As someone who would likely want to serve on the city council sooner rather than later, one might expect Jessica Haller to be elated to learn Andrew Cohen is stepping down from his seat a year sooner than expected.
But she isn’t. In fact, Haller had some critical words regarding the man she’s hoping to succeed, saying Cohen “has a contract with us until the end of next year, so why are you taking him out of his role?”
That question wasn’t to Cohen or even to voters, by the way. That was a message to the Bronx Democrats, who nominated the councilman to the Bronx supreme court bench. In a city that hasn’t backed a Republican presidential candidate since Calvin Coolidge in 1924, it’s pretty safe to say that, by the time 2021 starts, Cohen will don a black robe.
But where does Cohen leave his constituents? Where does he leave his county? Cohen’s departure from city hall will cost taxpayers at least $1 million to conduct a special election, if not more — and that’s simply the kind of money our government, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, can’t really afford.
It’s tough luck that there’s term limits, and we get that Cohen has to find somewhere to go once his term expires. But this was a man ready to leave less than a year after seeking re-election, and doesn’t seem interested at all in maybe lessening the blow of his departure by timing it in a way that this special election can be held the same time as another election, maybe even the one in November.
Longer-term, however, we can’t pick on elected officials who are just trying to ensure they maintain some sort of stable income. We need a better solution in how to fill vacancies that remain democratic, but also don’t unnecessarily cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, to pay for poll workers, sites, equipment, and actually counting the votes.
Many other jurisdictions allow for special appointments — interim office holders who can ensure people are represented, while waiting for elections. Maybe such appointments are made by the mayor? Maybe this is something that could involve the borough president?
No one wants to lose representation any longer than necessary, especially at the city council level. And if we can’t encourage elected officials to stay in office for the full-time they committed to voters who elected them, then we need to find ways to keep the wheels of democracy moving — without vacuuming out all the cash from our taxpayer-funded treasury.