A political newcomer is running for Councilor At-Large in this year’s municipal elections in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Yuki Cohen owns Methuselah, a bar on the corner of Bradford and North in Pittsfield’s downtown corridor.
“I always say that if you want to renew your faith in humanity, open up a bar," she told WAMC. "Because you can have some real conversations with people as their inhibitions get a little bit lowered with one drink, you can have some real authentic conversations and people get vulnerable and that’s when the truth comes out, I think.”
Cohen, 51, holds an MBA from New York University and spent much of the 2000s working on Wall Street. She’s been a resident of Pittsfield since 2011, when a failed marriage lead her to seek out a fresh start.
“Pittsfield is where my heart was healed and I met some of the most incredible natives," Cohen said. "The ones who were born and bred here, they just generous and kindly and compassionately have embraced me and healed my soul.”
Now, the business owner says she wants to give back to that community with her bid for an At-Large seat on the city council. Between her day to day work at Methuselah, her role as a parent, and her traditional Korean upbringing, Cohen says she’s able and willing to serve.
“Being the youngest daughter, I served my sisters and I served my parents – I had nobody to serve me!” she laughed.
She’s met with officials like Mayor Linda Tyer and Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon as she studies up on the challenges of representing Pittsfield. Cohen says supporting small businesses and bolstering Pittsfield’s public schools are among her top priorities.
“I think the kids are the future of a city, of any city, and this I learned from being South Korean. I come from a third world country," she said. "My parents had to leave their home because they were looking for a better life and then in my lifetime Korea went from a third world country to what it is today and then if I look at the studies of how that happens it’s because they empowered the people through really great education.”
She offered her assessment of the major concerns city residents are facing.
“The infrastructure, and the taxes, the high taxes are possible two of the main issues," said Cohen. "The safety of the kids in the schools – I hear there was some incidents that happened within the school system.”
As far as her stance on spending – always a hot topic on the often contentious Pittsfield city council – Cohen drew on an example from her own life.
“I had to take on a lot of debt in order to get my education from NYU. It wasn’t inexpensive. So I feel like taking on money to invest in myself – because I did that, I was able to participate in working on Wall Street and working in corporate America which helped me better my current situation at the time. I went from an immigrant child – very poor, humble background – to being with the cream of the crop on Wall Street, which is – I don’t know if it’s a great thing or a good thing, but it was just an improvement towards where I was before,” she explained.
As far as confronting crime, Cohen favors a holistic approach. She says her study of communities facing similar issues suggests that planting more trees and promoting a more vibrant, festive environment would create a more peaceful space for Pittsfield residents.
“And there’s even things like the Maharishi effect, where Transcendental Meditation kind of helps lower the crime rate by 5 percent per year," she told WAMC. "It’s very fluffy, but there is a placebo effect that’s actually real and scientifically proven.”
Cohen’s bar has had its share of issues with the city since it opened in 2015. The Berkshire Eagle reported in September 2018 that Methuselah had its liquor license suspended for a weekend after receiving its third overcrowding offense in three years.
“First and foremost, I totally understand why these are in place because you want to make sure everyone is safe, so that’s first and foremost," said the bar owner. "I don’t how that works in terms of how easily those policies can be revisited, but I would love for them to come and really see from our perspective what it’s like to run our business. I know from the outside looking in it may seem like oh my god, it’s so crazy in there, but there’s a lot that goes into making out business work. It’s not easy.”
Looking at the wider race for the city’s four At-Large seats, incumbents Peter Marchetti, Earl Persip, and Pete White are all running for re-election. Craig Gaetani, Alex Blumin, Jay Hamling, Kenz Warren, and Auron Stark are running alongside Cohen to challenge them in this fall’s election. Their 150 signatures from city residents are due July 19th to make their candidacies official.