Last summer, after helping to pass the law legalizing same-sex marriage, Steve Cohen left his position as secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Now, in his position as an attorney at the firm Zuckerman Spaeder, Cohen finds himself still closely involved with the Cuomo administration, often speaking openly in press accounts as a knowledgeable source about key figures like Benjamin Lawsky or the governor, in contrast to the governor’s staff members, few of whom are ever authorized to speak on the record.
“I have a particular perspective on how the administration operates and why it’s been successful, and in practical terms you don’t leave that behind when you leave,” he said.
Cohen, a Brooklyn native who attended New York University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School before eventually joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, was tapped by Cuomo in 2006 to
work in the Attorney General’s Office.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” Cohen said.
Last year Cohen’s aggressive strategic planning on the same-sex marriage bill became the stuff of legend. He had been able to broker unity among disparate LGBT advocacy groups and stakeholders—a previously insurmountable obstacle.
When polite attempts at collaboration failed, Cohen said he had to make it clear to everyone that failure wasn’t an option.
“Sometimes clear and direct comes across as blunt. Or worse, rude,” he said. “It may not be the most polite way to operate, but in appropriate circumstances it’s effective.”
“The objective is not to have everybody love you,” he added.
Cohen’s new position in private practice has actually freed him up to become more directly involved in other political campaigns, and he spent some time this spring helping Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries with his congressional bid. He remains as busy as ever, he said.
“No two days are the same,” he said. “I feel like I’m the silver ball in a pinball machine.” —Laura Nahmias
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