Ithaca, N.Y. — Before he moved north to Tompkins County, Neil Snyder sold financial products that he didn’t believe in for a brokerage firm downstate.
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“The toughest part of any sales position is carrying a quota,” said Snyder, who on Saturday was named local Democrats’ pick to replace Brian Robison in the Tompkins County Legislature’s 9th District. “If you’re selling a product you don’t believe in, it’s even more difficult.”
“You still have to look at yourself when you’re saving and ask yourself, ‘What are you doing for society besides moving money around?’”
Snyder eventually left his job in White Plains, a suburb of NYC, to join family in the Ithaca area.
He took a job working the late-night shift at a local store, bagging groceries from 6:30 p.m. until 3 a.m. — or, on some nights, from midnight until 8:30 a.m.
As a result, Snyder says, he’s been drawn into intimate contact with an array of overnight shift workers and their concerns.
This experience is part of the reason Snyder, 59, thinks he is well suited to represent the 9th district, which includes Groton and parts of Dryden and Lansing, in the county legislature.
“I know the cab drivers. I know the bar owners. I know the local cops and the state troopers and the waitresses,” Snyder says in an interview on Tuesday. (Snyder refused to name his employer, citing fear of speaking without authorization from the company.)
“I know my customers very well because the same people come in every night.”
Snyder, a Democrat, recognizes that he is an underdog candidate in the district, which leans right and tends to vote conservative. (The Republicans have not formally announced their candidate for the Feb. 10 special election; we’ll be writing a story when they do.)
Snyder acknowledged that his stance on gun control may differ from those of some of his constituents, but said this position “has nothing to do with Groton because we’re talking about the county legislature,” as opposed to the state government.
Snyder grew up in the NYC borough of Queens. He went to the City College of New York, then got a degree in legal studies before also getting a second degree in computer science.
He moved to Pennsylvania, where he married, had two children and worked as a computer salesman. The next step in his journey was to Westchester County, where he first worked for a software sales company before joining the brokerage firm.
Snyder’s salary wasn’t in the six or seven figures, he says, adding that he felt squeezed by a 40 percent increase in property taxes in three years. Those rising taxes were just part of the hyper-competitive, crammed environment that Snyder was eager to escape.
Snyder moved to Ithaca nine years ago and then to Groton three years ago.
In an interview on Tuesday, Snyder was reticent to come down too strongly on a number of contentious local political issues, instead preferring to express an appreciation of the validity of multiple viewpoints.
Here are a few:
On the tax abatement for Jason Fane: “I haven’t read the plans for the project … I can tell you he’s done a lot of good development in Ithaca and we always need good affordable housing.” …
“I’m saying I don’t have enough facts to give you an answer, but I can understand both sides.”
On the recent jail expansion: “Obviously, the sheriff is interested in lowering his costs and not spending money … We’re not talking about a huge amount of new beds but I do remember the issue.”
On the e-cigarette ban: “I wholeheartedly support that … in my workplace we’ve banned them.”
On the expansion of the county legislator’s facilities, which an Ithaca Journal report detailed was over-budget: “As a taxpayer I’d want to make sure we have facilities that are energy efficient, attractive, nice to work in and safe …
“There will always be people who feel that improvements are unnecessary and that you can do perfectly well with what you got … then on the other hand I don’t believe in making renovations for the sake of renovating.”
On fracking: “We have important choices before us. We can choose to build our economic strengths while preserving the rural character we cherish, or we can choose the short-term gains from fracking while paying a staggering long-term economic and environmental price.