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Campaign 2020

Politicsby Ian Round10:29 amNov 2, 20200

Breaking from his party, Zeke Cohen endorses Franca Muller Paz

The southeast councilman has pushed for digital equity alongside the Green Party candidate during the pandemic

Above: Baltimore Democrat Zeke Cohen endorses the Green Party’s Franca Muller Paz, who is running to unseat 12th District Councilman Robert Stokes. (Ian Round)

First District Councilman Zeke Cohen and teacher-activist Franca Muller Paz have worked closely during the coronavirus outbreak to close the digital divide.

They’ve spoken in front of City Hall, at virtual press conferences and in city neighborhoods.

But until this morning, Cohen hadn’t said anything about her general election challenge against his fellow city councilman, Robert Stokes Sr., of the 12th District.

Now, one day before voters’ last opportunity to cast their ballots, Cohen has broken ranks with the local Democratic Party and formally endorsed Muller Paz, who is running as the Green Party candidate for the 12th District.

Cohen announced the endorsement on Twitter, ahead of an 11 a.m. press conference scheduled at Douglas Homes.

He spoke earlier about it with The Brew, saying, “I’m a proud, lifelong Democrat, but this moment is bigger than politics. And it’s bigger than party . . . Baltimore needs leaders who are unafraid to fight for justice, even when there are consequences.”

“Baltimore needs leaders who are unafraid to fight for justice” – Zeke Cohen.

Cohen said he’s known Muller Paz since she was a student at Goucher College and he was a teacher in West Baltimore. (He also clarified that he has voted for Democrat Joe Biden for president.)

Cohen is the only Council member to endorse her, although Delegate Robbyn Lewis showed public support by contributing to her campaign.

“Never seen anything like this”

The southeast councilman, representing Canton, Patterson Park, Fells Point and Little Italy, said he’s been in awe of the momentum the Muller Paz campaign has gathered in a short time.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in three and a half months, where people who are cynical about politics have come together to support someone, to engage, to participate in our democracy,” Cohen said.

•  A fresh face from the Green Party challenges Robert Stokes in the 12th District (7/20/20)

Robert Stokes is confident his base will see him through (11/2/20)

“I think what my support does is legitimize that there is someone currently on City Council who is willing to risk political capital to support someone who is not from his party,” he continued.

Muller Paz, 32, is a Peruvian immigrant who teaches Spanish at City College. She is the high school’s elected Baltimore Teachers Union representative and advisor to the student activist group SOMOS.

Her surprisingly competitive campaign, with what some say is the best chance a third-party candidate has ever had in Baltimore, has provided some local zing to a general election that is otherwise laser-focused on the national election.

Supported by more than 300 volunteers, Muller Paz has raised over $120,000 since she began running in July, with an unusually high proportion of small-dollar contributions.

She’s also collected many high-profile endorsements from groups including the Metro Baltimore AFL-CIO, Sierra Club and Democratic Socialists of America.

Councilman Zeke Cohen poses in 2018 with Franca Muller Paz (far left) and members of SOMOS (Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society.) (Facebook)

Councilman Zeke Cohen poses in 2018 with Franca Muller Paz (far left) and members of SOMOS (Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society.) (Facebook)

Standing with Cohen at Douglas Homes, Muller Paz thanked him for working with her to help students unable to access virtual learning and for lending support to her longshot bid for a council seat.

“When we learned so few of our students had quality devices to connect to their classes, we fought to win $3 million to help close the digital divide in Baltimore City,” she said in a statement released today.

“We have built a broad coalition that brings people together, based on our shared values,” she said. “I am grateful to Councilman Cohen for his endorsement, and I am ready to continue working alongside him on the Baltimore City Council!”

The Incumbent

Stokes, 52, has served on the Council since 2016, but has been involved in Baltimore politics for years.

Before he was elected, he worked for former Councilman Carl Stokes, to whom he is not related.

An ally of outgoing Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Stokes narrowly won the Democratic Party primary in June, defeating public interest lawyer Phillip Westry.

He has not been actively campaigning, relying instead on the traditional Democratic base to come out and vote for him. (He also hasn’t answered our calls for comment.)

Will Muller Paz’s money and momentum translate into enough votes to counter the number of voters who’ll likely vote straight-ticket Democrat?

“She’s running an outstanding campaign by any metric,” says Cohen. “We’ll see.”

• To reach this reporter: ianpground@gmail.com

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