Council's Next Sport: Boxing

Posted: May 24, 1996

Come on, admit it. You miss the old City Council where feisty men in bad suits punctuated bitter arguments with body blows and a roll on the floor.

Well, sport, things are looking up.

Last week, Councilman David Cohen, the left-wing, octogenarian warhorse, stuck his finger in Councilman James Kenney's face and shouted like a Marine drill instructor. Things got tense for a hot second.

Then on Wednesday, Cohen allegedly got so mad after a Zoning Board hearing on a proposed homeless shelter that he bulled his way through a crowd, screaming at a shelter supporter and then punched him on the jaw and choked him.

What had mayoral aides, cops and Council members buzzing yesterday were the details.

In one corner, you had Cohen, feisty but frail.

In the other was Michael Youngblood, a volunteer aide to Cohen's frequent ally, Jannie Blackwell. Youngblood is a former middleweight boxer who has spent some time in jail.

Several years ago, after finding out about his record, Council President John Street fired Youngblood, who appealed it all the way to the state Supreme Court, where the case is pending.

Like his boss Blackwell, Youngblood is an advocate for the homeless. He was at the Zoning Board in support of the city's proposal to establish a 400-bed shelter for homeless women and children in a vacant factory on West Clearfield Avenue near 21st Street.

Cohen was siding with some neighbors who don't want the Deliverance Evangelistic Church to develop the former factory for the city's use. Spearheading the opposition is Alvin Stewart, the former councilman who owed his political rise to Cohen's support.

In the hearing, Youngblood questioned whether it was proper for a Cohen staff attorney, Robert M. Jaffe, to represent community groups against the shelter.

After the Zoning Board took no action, Youngblood said, ``The councilman pushed his way through the crowd shouting something about `Who are you to usurp my authority' or something like that. He snuck me with a sucker punch on the jaw and then he started choking me.''

Youngblood said he never had a notion to open up on Cohen.

``I said to him, `Hey, Dave, slow your roll a little bit. Don't get a heart attack,' '' Youngblood said.

But what does tick him off is that Cohen had ink on his fingers and it ended up on the collar of his $70 shirt.

``The shirt is no good now,'' Youngblood said.

Cohen tells a different story.

``There was no fight,'' Cohen said. ``I never touched him. There's not a spark of truth to that.''

To Youngblood's assertions, Cohen said, ``Not a word of that is true.

``We had some words. There was no physical contact.''

Whether he was angry or not ``is a matter of judgment,'' Cohen said, adding that he's never been in a fight.

Tom Kelly, chairman of the Zoning Board, said there were loud noises outside the hearing, but he saw no scuffles.

``I told Youngblood that he had no right to say what he did, that Jaffe had no right to represent the people,'' Cohen said. ``I said he certainly did. He was acting on my instructions.''

According to a police incident report, police were called to the scene because Youngblood allegedly threatened Cohen, but Youngblood denies making any threats and Cohen never mentioned any when interviewed.

Youngblood said there's no hard feelings.

``I still love the old man, you know. I wouldn't let nobody do to him what he did to me. When it's all said and done we'll still be on the same track,'' he said.

TALE OF THE TAPE

DAVID COHEN

Age: 81

Height: 5' 9 1/2''

Weight: 140 lbs., bantam rooster class.

Reach: All over the city.

Record: Says he's never thrown a punch.

Last fight: Shouting match with Councilman James Kenney last week during a Rules Committee hearing on bill to ban counterfeit goods from street vendors.

Analysis: Despite wearing thick glasses and a hearing aid, Cohen is a wily veteran of many union battles.

MICHAEL YOUNGBLOOD

Age: 39

Height: 5' 7''

Weight: 190 lbs., Hulk class.

Reach: 36''

Last Fight: A dust-up with ward leader Maurice Floyd, who says nothing happened.

Record: 80-16-1 in amateur and professional fights.

Analysis: Don't let the soft handshake and smooth voice fool you. The guy is a battler.

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