Henry Cohen Ward 3 candidate
Henry Cohen, a high school senior, is mounting a campaign to become D.C.'s youngest councilmember in history. Credit: Henry Cohen

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Still just shy of her 30th birthday, Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto made history when she was elected as D.C.’s youngest councilmember two years ago. Henry Cohen is looking to blow that record out of the water.

Cohen just turned 18, but rather than struggling with a bout of senioritis in his waning days at the recently renamed Jackson-Reed High School, he’s gunning for the Ward 3 seat on the D.C. Council. It might’ve seemed like a flight of fancy when he picked up petitions earlier this month, but he says he has enough signatures to appear on the ballot alongside the eight other candidates running to replace Mary Cheh.

You might chuckle at the thought of a Zoomer serving alongside 79-year-old Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray or 76-year-old At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, but Cohen says his campaign is no joke. He might not be able to beat the older, more experienced candidates, but he hopes, at least, bring attention to issues that would go unaddressed in a more traditional campaign.

“One day it was raining outside and our school’s roof started leaking,” Cohen remembers. “One of my friends was asking ‘Oh, why don’t they fix that?’ And I was saying, ‘The D.C. Council, they’re not really paying attention to our schools.’ So my friends jokingly said I should run for office…I did a little bit of research and realized it was totally plausible that I could make the ballot and make some noise for these issues we see in our schools, make some noise for our students.”

Whether it’s on school maintenance or public transit, Cohen is pretty conversant on those policy matters (Loose Lips has talked to plenty of candidates, in D.C. and elsewhere, who weren’t half as informed as this high school senior). He says he became interested in politics via his father, who works on the Hill and canvassed for former Mayor Adrian Fenty back in the day, and he has since gotten involved in his Glover Park community. In particular, Cohen has worked with the Washington Interfaith Network and Ward 3 Housing Justice on affordable housing issues because he wants other people to “share in that prosperity” he experienced growing up in the area.

He also believes in making local streets “safer for pedestrians,” as well as expanding bus service in the ward (and maybe even adding more Metro stations someday). And, like some of his fellow candidates and current councilmembers, Cohen wonders if Mayor Muriel Bowser’s recently released plan to build a new school on the old Georgetown Day site is feasible, given the area’s lack of transit options.

Cohen is no great fan of the mayor either. He plans to vote for At-Large Councilmember Robert White in the primary, but still wanted to take some time to introduce himself when he spotted Bowser gathering signatures at the Palisades Farmers Market last weekend. He found her “one of the most hostile people” he encountered as he circulated petitions.

“The first words out of her mouth when I told her I was running for Council were, ‘Why aren’t you running for ANC?’” Cohen says. “My dad was an ANC commissioner for, like, 10 years when I was growing up. And I’ve seen that an ANC is a useful advisory thing. But there’s not a lot of change that you can really make from it, especially as an 18-year-old kid.”

Cohen says he’s encountered similar skepticism as he’s been out collecting signatures, running into plenty of people worried his platform consists of “putting chocolate milk in the water fountains at school” and not much else. But he worked hard to convince voters, pounding the pavement alongside his parents and voting-age friends to collect about 450 signatures and (perhaps) qualify for the ballot despite spending only $10 on the campaign. He expects he won’t spend more than $500 on the effort, which would exempt him from finance reporting requirements.

Of course, Cohen is a long shot to win—most of his opponents have amassed five- or six-figure war chests via public financing—but that isn’t slowing him down.

“There are about 7,000 students in Ward 3, and that’s 7,000 people who don’t really have that much of a voice on the Council,” Cohen says. “We have adults saying all the time, ‘Oh, you know, children are our future,’ and they just completely ignore us. I don’t think we want to be ignored.”