Cohen and Solomon Battle Once More in 202nd Legislative District

The Pennsylvania 202nd State Legislative District race between Jared Solomon and incumbent Rep. Mark Cohen is a hotly contested rematch between two Jews in historically Jewish parts of Northeast Philadelphia.

The Pennsylvania 202nd State Legislative District race between Jared Solomon and incumbent Rep. Mark Cohen is a hotly contested rematch between two Jews in historically Jewish parts of Northeast Philadelphia.
In 2014, Solomon lost to the 42-year incumbent Cohen by 158 votes in a district that covers the Castor Gardens, Oxford Circle, Wissinoming, Burholme, Lawncrest, Lawndale and Summerdale neighborhoods.
Here’s a look at the candidates.
Mark Cohen  
Cohen is the “dean” of the Pennsylvania General Assembly — the longest-serving member in either the House or the Senate.
“I think that being Jewish makes one aware of the need for justice in this society,” Cohen told the Jewish Exponent.
From 1983 to 1990, Cohen served as chairman of the Pennsylvania House Labor and Indusry Committee. During his tenure, he fought to protect the rights of workers and working families by increasing the minimum wage and by protecting workers’ compensation benefits.
From 1990 to 2010, Cohen was the Democratic caucus chairman and now is the Democratic chairman of the House Human Services Committee.
The love for politics and Judaism runs in his blood.
His father, David Cohen, served on the Philadelphia City Council for 29 years and his mother, Florence, headed the Ogontz Area Neighbors Association, the 17th Ward Democratic Women’s Club and the New Democratic Coalition of Philadelphia.
“It’s about making changes that positively affects people’s lives,” Cohen said.
He grew up in a household that attended Israeli Independence Day parades, and being Jewish was important. Today, he and his wife, Mona, attend Congregations of Shaare Shamayim.
Looking ahead to the election, Cohen said the minimum wage, criminal justice reform and education all need to be addressed. He said the minimum wage should be increased to $15 an hour over a four-year period.
He noted the current state of education in his district makes him angry. Without the proper resources and extracurricular programs, children cannot succeed, he said.
Furthermore, he said teachers have not had raises in many years, either. According to Cohen, one way to fix this problem is by raising taxes.
“I’m in favor of significant expansion of educational spending,” he said.
Another issue is the city wage tax, which has driven numerous businesses out of the Northeast and into the suburbs.
In the past, the Northeast was a hub for blue-collar workers and manufacturing, but now it has changed drastically. By reducing the wage tax, he hopes companies will return.
“For a guy that’s a high school dropout, he or she is in a very difficult position,” he said. “The new jobs being created in Philadelphia aren’t really for them.”
Jared Solomon 
While Solomon is only 37, his heart and soul are entrenched in the Northeast.
He is an attorney, served as an Army JAG officer and is a community activist.
After launching grassroots organization Take Back Your Neighborhood a decade ago, Solomon decided he wanted to make more of an impact.
“I did not accept ‘no’ for an answer, so whether it’s business development, or education for our kids, I will do that for our community,” he said. “This is the community that I love. This is home and this is my passion.”
Solomon was raised in Castor Gardens by his mother, Sharyn, and his great-grandparents, Carl and Sylvia Wallace, who owned C and W Butcher Shop on Rutland Street. His campaign office operates out of the old storefront.
He recalled how, when he was a child, Jewish-owned stores and synagogues were littered throughout the Northeast, most of which are now gone.
“People knew one another,” he said. “There was a close-knit feeling among people. Unfortunately, that community feel in a lot of ways has changed.”
While his mother was not religious and had limited Jewish knowledge, she wanted him to receive a Jewish education. He became a Bar Mitzvah at an Orthodox shul, the Young Israel of Oxford Circle, which is now a church.
However, he was not Orthodox.
As a child, he played baseball at the Max Myers Playground. His friend’s mother, Barbara Marin, introduced him to cantor Hershel Weitz. He connected with Weitz, but the cantor said he would only work with him if he was willing to become a Bar Mitzvah at an Orthodox shul.
Knowing his great-grandmother was sick and possibly unable to make to his Bar Mitzvah, he held a pre-Bar Mitzvah just for her.
As he looks back growing up in the Northeast, he noted that much has changed. According to Solomon, household incomes are down, the quality of life is declining, crime is high and education is poor.
“Never before would my bubbe have said to me ‘I don’t feel safe leaving my home,’” he said. “No matter where we’re from, whether we’re Jewish or not, we want the same things for our schools.”
With budget cuts, overcrowded schools and programs being cut, he questioned how the state could expect children to stay away from crime and do well in school, he exclaimed.
Not only do schools need more funding, but there should be more local control, he said.
“These schools cannot function when they are literally crumbling,” he said. “A really great city has to be able to educate its population.”


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