Nobody is paying too much attention to the CD15 race just yet, and Alan Cohn is fine with that — for now.
The award-winning television journalist is running for office for the first time in his life, and it's not a local or state seat. Cohn is the likely Democratic candidate to face Republican incumbent Dennis Ross in Congress this fall, and is taking it hard to Ross in campaign events throughout Polk and Hillsborough county, where the district resides.
Cohn seized on comments that Ross made last week about increasing the minimum wage at a town hall meeting this week in New Tampa, and reiterated them last Friday afternoon in Tampa. Ross told a young man who works at Arby's and wants to increase his pay that doing so "does more harm to our economy ... If the government’s going to tell me how much I can get paid and when I can work and when I can’t work, then we have a serious problem in this country."
"What we’re seeing now is somebody who's supposedly representing us who really doesn’t care about what the rest of us feel," responded Cohn, appearing with his wife as a guest at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club's monthly meeting at the Straz Center in Tampa.
The 51-year-old Cohn is a longtime broadcast journalist perhaps best known locally for his work at WFTS-Ch. 28, and specifically his 2010 story about the existence of an undisclosed vacation home owned by the wife of then-Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman. Mearline Norman accepted $500,000 from deceased conservative activist Ralph Hughes, leading to an FBI investigation (the feds never pressed charges, but the story ultimately ended Norman's political career).
Cohn is proud of his work on television, and he boasts that what he was able to do has more of an impact on the community than what Ross has done in Washington.
"That’s just one story," Cohn says about the Norman case. He says not being from Washington or involved in electoral politics previously will be a boost to his candidacy, not a hindrance. "I will say I have done more for this community, this state and this country than Dennis Ross has or will ever do. I can’t find anything he has ever accomplished, but if you look at what I have done, you will find 30 years of me doing things for the community."
A key policy difference between the two men is on immigration reform. Though Ross has been beset by immigration advocates at many town hall meetings in CD15 over the past year, he hasn't bent at in all his opposition to comprehensive reform that would include a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 13 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S.
"He talks about a piecemeal approach, that means he’s voting against it," Cohn said. "And anybody in this congressional district who cares about immigration reform, they should know that." Cohn says that comprehensive reform is not just the right thing to do, but the best thing economically for the country, citing statistics that claim 30 percent of all new businesses formed in the U.S. are by immigrants. He also says that it will cut the budget deficit and lead to increased productivity. "The bottom line is, I don't believe he's for comprehensive immigration because he doesn't like who those new citizens are going to be and how they might vote. Let's be clear about that."
One thing Cohn and Ross do share is ancestry. They both have Hungarian roots, but Cohn says they have different views regarding Hungary's recently re-elected prime minister, Viktor Orban. While Ross went on to the floor of the House last week to congratulate Orban, Cohn is critical, saying that he's too close for comfort with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Iranian government. "He boasts about the fact that he comes from grandparents who are Hungarians — so do I," says Cohn. "At least I’m smart enough to realize that a leader of Hungary who is pro-Iran and pro-Putin is not on the right side of the history."
Obviously, this race is just getting started.