It’s finally settled. The intractable rumor that Councilman Andrew Cohen would be nominated for a supreme court judgeship this year has been resolved. He won’t be trading his spot in city hall for a black robe and gavel.
At least, not yet.
The Democratic County Committee’s judicial convention met last Thursday, nominating current supreme court judge Wilma Guzman, acting supreme court judge John Higgitt and criminal court judge Bahaati Pitt to the seats, all while praising the trio’s even temperament and legal knowledge. While the nominations are a far cry from the actual election, historically judges nominated by the Democratic Party in the Bronx sail to an easy election.
What began as idle chatter was thrust into the public spotlight after Cohen confirmed to a reporter he would be “thrilled to serve” as a judge. After all, he’s term limited and can’t see re-election after 2021. He’s also an attorney, formerly serving as a law clerk for Judge Edgar Walker before Cohen replaced former councilman Oliver Koppell in 2013.
On its face, such an appointment wouldn’t garner much interest. Judges are attorneys long before they sit on the bench. But this situation is different, mainly because of the men already vying to take Cohen’s place.
Shortly after former Community Board 8 chair and real estate attorney Dan Padernacht announced he would run for city council last year, so did special education teacher Eric Dinowitz — son of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. Political newcomer Dionel Then announced his run for the seat this past spring after both Dinowitz and Padernacht already had raised a substantial amount of campaign money.
The elder Dinowitz is a past chairman of the Bronx Democratic County Committee and, some have argued, still has a great deal of influence within the organization. Padernacht’s supporters wrote letters to The Riverdale Press alleging Cohen’s nomination would be a strategy to usher the younger Dinowitz into the council via special election far sooner than 2021.
Eric Dinowitz’s supporters also wrote letters, claiming allegations of nepotism are baseless. They pointed to the younger Dinowitz’s political activism, civic engagement and volunteer work as qualifications for office wholly independent of his father’s position.
In fact, Dinowitz spokesman Matthew Rey fired back at critics in a written statement to The Riverdale Press last month.
“It’s sad to see these Trump-style campaigns here in our community, but we trust the voters will reject mudslinging and embrace an educator as our next councilmember,” Rey said.
The moment of truth came and went during the convention. Cohen was not nominated, and it didn’t seem to be a surprise to many. The councilman didn’t even attend the event.
“From the day I was re-elected for this term, people have been asking me very, very often, ‘What are you going to do?’” Cohen told The Riverdale Press.
It got him thinking about what happens when he leaves office. He was a law clerk and attorney, and says he loved working in the courthouse. It’d be nice to be back there again.
“If that is what happens when I’m done with my time in the council, I think that would be awesome,” Cohen said. “Am I exploring a variety of things? Yes, including running for borough president. I’m thinking about all the options on the table.”
But did he ask if a judgeship was on the table this year?
“I did speak to the chairman of the Democratic Party over the winter, perhaps,” he said. “It’s been months since I’ve spoken to the party about it.”
No matter what, Cohen said he’s certain he wants to continue public service because he finds the work “incredibly satisfying.” The capacity in which he does so depends on the political landscape when the time comes. There may not be a judgeship opening in two years. There may be an overabundance of borough president candidates. It’s too early to decide how things will fit together.
“I’m not crazy about the dynamic of having multiple candidates in full gear when I still have more than two years left in office,” Cohen said. “That does not seem to be the phenomena, at least that I can tell, in other council seats. A little bit of chatter, but I have at least two candidates with committees out there actively campaigning.”
And those two candidates say they’re ready for an election, whenever it happens.
“I’m running for city council, and I’m very proud of the work that I’ve been doing in the community,” Dinowitz said. “And whether the election happens tomorrow or in 2021, I’m prepared to run a positive campaign based on a positive vision and my work in the community.”
Padernacht is OK with waiting until 2021 as well, as it “gives me more time to prepare.”
“It’s a greater opportunity to meet residents of the district,” he said, “and a greater opportunity for voters to learn about the candidates, their different views, their experience, and their qualifications in order to make a better decision about who is the best person for the job.”