Ex-St. Paul mayor, judge Larry Cohen dies at 83

Published 10:45 am Monday, September 12, 2016

ST. PAUL — Former St. Paul Mayor Larry Cohen, who was mayor of the Minnesota capital in the 1970s and also served as a Ramsey County commissioner and chief district judge, died Sunday after battling cancer, his son said. He was 83.

Cohen died at home Sunday surrounded by his family, his son, Scott, said in an email to The Associated Press. The elder Cohen had been suffering from lung cancer, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

A Democrat, Cohen served two terms as St. Paul’s mayor, from 1972 to 1976. Halfway through his second term, Cohen surprised many by announcing he would not seek a third term, citing personal reasons, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

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“I can say there are few jobs more burdensome and grinding, and, at the same time, rewarding and satisfying,” Cohen said at the time. “The simple truth is I no longer wanted to be mayor.”

A graduate of the University of Minnesota law school, Cohen practiced law before being elected to the Ramsey County Board in 1970. Then-Gov. Rudy Perpich appointed Cohen as a Ramsey County district judge in 1988. After 14 years he retired from the bench in 2002 as chief judge.

Family friend Howard Orenstein, a former state representative from St. Paul, said Cohen’s greatest legacy was his focus on inclusion in government and politics.

“This was before inclusion was a buzzword,” Orenstein told the AP.

Cohen implemented an affirmative action program for St. Paul city employees and worked to integrate the city’s workforce, Orenstein said.

While on the bench, Cohen worked to assimilate Hmong into the criminal justice system by developing sentencing circles, aimed at reaching agreement with all parties on a sentence, and restorative justice programs, both issues important to the Hmong community, Orenstein said.

Cohen was instrumental in renovating and finding a new use for the old federal courthouse in downtown St. Paul, now called Landmark Center. He also served on the Metropolitan Airports Commission for 11 years.

A funeral will be held Tuesday at Temple of Aaron Synagogue in St. Paul.