The lion & the lamb

State House candidate Jared Solomon campaigns Saturday: He hopes a changed lower Northeast will get a change in leadership. STU BYKOFSKY / DAILY NEWS STAFF
State House candidate Jared Solomon campaigns Saturday: He hopes a changed lower Northeast will get a change in leadership. STU BYKOFSKY / DAILY NEWS STAFF
Posted: May 20, 2014

THIS IS A 21st-century retelling of the parable of the lion who lies down with the lamb.

In our story, the lion is state Rep. Mark Cohen, the longest-serving member of the state Legislature. The lamb is Jared Solomon, his challenger in tomorrow's Democratic primary.

Cohen has been in office since 1974, almost as long as I've been at the Daily News, but he has a much better expense account. He represents the lower Northeast - Castor Gardens, Lawndale, Oxford Circle, Lawncrest, Burholme, Summerdale and Wissinoming.

Over the years, a lot's been written about how Cohen has spent his long career spending your tax dollars. I'm about to add to it because it reveals a level of arrogance, entitlement and hubris that shouldn't be tolerated, let alone rewarded with re-election.

Yet it has been.

For all the decades he's been warming a chair and filling his pockets in Harrisburg, he's seldom had an opponent.

Democratic Party leaders discourage challengers to one of the pride, and hapless Republicans rolled over to have their bellies scratched.

Cohen was challenged in the 2012 primary. He swamped educator Numa St. Louis, 3,597 to 2,064. St. Louis learned that lions are kings of the jungle.

I spent some time Saturday with Solomon, 35, as he knocked on district doors in the lower Northeast. I asked what's new this time.

"What's new is the district," with 65 percent new voters, thanks to gerrymandering, "new candidate, new excitement," he replied brightly.

He knocked on each door with a rhythm you might recognize as "Shave and a haircut, two bits."

We were in the heart of Cohen's district, with handsome stone homes occupied by ethnically diverse residents, even if 75 percent of them were not at home on this beautiful spring day.

A happy warrior, Solomon quit his law-firm job eight months ago to run for office to try to improve the neighborhood he grew up in, lives in and loves.

Cohen loves his neighborhood, too. His neighbors paid for the Mark Cohen Private Library.

In 2004-05, Cohen billed the state for $28,200 for more than 800 books. Cohen said he needed to keep informed to do his job. He didn't say how he could read more than one book a day.

Maybe on flights between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, also billed to the state. And when I say "state," that means taxpayers.

Press exposure shamed him to cut back, but not eliminate, his book club. He also switched from the plane to the train for the 100-mile trek from home to Harrisburg.

During his best year, Cohen, 64, took $100,000 in expenses tacked onto his $80,000-plus salary.

Speaking of the salary, in 2005 he was one of the Harrisburglars who illegally voted themselves a raise in an infamous 2 a.m. session. After a statewide uproar, the pay raise was rescinded but Cohen kept the bucks. He's billed the state - you - for work he supposedly did on Christmas, Easter, New Year's Day, even Yom Kippur, the Jewish high holy day (when work is forbidden). There were further expenses, but space is limited.

I spoke to Cohen on Friday, told him that Solomon says he'll decline per-diems - tax-free expense payments that require no receipt - and challenged him to do the same. He declined and launched his usual defense.

"I have been a full-time legislator for 40 years," working 60 hours a week, he said. "I have no outside income." One could say his raids on the treasury were outside income.

That's what I say. Tomorrow we learn what the voters say.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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