March 24, 2003

Getting to Know Mayor Alan Cohen '81

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“Friday is dress down day at City Hall. I instituted that,” said Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 as he kicked up his work-boots, which were only laced halfway, last Friday morning.

Cohen has been in office for seven years, but recently announced that he will not seek another term.

“One of the main reasons I decided not to run again was that I wanted a more ‘normal’ life that would allow me the opportunity to pursue personal interests. I work 70 to 80 hours a week. On weekdays I come in at eight and leave between eight and ten, later,” he said.

The mayor’s job is technically, however, part-time, and Cohen explained that when he came in to office he found that “the administrative responsibilities of the job had never been fully attended to, so we were a dysfunctional organization. I ran [for mayor] with a vision and a desire to work on a number of different areas, but I’ve spent the majority of my time working on internal issues.”

Cohen’s boyish good looks and casual demeanor have made his personal life the subject of much talk in Ithaca. He said he feels he is ready to “settle down, get married and have kids,” but would not elaborate on the subject.

Cohen grew up, like many Cornell students, in Hicksville, Long Island. He went to Syosset High School and came to Cornell not only because his father went there, but also because he took a trip to an Ithaca craft fair with his summer camp and stayed in Mary Donlon dorms and decided “This is where I want to be.”

Despite rumors that Cohen graduated from the School of Hotel Administration, he actually started in the College of Arts and Sciences as a double major in government and economics and later transferred into the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to major in what is now know as Applied Economics and Management and received a Bachelor of Science in business management in 1986. Cohen is an alumnus of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity and has remained active in the Cornell Greek system.

Before he earned his degree, Cohen took some time off and worked in a few Philadelphia restaurants, as a member of the University of Pennsylvania admissions team, and as a crew leader for the 1980 census.

While he was still a student, Cohen bought Simeon’s Restaurant on the Ithaca Commons, which was at that point still a bar.

“On Dec. 1, 1985, the drinking age went from 19 to 21. We closed on Jan. 1, 1986 and re-opened on March 1, 1986 as a restaurant,” he said.

Over the years, Cohen found himself becoming bored with the restaurant business and becoming more involved with community work. As he became more involved, he became disillusioned with rising crime and a falling local economy.

“I did not see the will in the current administration to solve the problem. I believe you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem, and I decided to be part of the solution,” Cohen said.

How successful Cohen’s years have been for the Ithaca economy is an issue that has been much debated, but seven years later Cohen said, “Frankly, I don’t think I could have expected more than we’ve been able to accomplish.”

Archived article by Freda Ready