Mark Cohen gets his first challenge in nearly 30 years

State Rep. Mark Cohen, first elected in 1974, hasn’t faced a primary challenge since 1984, when he crushed Arthur M. Holst with 87 percent of the vote.

That changed this year, when Numa St. Louis filed as a Democrat in the 202nd Legislative District.

St. Louis, 31, a committeeman in Olney’s 61st Ward, is giving the veteran lawmaker a spirited challenge.

The district includes Olney, Logan, West Oak Lane, Summerdale, Lawndale, Oxford Circle, Castor Gardens and Rhawnhurst.

Cohen, 62, lives in Castor Gardens.

Last week, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission passed a map that takes away the Olney, Logan, West Oak Lane and Rhawnhurst areas of the district and adds Burholme.

If St. Louis wins — no Republican filed in the race — he would have to move to run for re-election, since his current residence would be in Dwight Evans’ 203rd district for the 2014 campaign. He believes redistricting should be done by a neutral panel.

“There’s a lot of deal-making. The process is not transparent or democratic,” he said.

St. Louis has the support of City Councilwoman Cindy Bass; the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women Political Action Committee; the African Caribbean Political Action Committee; former City Council candidate Andy Toy; and Sharon Williams Losier, his aunt and the Democratic leader of the 61st Ward.

Cohen said he has the support of the other six ward leaders in the district, though St. Louis said he will have supporters at every polling place in the district.

The incumbent dismisses much of his opponent’s support, contending that the individuals and most members of the organizations backing him don’t even live in the district.

“He’s trying to represent Center City, Chestnut Hill and West Mount Airy,” Cohen said.

Cohen believes he will be boosted by the support of the city and state AFL-CIO, Fraternal Order of Police and teachers’ unions; the Guardian Civic League; Philly for Change; and Humane PA.

“I have all sorts of organizations backing me,” he said.

St. Louis, whose background is in education, youth development and community involvement, wants to use the tax revenue from natural gas drilling to fund improvements to infrastructure, public education and health care.

The candidate favors additional gun safety laws, an increase in community policing and a focus on reducing truancy. He’d also recruit new businesses to commercial corridors on Castor Avenue and Fifth Street and the area surrounding the busy intersection of Broad Street and Olney Avenue.

The prison budget is too high, he maintains. The funding, he believes, should be directed to day care, early childhood education and mentoring.

“We have to invest in young people,” he said.

St. Louis dubs Cohen a “PINO” — a “Progressive In Name Only.” He’s campaigning on doorsteps and at community forums. He’s also erected billboards, including one on Levick Street.

“I’m looking people in the eye and telling them we can do better after forty years, but that it requires a change of leadership,” he said. “I’m having a good time meeting people and crisscrossing the district. People think it’s refreshing that they have a choice. I’m offering a different kind of leadership.”

If elected, he promises to be accessible and responsive. He would open a handicapped-accessible district office and hold public forums on issues of importance to senior citizens, youth and businesses.

“Providing top-notch constituent service would be critical to my office,” he said. “I think I’m more in tune with residents. I think I’m the ideal choice to represent the district in Harrisburg.”

Cohen is confident of a big victory.

“I expect to win very decisively,” he said.

The incumbent has focused over the years on issues such as increasing the minimum wage and providing funds for the School District of Philadelphia, local colleges and universities, hospitals and SEPTA.

Cohen is reminding voters in mailings of his accomplishments.

“I’ve shown an ability to get things done on behalf of the people,” he said. ••