State Government where she single handedly bottled up one awful bill after another including a number of nasty pieces of anti-gay legislation. And Mark Cohen will become the leader of the Human Services Committee and the Health Care subcommittee of the Health Committee, where he has consistently fought for critical social services and an expansion of health care for all Pennsylvanians.

The usual charges

Supporter of Sims and St. Louis have been making the usual charges challengers always make against incumbent, blaming the terrible state of the world or State Government or Philadelphia on Cohen and Josephs failures. But frankly, those arguments are entire specious. You can’t blame incumbents who hold one out of 203 seats for what’s wrong in the world. Nor does it make sense to call for “cross-party coalitions” in the General Assembly if you understand that the current Republican leadership makes the guy we used to call the worst legislator in Harrisburg, John Perzel, look like a moderate Democrat.

Supporters of Sims and St. Louis also make the usual charge that Cohen and Josephs have lost touch with their districts. Anyone who has seen Josephs in the streets of Center City knows that this is not true. And I personally know the connection Mark Cohen has to his constituents. The 198th district in 2004 had some divisions in the 49th ward that had recently been moved from the 202nd district. When I knocked on doors in those divisions, people were very disappointed to hear that Mark Cohen was no longer their state representative.

The whiff of identity politics

At any rate, the “losing touch with the district” claim has become a way of bringing a whiff of identity politics into both races. And that I find very disappointing. There is no question that it would be great to have an openly gay state legislator. And many of Mark Cohen’s constituents don’t look like him. But here is where loyalty counts. No one in the House of Representatives has been more aggressively supportive of LGBT issues than Babette Josephs (Mark Cohen is a close second.) No one has been more aggressively supportive of the issues critical to African Americans more than Mark Cohen. (Babette Josephs is a close second.) If identity politics trumps the record of legislators, how are members of the LGBT community and African Americans going to convince legislators who don’t share their identity—and they will remain the majority of legislators for a long time—not just to vote their way but to do the hard legislative work that Babette and Mark have done?

So, while I look forward to seeing their challengers in office someday, I’m urging my friends in these two districts to vote for Babette Josephs and Mark Cohen.

How you can help

If you want to contribute to Rep. Josephs Campaign, send a check made out to Elect Babette Josephs and send it to out Attn: Amanda Koprowski, 1528 Walnut Street, Suite 515, Philadelphia, PA 19102. Or click on the following link to NGP, which is also available via

If you want to canvass for Rep. Josephs, call Amanda a 610-213-7177 or e-mail her at They are canvassing Saturdays: 2pm - 5pm, Sundays: 3pm - 5pm, and Mondays to Fridays from 4pm - 7pm. On weekdays, canvassers meet at the office at 1528 Walnut Street. It is next door to the state rep's office in Suite 515 (the office of Muldoon and Shields). Saturdays and Sundays canvassers meet at the place to be canvassed so call Amanda for details.

Anyone who wants to contribute to Representative Cohen should send a check to Pennsylvanians for Representative Cohen, 105 Cliffwood Road, Philadelphia, PA 19115.

Anyone who wants to volunteer for Representative Cohen should email, or call 215-375-4307, or drop in at the campaign headquarters at 6009 N. 5th Street.

Thanks Your Support, Marc!

Thanks for your support, Marc! And thanks for your thoughtful evaluation of the choices voters face as well.

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