Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

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October 31st, 2014

Remembering Ira Cohen

Tears flooded Sullivan County this week as we all learned of the untimely passing of our beloved Treasurer Ira Cohen.

I am proud to say that Ira Cohen was my friend.

In this political and backstabbing County one could always rely on Ira Cohen for being honest and trustworthy. He truly cared about Sullivan County and always believed in doing the right thing for all the people.

We always had a mutual admiration for one another and he was always a big supporter of my speaking my mind and taking a stand on the issues.

I respected and marveled at his strong resolve, and admired his loving relationship with his family. His wife Sandra Heck was very dear to him as were his children, grandchildren and siblings.

Despite all his ailments Ira Cohen kept going. While others would have walked away, he always took his job as a public servant seriously and gave us 100 percent.

Ira Cohen was the person whom I trusted and often looked to for guidance.

We were both often critical of Sullivan County government, and it always bothered us that he was rarely included in the governmental process when he has so much to offer.

My theory was that his brilliancy, bipartisanship, and honesty were a threat to those self motivated people leading and running our government.

I first met Ira Cohen well over 20 years ago when he was County Attorney.

The developer in my community did not pay the property taxes on the second phase and it was auctioned off to a gun club. We appealed to Cohen to stop the transaction and instead allow the homeowners association to purchase the property.

He clearly understood and cared that it would be detrimental to our community if a gun club were housed next door to our residential community. Through his efforts a special resolution was passed by the legislature and we were able to purchase the property.

I always remembered and admired Ira’s desire to help people and to what do was just and right.

It was not until years later, when I began writing this column and became active in local politics that our friendship developed.

Ira Cohen was smart, caring, and honest. He was outspoken, and took stands on issues even if they were unpopular. He said and did what he believed in. He was not a political phony.

I enjoyed listening to Ira explain his position on an issue or communicate his thoughts. At the end of the day, we always knew where he stood, and that was always to help others and improve the quality of life of Sullivan County residents.

Ira’s accomplishments and on the job performance has been astonishing. He has be praised and acknowledged throughout New York State.

He was an expert in real property tax law statewide, and was a longtime advisor to the New York State Association of Counties, the New York State County Treasurers and Finance Officers’ Association.

Ira was named Treasurer of the Year in 2011, and also served as the President of the Sullivan County Bar Association.

He was always a vocal critic of tax-exempt properties in Sullivan County. Ira felt the original intent of the law was far different than what it is being used for today, and therefore must be changed.

Ira worked out a plan to recover unpaid taxes on delinquent properties for the Village of Monticello.

He worked with former legislator Leni Binder in introducing legislation that permits Sullivan County taxpayers to pay taxes in installments instead of having their properties foreclosed.

Cohen as most people know underwent a kidney transplant and his donor was Deputy Treasurer Nancy Buck.

Despite his diagnosis of kidney disease, Ira rarely missed a day serving the people of Sullivan County. He would never let his illness get the way of his job. He habitually attended meetings and stayed late in the office despite his poor health.

Realistically, Iran knew he would need either dialysis or a transplant in order to continue living.

Ira immediately ruled out dialysis because of his commitment to Sullivan County. He said it would be too time consuming for him to properly represent us. His only alternative was a kidney transplant.

When Nancy learned Ira needed a kidney, she immediately volunteered to take a test to see if her kidney was a match, and it was.

Their special friendship both professional and personal between Ira Cohen, a Democrat, and Nancy Buck, a Republican, turned the Treasurer’s Office into the special place it was.

In addition to his broad experience in local government, Ira had a long tenure as a private practitioner in areas of both criminal defense and civil law. He tried both civil and criminal cases, and has argued matters orally in both trial courts and appellate courts, state and federal, on behalf of private and municipal clients.

Ira was truly a walking and living monument to our famed Woodstock Festival of 1969. Love and Peace was symbolic of Ira Cohen.

I asked some of the elected officials whom I knew Ira respected and trusted to reflect on our dear friend – Here is what they had to say.

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther: “Sullivan County has lost an icon and I have lost a friend. Ira Cohen was a dedicated public servant and a world-class mind. He was a mentor to many, including myself. His absence will be palpable, but his memory will live on in the hearts and minds of those whose lives he touched.”

Deputy Treasurer Nancy Buck: “There are so many ways to describe Ira, but the one that I am the happiest to say is Ira was one of my best friends. People use the word friend differently. When I say Ira was my friend, he was so much more. We enjoyed each other’s company. After a weekend, on Monday morning we spent time telling each other all about the things that we did since we last spoke. To both of us, our families are the most important part of our lives, and we would love telling each other about them. Ira and I had a great working relationship. We always discussed everything, even when we knew that we may not agree. I was so happy when I found out that I was a match with Ira to donate the kidney. It was the most fulfilling feeling to help save a life that way. I am still in shock to lose my friend so soon, and to have this awful empty feeling, but I know Ira is with me all the time, watching over me and his loved ones.”

Former Legislator Leni Binder: “The personal and professional loss is profound. Ira was part of a core team in the decade from 1996 forward that helped shape the direction of the new county Legislature and launched us into state wide leadership on issues of government, Indian gaming and real property in particular. We were innovative and not afraid to try new endeavors and create the laws to enforce it all. It was not drawn on political lines and in fact, we were in different parties when, as chair, he was a major part of my leadership team. From our MPA group at Marist to the NYSAC conferences, we were the team to go to. The county has lost a critical part of its institutional history”

Sullivan County Clerk Dan Briggs: “He was a visionary far ahead of his time. He wouldn’t accept status quo and was willing to think out of the box in fashioning a remedy to address a specific problem. I had the privilege of working with him when I was County Treasurer, and he County Attorney, when he crafted the installment payment plans, enabling people to save their homes and property from foreclosure. We played softball together (ironically for the Concord Hotel) and he played with that same passion he displayed in life. He was a competitor and not the least bit afraid of going to the beat of a different drummer if he felt strongly about an issue. He absolutely adored his family and they were paramount to him. Sullivan County has lost one of its strongest advocates, and I, a good friend. I will always have him in my thoughts when wearing the Jerry Garcia tie he gave me.”

Legislator Cora Edwards: “I first met Ira Cohen about 10 years ago when he was in private law practice. He helped our neighborhood in Swan Lake so much. At that time we were fighting an illegal development that was building without a single DEC permit. Ira and I remained friends over the years after that. When I ran for County Legislature in 2011, again he helped me with down to earth, common sense advice as he was a campaign veteran. We had many a spirited debate and did not always agree over thorny complicated issues. We often discussed: “what does good clean government mean to taxpayers?”

As a novice legislator I often dropped by Ira’s office for advice, or called him at home. Ira always made time to answer my questions – unless he was cooking dinner in his kitchen at home!

I was not alone in seeking his valued counsel, as he once showed me a pile of letters and phone messages that had come from public servants all over New York State asking his opinion on a wide range of matters. He leaves a mountain-sized legacy as a public servant and we as a County are better for it. His legacy is a deep abiding love of helping others and wishing only the best for Sullivan County. We will always remember him with great love and tremendous respect.”

Legislator Cindy Kurpil Gieger: “My heart broke when I heard the news. Ira stuck by us with unwavering free legal advice. He supported us, the legislative majority, on numerous occasions and felt there were efforts by some to limit information. He was always readily available to assist in efforts to challenge the status quo. He wanted nothing more than for the right thing to be done. As County Treasurer, Ira freely imparted his knowledge and was an outspoken advocate for responsible spending. He believed in Sullivan County, truly loved people and dedicated his life to improving government. My loss is more personal as he was not only my mentor and best supporter but also my friend. My prayers are with his family.”

Legislator Gene Benson: “It is with a heavy heart that I heard of Ira’s passing, not only is it a great loss to County Government but a great loss to the entire county.”

Legislator Kitty Vetter: “It is with deepest sorrow that I say these words. Ira Cohen was a man of integrity that has served our county in many ways. I first had the privilege to know Ira when I became a Legislator. He was a person who would listen to concerns and mentored many. I found his honesty and integrity very important. Ira was resilient and never gave up he always offered his help while never pushing a personal agenda. I am deeply sorrowed by this loss and extend my prayer and sympathies to his family. Ira served us all and his loss is deeply felt.”

Legislator Alan Sorenson: “Ira was one of those rare public officials that you could go to for advice who would give you a straight answer, while offering his take on the situation. I will sorely miss the opportunity to seek his counsel.”

Sullivan County Democratic Chairman Darryl Kaplan: “The Sullivan County Democratic Committee has lost a long time Democrat and confidant. We will miss his wisdom, wealth of knowledge and leadership. Whenever the County had a problem, we were able to turn to Ira. We are eternally grateful for his steady hand in guiding us over the years.”

May you Rest in Peace My Dear Friend Ira Cohen – You will be missed in more ways than you will ever know.

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself on National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the “MOUTH THAT ROARS” Column in THE SULLIVAN COUNTY POST.

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