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Cohen resigns Assembly seat because of family obligations

Cohen declined to discuss publicly the specific personal reasons for his resignation, which will take effect March 14, but he said he was taking a job in private industry in order to spend more time with his family."Being a legislator takes an enormous amount of time," the assemblyman said in a telephone interview from his Albany office. His new job, which he did not elaborate on, will require about a 48-hour work week, compared to the at least 60 hours he now puts in as a political figure, he said.Cohen, 55, was elected to the Assembly in 1999 and has represented the district covering Forest Hills, Rego Park, Middle Village and Glendale since then.He said the process of finding his replacement would take about six to eight weeks once Gov. George Pataki has received his resignation letter and has selected an election date.Under the Democratic Party rules, four local Democratic leaders, including Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), will then meet and select a nominee. Cohen said he believed their pick would be Andy Hevesi, now director of community affairs for city Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum."Clearly to me he has the intelligence and dedication to do an excellent job," Cohen said of the former chief of staff to Assemblyman Jeff Klein (D-Bronx). Hevesi is the son of state Comptroller Alan Hevesi and younger brother of former state Sen. Dan Hevesi, who also represented Forest Hills but left office in April 2002 after the Republican-controlled state Senate passed a redistricting plan that would have pitted him against Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing).Cohen said he would help his successor, whomever it may be, during the transition period with any financial or legislative matters that were still active.Looking back at his four-term career, Cohen said one of his proudest and most hard-fought achievements was leading the passage of legislation in 2003 that required all police departments in the state to include a picture of a convicted sexual predator when notifying a community of his release. Prior to the bill, police had the option of providing a picture with the notification."All that does is panic people," Cohen said, referring to announcing the release of a sexual predicator without providing a photograph. "But what have you really given them -- nothing." "It took three years to pass something we thought was common sense," he added.On the other hand, one of the assemblyman's biggest disappointments as a legislator was failing to pass a "one strike you're out" policy for child sexual predators. "I'm very sorry we don't have involuntary commitment after one serious offense," he said. The closest he said he came was a change in state law from a three-strike to two-strike limit in 2000.But his chief regret was not doing more about pedestrian safety along Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills, which has come to be called the "Boulevard of Death" due to the high number of pedestrian deaths in the past decade. More specifically, he said he would have liked to see more cameras put up at the intersections to catch speeding cars.Still, overall, Cohen seemed pleased with how his career turned out."There's been some successes and, as I mentioned, some failures as well," he said. "But what I can honestly say is that myself and my staff have truly dedicated ourselves and made the best possible effort to represent our constituent needs." Asked if his family supported his decision to quit public life, Cohen responded, "unless they hate their father, I imagine they're pleased with it."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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