Under the Dome

Long-time legislative staffer Gerry Cohen to retire

It's fitting that Gerry Cohen has checked legislative directories and knows that in his 37 years on the state legislature’s staff about 1,000 lawmakers have served in Raleigh.

Cohen, the legislature's special counsel, unofficial historian and walking encyclopedia, announced Friday that he is retiring Aug. 1.

On the legislative staff since 1977, Cohen has witnessed political, cultural and technological shifts through the lens of lawmaking.

Cohen was hired as a staff attorney to work on local government and election law issues when he was still a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council. Later, he became head of bill drafting, running that division for 31 years. He was a common sight in the House chamber, standing in an aisle near the front and clutching a stack of paper rolled into a cone.

He changed jobs two years ago, moving to the newly created position of special counsel.

"It's sort of like go out when you're ahead," said Cohen, 63. "I've had good relationships with the leadership of both parties."

In his career, Cohen has witnessed and helped guide the modernization of the legislature. It wasn't until the 1970s that the legislature started building its own professional staff rather than relying on the state Attorney General's office, the state budget office and other agencies for information and background work.

For his part, Cohen said he liked tackling tough problems and finding solutions.

"Working on issues without being for or against them is always enjoyable," he said.

Cohen said he doesn't' have a new job lined up, but he might like to teach at some point and will work on public transportation issues in the Triangle with a focus on Wake County.