During the civil unrest of the 1960s, David Cohen recalls stories of being carted around in a stroller and carried on his parents’ backs during protests.
He became eligible to vote in 1986 and during the 1988 presidential election he signed up to volunteer with the “Get Out the Vote” campaign. That year, while studying at Cornell University, he says he officially “caught the bug” for politics and campaigning.
Cohen, who was raised in Washington, D.C., says he is no stranger to politics or to civic duty.
He consistently served on student organizations while getting his doctorate in chemical engineering at UC Berkeley before settling in San Jose and working as an senior engineering manager for Lam Research.
“It’s always been in my family — this feeling of wanting to be active in our neighborhoods,” Cohen said. “I grew up in a civic-minded family that’s always been engaged and interested in community service.”
The public noticed. Four years ago, residents called on Cohen to run for San Jose’s District 4 council seat. But Cohen, 52, was comfortable in his career. His two children, now teenagers, still had some growing up to do. He said he was happy to spend his free time alongside his wife and kids. City Council would have to wait.
This didn’t mean Cohen wasn’t engaged. He served on the library commission for six years when he first moved to San Jose and took advice from then-school board member Assemblymember Kansen Chu to run for the Berryessa Union School District Board in 2006, where he is serving his fourth term.
But as the years passed, Cohen said the issues being brought up by his neighbors just weren’t being addressed. The District 4 office was seemingly inaccessible to residents. Neighbors struggled to keep up with their expensive rent and house payments. Cohen finally ran for City Council, racing ahead of incumbent Lan Diep in the March primary.
“As I serve, I realize how exciting it is to interact with neighbors and residents and solve problems,” he said. “As I’ve done more of it, I’ve just been inspired by the things we can do together.”
Cohen says his top priorities, aside from helping residents recover from COVID-19, include building affordable housing, addressing homelessness and ensuring neighborhoods are safe, clean and sustainably developed.
Housing, homelessness, clean neighborhoods
Cohen supports San Jose’s inclusionary housing policies and competitive commercial linkage fees which help contribute to low-income housing development around the city.
At a January debate, Diep said development and job growth was the most important issue facing District 4. However, Cohen told San José Spotlight housing should be prioritized since more people are telecommuting.
During his school board tenure, Cohen helped add solar panels to 13 schools and prioritized mental health programs for students, resulting in the addition of social workers in neighborhood schools.
As a councilmember, Cohen said he would prioritize green energy projects and developments. He sees investing in mental health and creating sanctioned encampments as a way to address homelessness. Cohen proposes addressing trash buildup and illegal dumping by working with the district’s neighborhood associations to empower residents to keep their neighborhoods safe and clean.
As a school advocate, Cohen opposed the recent council vote to add an overpass near Orchard Elementary School. Cohen said the overpass would increase traffic and threaten the safety of children who walk to school.
“One hundred percent of the people who came to the council meetings to talk about that issue were against it,” Cohen said. “But the current councilmember still voted in favor of putting the road there. I just don’t think he’s listening to the wishes of the neighborhood and of the community.”
Cohen said residents don’t feel heard by the District 4 office due to slow response time and lack of a staff email list on the office website.
Cohen said his leadership style would give his staff autonomy to connect with residents and solve problems in the district.
Cohen is endorsed by current San Jose Councilmembers Maya Esparza, Raul Peralez and Sergio Jimenez.
Jimenez praised Cohen for being smart, hardworking, committed to the community and “really interested in seeking compromise.”
If elected, Cohen could break the recurring 6-5 split votes between Mayor Sam Liccardo and his business-aligned allies — including Diep — and the so-called Latino Caucus, a labor-friendly faction of the council that often opposes Liccardo.
“I feel David and I better align on policies and especially on some of the crucial 6-5 decisions that have come through the council over the last few years,” Peralez said.
In 2007, Cohen worked with Frank Biehl on the East Side Union High School Board to create the East Side Alliance which increased communication between the eight school districts. Cohen has a wider goal of bridging communications and cooperation between neighboring cities and counties to address larger issues such as transportation, housing needs and climate change.
“I am supporting David Cohen because as a school board member he has distinguished himself as being a prepared, engaged and innovative leader that will put the needs of the people he represents above all else,” said Cindy Chavez, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
Cohen is also endorsed by a number of organizations including the Sierra Club (Loma Prieta Chapter), South Bay Labor Council, Planned Parenthood, South Bay Rising and the Santa Clara County Democratic Party. Cohen has raised a total of $112,693, according to campaign finance reports, and spent $64,239 this year through Sept. 19.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
“What’s the most important lesson you learned in 2020 and how has it prepared you for this role?”
AT A GLANCE
Name: David Cohen
Family: Married, 2 children
Political affiliation: Democrat
Education: Doctorate of Chemical Engineering, UC Berkeley
Profession: Senior engineering manager at Lam Research
Current or previous elected or appointed positions: Berryessa Union School Board member since 2006 (serving fourth term)
Top 3 priorities: Build affordable housing and compassionate solutions for homelessness, create safe and clean neighborhoods and focus on sustainable development
Top 3 endorsements: Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Senator Jim Beall, Supervisor Dave Cortese
Special talent: Plays piano
In one sentence, why vote for you?: “I am a longtime resident of the district who raised a family here, has served the district in a variety of ways and has always had an open door and listens to the concerns of the community.”
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.