Spring in Washington Square Park normally bursts with street artists, buskers, food carts, inline skaters, exuberant dogs pulling at leashes, children racing about, sightseers taking selfies at the famous arch.
Kenny Cohen and his son on the grounds of Electchester, a 70-year-old Queens community built and run by Local 3 to provide affordable housing for electricians and their families.
Kenny Cohen was working in buildings on the perimeter, doing high voltage testing at New York University, when Covid-19 shut down his jobsite and its surrounding merriment.
But across the East River, his household was shifting into overdrive: two boys, 16 and 9, attending school online, their rambunctious baby brother and their mother, a teacher juggling kids at home, students in her high-school English and theater courses via Zoom and a looming deadline for her masters’ thesis.
Cohen, a second-generation Local 3 journeyman wireman and union activist, had a choice: transfer to another job with the same contractor or shelter at home with the people who needed him most.
“Watching my girlfriend go through the stresses of teaching remotely and all the other stresses, I felt it was my responsibility to stay home for a little while and help out.”
In the family’s three-bedroom apartment in the treasured Local 3-built community of Electchester in Queens, Cohen took over the kitchen, whipping up most of the family’s meals except when they ordered out to support local businesses.
But taking care of Baby K, as they call his 1-year-old namesake, was his primary, and most joyful, duty.
“Being proactive and hands-on was priceless to me,” Cohen said, stressing how lucky he knows he’s been amid the “disastrousness” of Covid-19.
He’s been paying it forward by pitching in at a food pantry run by a Local 3 brother, which led him to set up a GoFundMe page that raised $9,000 in May for food programs around the city.
“Seeing families turned away from the pantries because they ran out of food really inspired us,” Cohen said, referring to himself and other IBEW members who have donated and volunteered.
After nearly two months at home, Cohen went back to work at NYU on May 16. “There’s a lot of new safety protocols we have to follow, and they’re being very strict with the rules,” he said.
Although Washington Square Park became a hub of protest activity in June, it was still eerily quiet when Cohen returned. “You hardly see anybody out walking around – mostly construction workers,” he said then. “I’m used to the city that never sleeps but it hasn’t been like that all.”
Even so, he’s happy to be back doing what he loves.
“It feels good just to do something normal,” he said.