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Politically Speaking: Alderman Cohn on budgets, ward reduction and higher office

St. Louis Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward, in a picture taken June 27, 2018
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward

On the latest edition of Politically Speaking, Rachel Lippmann and Jo Mannies talked with St. Louis Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward.

Cohn, who grew up in Clayton, represents the Dutchtown, Mount Pleasant and Carondelet neighborhoods in south St. Louis. He was first elected to the Board of Aldermen in 2009 and is in his third term in office.

Cohn was active in neighborhood organizations for years, but said he “didn’t have any designs to run for public office. I’m an openly gay man, and when I came out in the late 1990s, things like the Defense of Marriage Act and "don’t ask, don’t tell" had just passed relatively recently in the arc of history. And so I didn’t think an openly gay person had a place at the table.”

He ran for an open seat in 2009 because his neighbors asked him to and won a four-way Democratic primary with 46 percent of the vote. He hasn’t had a primary opponent in his last two elections.

Cohn was one of the first of a wave of younger, more progressive aldermen to be elected to the board, the ranks of which have grown over the past two elections. “We do our best to use the energy that is being brought by the new people and the wisdom of the ‘OG’s,’ if you will,” he said. “When you’re working towards policy issues, we need to not only work on those policy issues but the relationships that need to come along with them to effectively pass legislation.”

Here’s what Cohn had to say during the show:

  • He wants the Board of Aldermen to be more involved in drafting the budget. Right now, they can only make changes to a spending plan prepared by the president of the board, the comptroller and the mayor. “I am not currently a fan of the budget,” he said. “I think we could do a better job as a city of delivering services equitably and fairly across the board, and I don’t think the current budget reflects that.”
  • He is opposed to any effort to undo a 2012 vote that cut the number of wards in the city from 28 to 14. “The St. Louis American actually did a really wonderful piece on, 'Is it black representation, or black power?'” Cohn said. “Citywide officeholders, overwhelmingly African-American. The state rep districts, six out of 10 are represented by African-Americans. And, so, I think when it comes down to it, we need to look at how we’re drawing the map, versus whether we should have 14 or 28.”
  • He has been asked if he will run for—and has considered running for—higher office. “But as an openly gay, urban Democrat, Jefferson City and the House of Representatives is not exactly where I want to spend my time, because I don’t feel I can be as effective down there.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Shane Cohn on Twitter: @shanecohn

Music: “Believe,” by Cher

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.