Minneapolis mayoral candidate bio: Dan Cohen

Minneapolis mayoral candidate, Dan Cohen. (MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson)

Third in a series.

It’s been more than 40 years since Dan Cohen held elected office, but he’s one of the eight leading candidates to replace outgoing Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Cohen, who currently serves in appointed positions on the Minneapolis planning and charter commissions, spent four years on the City Council during the 1960s, two as its president.

He gave up his seat in 1969 to run for mayor, and he lost to Charles Stenvig. This year, Cohen decided to take a second shot.

“I’ve been ringing doorbells that I haven’t rung for 40 years and some of the people there are the same ones I saw 40 years ago,” Cohen said.

Campaign finance reports filed last month show Cohen has poured at least $285,000 of his own money into his campaign – making him the best-financed candidate in the race. Cohen says the source of the funds is “an involuntary contribution by the Star Tribune.”

In 1991, Cohen won a lawsuit against the paper that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It dated back to the 1982 Minnesota governor’s race. Cohen now considers himself an independent, but in those days he was active in Republican politics.

Shortly before Election Day that year, GOP candidate Wheelock Whitney’s gubernatorial campaign asked Cohen to help plant a story in the local papers about DFL lieutenant governor candidate Marlene Johnson.

The campaign had a document showing Johnson had been convicted of shoplifting $6 worth of sewing supplies more than a decade earlier.

Cohen leaked the information to reporters, who promised he’d stay anonymous in any published stories.

But the very next day, both the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch and the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, as the newspapers were then called, exposed Cohen as the source of the information.

Cohen lost his job as a result and filed a lawsuit.The papers argued the First Amendment protected them. The Supreme Court disagreed.

Cohen v. Cowles Media is routinely taught in media ethics classes to this day.

Cohen’s campaign war chest allowed him to start running television ads earlier than any other candidate. His ads have focused on his opposition to the Vikings stadium and his support for building a casino in downtown Minneapolis.

A Star Tribune poll published last month showed Cohen tied for first place with current City Councilmember Don Samuels – albeit with a meager 16 percent apiece.

While the polls and campaign spending reports place Cohen in the top tier of candidates, he’s found kindred spirits among the lesser-known candidates on the ballot.

On a recent Wednesday, seven of the more obscure contenders gathered the plaza across the street from City Hall for what they call the Mayoral Council.

One wore no shirt or pants — just a pair of tight blue boxer-briefs and a leather jacket. Another, whose legal name is Captain Jack Sparrow, was dressed in a pirate costume. Cohen is the only leading candidate who participates in the spectacle.

“Anybody who paid their 20 bucks [to file for office] is as good as I am and as good as any of the other 34 people are,” Cohen said. “I don’t believe in discriminating. I don’t believe in establishing tiers of candidates.”

Cody Nelson contributed to this report.

  AGE: 77

• Member, Minneapolis Planning and Charter Commissions
• 1965 to 1969: Member Minneapolis City Council

• Formerly worked as an author, attorney, public relations director and stock broker. Currently retired.

KEY ENDORSEMENTS: None listed on website.

WEBSITE: dancohenformayor.com