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Famous: The Extraordinary Career of
David L. Cohen L’81
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If you’re going to try to emulate Cohen, along the way be sure to marry your college sweetheart who will also happen to be a brilliant lawyer. Cohen married the former Rhonda Resnick L’80 after he graduated from Swarthmore, and she had already completed her first year at Penn Law (she was for many years a partner at Ballard, too). Have a few kids, too, if you’re so inclined. You might be too busy to pay much attention to them, what with billing thousands of hours a year, but Cohen isn’t. His sons, Benjamin and Joshua, are a top priority, and he found time to help coach Tee-Ball when they were small.
Being a partner of a major law firm and having a family might be enough for some, but it isn’t enough for Cohen. When the Honorable Edward G. Rendell, the former Philadelphia District Attorney, decided to make a play for Philadelphia’s mayorship after his failed bid to be Pennsylvania’s governor, he tapped Cohen to be Communications Director for the campaign. That was in 1987 before Cohen was known widely outside Philadelphia legal circles. In fact, Cohen was such a “secret weapon” that when Ballard partner Arthur Makadon L’67 suggested Cohen for the Communications position Rendell’s political strategist famously objected, stating, “This is a real campaign; it’s not for amateurs.”
That political strategist ate his words. Cohen had actually run several campaigns in Washington, and he quickly became an indispensable part of Rendell’s team. Rendell lost that election but when he came back swinging in 1991 Cohen was by his side. Rendell’s victory put Cohen firmly in an inner circle of power in Philadelphia, and Cohen hasn’t budged from that circle for a minute since.
From 1992 to the spring of 1997, Cohen left Ballard and rushed straight into the fire: he was second in command of a city that was on the brink of financial disaster. (In Bissinger’s history he states that when Rendell took office, if Philadelphia were to continue to lose money at its then-current rate, they would have been $1.246 billion in debt within five years.) Some say “second in command” doesn’t tell the whole story. In A Prayer for the City, Bissinger’s behind-the-scenes look at Rendell’s first term as mayor, Cohen gets full credit for being the brains and muscle behind the Mayor’s energy and flash. “I’d like to think it’s totally accurate,” Cohen says with a laugh, when asked if he is faithfully depicted in the book. “It’s obviously more flattering than anyone is comfortable with.” He has been called the “hero” of the book, and though he is reluctant to accept the praise, no one else seems to disagree with that description.
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