A talk with Mayor-to-Be Jim Cohen
By Chris Busby
City Councilor Jim Cohen is poised to be Portland’s next mayor. Appointed by his council colleagues to the largely ceremonial one-year post, Cohen’s formal inauguration takes place at noon on Monday, Dec. 5, in Council Chambers at City Hall.
An attorney by day, Cohen, 40, is a married father of two young sons. He represents council District 5, which includes the Deering, North Deering and Riverton neighborhoods. He won reelection to the council earlier this month, easily defeating spunky challenger Alvin “Al” Schulman to begin a second three-year term.
The Bollard: I read somewhere, I think in The Forecaster, that you lost your first race for office. What happened?
Jim Cohen: It was student council — a hard fought race. I have no recollection who I ran against, but I came up on the short end of the stick. But I remained undaunted over the years
What kind of mayor will you be?
I hope to be an active, inclusive mayor. The only question I have in my mind is not what to do, but whether there’s enough time to accomplish all the things I want the city to make progress on in the next year.
I don’t think I’ll have a label, like ‘Process Queen’ [outgoing Mayor Jill Duson’s nickname].
How are plans for the inaugural party going?
The day of, I’ll probably stick with tradition, have some kind of reception in the State of Maine Room [at City Hall] for the public.
As far as the celebration itself is concerned, it looks like we’re going to do something on the 12th of December, at the Maine College of Art, to celebrate the creative economy. I’d like to bring together the educators and schools, creative economy businesses, arts and cultural people — all of whom have something to do with the quality of life and making Portland a place we want to be.
My goal is to have a celebration that doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything. I’m hoping to find people willing to donate food and drink services, entertainment. The university may be providing some jazz musicians…. The fourth grade class at Lyseth Elementary School will be singing ‘Portland, Portland, That’s My Hometown.’
Should the mayor be the enforcer when councilors aren’t paying attention?
The mayor serves at the pleasure of the council, but the mayor does run the meetings. I certainly hope that every councilor, left up to their own devices, will pay attention to the meeting. To the extent it becomes a problem, as mayor, I’d certainly want to have conversations with people.
I’m not looking to embarrass anybody. I tend to have a pretty collaborative style….. My preference would be to handle it offline.
What do you say to a fellow lawmaker who questioned the authority of an appointed mayor?
They can question all they want. The Mayor of Portland is still the representative of the City Council, which is the elected body of Portland. Whatever positions or representations that the mayor makes need to conform to the will of the council. And the will of the council, as the elected representatives of the people, is the will of the people.
I have never heard any person at a meeting in Augusta or elsewhere question the representation of a mayor for that reason.
You play guitar.
I’ve been playing since the third grade.
What style of music do you play?
I used to play classical guitar. Now I would describe it as classic rock.
What musician would you be most honored to give a key to the city to?
Do you have any ambitions to serve in higher office?
To be honest, right now I’m focused on what is a really important job for the next year, and serving for the next three years.
I’ve got two young kids and I love living in Portland. My day job takes me to the halls of Augusta, so I don’t see myself running for state office, and any other office at this point seems far removed from my thinking right now.
What do people not know about you that they should?
That I’m an outdoors person. I’ve been running more or less since the eighth grade. I’m an active hiker, skier, softball player. I spent two years as the Commissioner of the Lawyers Softball League.
A lot of arguing in that league?
No, we leave it all in the court.
How’s Al Schulman doing these days?
I have no idea. I certainly wish Al well, but I have not seen or heard from him since Election Day.