Editorials

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn leaves a lasting legacy

Outgoing Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn asks questions to the developer of the McKinley Village development during an April meeting.
Outgoing Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn asks questions to the developer of the McKinley Village development during an April meeting. jvillegas@sacbee.com

In Steve Cohn’s 20 years on the City Council, Sacramento has added more than 100,000 people, weathered two recessions, become more vibrant – and is on the cusp of potentially transformational growth.

As he steps down this week, Cohn can take his share of the credit.

He did yeoman’s work on issues including flood control, parks and public safety. In his farewell speech Tuesday night, he said he was most proud of aiding the renaissance of midtown, and most passionate about his leadership on expanding transit and bicycling.

Like streetcars possibly crossing the river between Sacramento and West Sacramento, Cohn’s efforts laid the groundwork for projects that will benefit the city for years and decades to come. His legacy will include the downtown railyard and the downtown arena – and the development they will ignite. It’s already starting to happen, for instance, with word this week that a major builder plans a 26-story office tower next to the arena site.

At his final council meeting and a reception beforehand, elected officials and others offered tributes to Cohn. Mayor Kevin Johnson called him “a lion” for giving a large part of his life to the city.

With Sacramento’s changing politics, someone with Cohn’s longevity may not come our way again. Council elections have become more competitive, and serving on the council is more demanding. Council members are running for higher offices or moving on to other endeavors.

Cohn himself ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly this year. He’s certainly disappointed, but he’s probably better suited to local government anyway. He and his staff prided themselves on constituent service in District 3 and focused on neighborhood programs, including Pops in the Park. His successor, Jeff Harris, has big shoes to fill, but seems up to the task.

In many ways, Cohn epitomizes how a local elected official should act. He was accessible to the public and the media. He was able to disagree without holding grudges. And, all too rare, he didn’t take himself too seriously.

He was known for being long-winded on occasion. So in starting his farewell speech, he said his departure brought some good news: “The next time I address this council, I’ll be limited to 2 minutes.”

He said Sacramento’s goal should be to become the most livable city in America. Cohn has done his part. Now it’s up to the new crop of city leaders to carry on.

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