The Program that will Catapult Houston’s District C
I visit with Houston City Council Member Ellen Cohen to discuss the Cohen Ambassador Program.
Two years ago, officials in San Francisco implemented a new community safety program called the “Community Ambassador” program, which provided residents with safety escorts to walk them from bus stops to work, home, or other locations whenever they felt unsafe (particularly seniors). This team of multiethnic ambassadors provides a visible, non-law enforcement presence in busy transit and business corridors. In a nutshell, the program has worked out well and has gone from being tested as a pilot to now being a permanent program in San Francisco.
Flash forward to today; Houston City Council Woman Ellen Cohen has launched a District C (Southwest Houston, Museum District, Montrose, and The Heights) Comhen Ambassador program. These role models are ambassadors who are active in their own civic organizations and communicate regularly with Cohen’s staff to address pressing concerns in their communities. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Council Woman Ellen Cohen at her office.
Melchor: Is there anyone past or present that you admire?
Cohen: “Professional, Eleanor Tinsley. I had known her for years. She passed the no smoking ordinance among other ordinances. She always used to wear this broach in the shape of a turtle. Why a turtle? Because you don’t get anywhere unless you stick your head out.
Emotionally, my Mom. She turns 98 this year on Cinco de Mayo. She still plays bridge, hosts dinner parties, and is a perennial optimist.”
Melchor: What makes you laugh?
Cohen: “Brooke, my Chief of Staff. I like being surrounded by people who make me laugh and also appreciate clever repertoire.”
Melchor: What job has been more challenging, serving as the CEO of the Houston area women’s center, serving as State Representative, or serving on City Council?
Cohen: “They are all challenging. When you only have one shelter in the 4th largest city, trying to get the community to understand that it’s not just a woman’s problem that is challenging.”
Melchor: Since serving as Council Member, what is one law that City Council has passed that has made you most proud?
Cohen: “The Amendment that clears the rape kit backlog. The rape kits contain vital pieces of evidence that can be used to apprehend violent criminals, and because there was a lack of resources, 6,600 rape kits have been sitting there untested. The survivors of sexual assault crimes deserve justice, and this proposal provides a practical avenue towards accomplishing that goal.”
Melchor: What is one of the biggest challenges residents in District C are facing right now?
Cohen: “I am not sure if it’s unique to District C. Streets and sidewalks need improvement as well as other infrastructure. The good news is that our District has greater development than any other District in the city.”
Melchor: Name one thing about you that most people don’t know?
Cohen: “If I tell you, then everyone will know.”
Brooke: “She can shop with the motor running.”
Melchor: The neighborhood Ambassador program was started so that ambassadors could be the ‘eyes and ears’ for civic associations throughout District C. To my knowledge, no other City Council member has created such a program. How did you think of this idea?
Cohen: “The idea just came to me. There are close to 80 civic clubs in District C. How am I going to visit all these civic clubs? And one day I was driving and the idea just came to me. What if there was a representative from each of these civic clubs who could be the ‘voice’ of their civic association. After their meetings, they could very quickly communicate to us via the internet and let us know what the pressing issues in their neighborhood are. Moreover, the CAP program could be a great way for Ambassadors to share ideas on how to improve their neighborhoods, reduce crime, raise money, and more.”
I had the pleasure of representing the Avondale Community for a brief time as a Cohen Ambassador. Not only did I enjoy my time meeting with the residents of Avondale and communicating their concerns to Cohen’s office, Cohen’s office was very supportive, quick to respond, and provided me with all the necessary information needed to address a specific concern. The Cohen Ambassador Program is a great initiative and I hope other Council Members implement similar programs in their Districts as well.