Michael Cogbill, a native of North Philadelphia, is running for the United States House of Representatives seat in Pennsylvania’s third district, which encompasses most of West Philadelphia and part of the Delaware Riverfront. Cogbill is running against incumbent Dwight Evans, Alexandra Hunt, and Melvin Prince Johnakin in the Democratic primary. Voters can cast their ballots for the primary on May 17.
Cogbill, who’s worked for Ceasefire PA, the NAACP, and the AFL-CIO, supports gun violence prevention measures like expanding background checks, Medicare for All, and fair funding for public schools.
Philadelphia Neighborhoods interviewed the candidate in the run up to the election.
Why did you decide to run in this election?
I think this moment demands energetic leadership, a fighter, somebody who’s not afraid, somebody with courage. I know what I’m up against, and I just decided to step up and do it. Also, gun violence prevention is my number one issue. We’re having a problem. The president, [Joe Biden], just talked about ghost guns and getting the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] to do something about it. But, still, we have a major problem with firearms in our communities, and I want to bring that to the forefront of the progressive agenda in Washington.
How does your experience growing up in Philadelphia inform your politics locally and also nationally?
I’m fairly pragmatic in conversations about defunding law enforcement and using words like reallocate, only because I’ve been robbed in this city. I’ve been shot at. I know when folks want to do the wrong thing. Sometimes, there’s no changing their mind. I guess growing up in a single-parent household makes me fight for equal pay for equal work. I saw other mothers in my neighborhood who didn’t have access to the type of jobs that my mom had access to and how detrimental that was to their success. But just seeing poverty and seeing violence in my community — all those issues, fighting for equal pay for equal work, growing up in a neighborhood where every mom was single, growing up going to schools which had infrastructure problems. Right now, they have asbestos. So addressing economic apartheid in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, in general. We have some of the most racist funding formulas in the country. And I think that prompted me to get engaged with education and fair funding for our schools. The issues that we’re having in Philly, those are the issues I want to bring to the forefront in Washington.
When did you decide to run in this election and how has your campaigning been so far?
I decided maybe a year ago. I was on unemployment at my job. I said I was probably going to leave [the AFL-CIO] and do something about the uptick in gun violence. So, I jumped out there. In February, I left my job. I planned on leaving earlier, but I was asked to stay to hold on for a second and complete a couple of projects. I did. So far, the campaign has been going well, I think, for somebody with no money. I got myself on the ballot.
How does your job and background as a union organizer shape your politics?
I used to work in the gun violence prevention space. I think my upbringing and growing up in a labor household shaped my advocacy for workers’ rights and economic justice. Gun violence prevention was my number one issue in my previous work at Ceasefire PA. That’s what propels my ideology and propels this agenda. I want to fight for good jobs, fair education funding and expanding background checks to do something about the [National Rifle Association]. My policies are more centralized around impacted communities, schools, guns and fighting for Medicare for All. So, I guess, working in a labor space did affect where I would go next.
What solutions do you think need to be put forward on a federal level to prevent gun violence?
Expanding background checks is first and foremost. [Also,] doing something about lost and stolen reporting and closing the boyfriend loophole with domestic violence abusers. We’ve got the Violence Against Women Act, but that boyfriend loophole is still there, in which people who have a history of domestic violence can still hold onto their firearms, if the person they were oppressing isn’t related, doesn’t have a kid with them or they weren’t coinhabitants. So, it’s still super dangerous for women. Doing something about switches, as well, a device, which is popping up here in Philadelphia, that turns a handgun into a semi-automatic machine gun.
On a federal level, how will you advocate for structural change in Pennsylvania’s public education system?
We need a fair funding formula and have conversations about these racist formulas that are holding kids back and harming kids. We might have to raise taxes to fairly fund our schools. The fact that these places have lead and asbestos, especially in the Philadelphia public school infrastructure, is super unfair.
Why do you support Medicare for All? And why do you think progressives have a hard time passing legislation at a federal level?
I support it because this is the only industrialized country without a universal health care system. It’s very strange. Medicare for All is public health insurance accessible to everybody, no matter what your income level is, no matter what your job is. I think the reason we can’t get it is because these insurance companies donate to these campaigns. That’s why they’re able to raise so much money and be in on the committees, like Ways and Means. These people make sure you don’t sign onto a bill like that. If they can keep you employed and you have health care, why would you care about the rest of America? I think that’s the problem. A lot of these politicians are worried about themselves and not really worried about the masses. We just have to elect better people, who believe in Medicare. And that’s how we get it, electing more progressives.
On your website, you don’t mention any foreign policy initiatives or objectives. Are there any you would push for if you were elected?
My policy is really community focused, talking about what marginalized people, especially marginalized Black people, need in Washington. Of course, I stand with the people of Ukraine, and it’s super we’re having that conversation. I would make sure we don’t leave important treaties, like the Paris Climate Agreement, and make sure we’re playing well with NATO.
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