Rich John

ITHACA, N.Y. — Local attorney Rich John will face Cornell student Elie Kirshner in the race to represents the County’s Fourth District.

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John lost the Democratic Party nomination to Kirshner and is seeking the seat as a write-in candidate.

Read our interview with Kirshner here.

Here are the 9 questions we asked John in an interview on Sunday; click on the one you’re interested in to see his answer, or read the entire story in order.

(Did we miss your question? If so, email us at jstein@ithacavoice.com)

1 — You are running in one particularly contested race. Do you think you are more qualified for the job than Elie Kirshner? Do you think his age matters?
2 — Some proponents of Kirshner’s candidacy have argued that it is important to have student representation in local government. Do you think that’s true? Do you disagree with the selection process of the Democratic Committee?
3 — What are the issues that are motivating you to run, apart from the ones you already mentioned?
4 — What do you think of the new budget?

5 — Kirshner said that, if elected, he will be working on affordable, quality housing. Will you address this issue?
6 — What do you think of the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services project at 210 Hancock Street and the 11-story building proposal for the Trebloc site on State Street?

7 — What are your thoughts on the environmental sustainability in Ithaca? Is there any other issue you would like to address, like jail expansion, or tax abatements for developers?
8 — Who do you think will support your candidacy?

9 — You lived in Ithaca for a long time. What is the best thing about this city?

1 — You are running in one particularly contested race. Do you think you are more qualified for the job than Elie Kirshner? Do you think his age matters?

Rich John

“I think I am more qualified. Age by itself doesn’t matter, but certainly the things you can do with your life help you in doing other things. For example, anybody would say that ten years of doing a job would make them better at managing similar things. I have extensive experience. I have lived in Ithaca for 50 years. I’ve practiced law for 29. I’ve lived in this District for 18 years, owned a home in the District. I worked as a municipal attorney for a decade. I was a Vice President and General Counsel for a very large company, running a large department. I was the city prosecutor for a year. I’ve represented individuals, groups, governments, companies, and unions. Yes, I have extensive experience for the job. And I believe experience matters. The County budget is $171 million, the County employees around 750 people. The services the County provides are really important for both financial reasons and the quality of life. I feel I can really help with that.”

2 — Some proponents of Kirshner’s candidacy have argued that it is important to have student representation in local government. Do you think that’s true? Do you disagree with the selection process of the Democratic Committee?

“I think student involvement in the Ithaca government is a good thing. However, there are a lot of ways to be involved. Students should participate but that doesn’t mean that since there are a lot of students living in the District, only a student can represent the people in it. Frankly I don’t think that that is the healthiest approach. You want somebody that can represent everybody in the District. If the student renters knew how much of their rent went to property taxes, this would be clearer. I went to Ithaca High School and Cornell, so I have been a student here.

I have a daughter who just graduated from Cornell, so I have certainly followed students’ issues for a long time. I believe choosing an experienced capable candidate is the appropriate approach. This County Legislature seat does not have to, and should not, be reserved for a student.”

3 — What are the issues that are motivating you to run, apart from the ones you already mentioned?

“There are a few things I am certainly interested in: the energy efficiency of the buildings, vehicles, and other systems that the County runs. I believe it’s important because that’s the only way you approach sustainability in a concrete way. The company I worked with, Intertek, is a product-testing laboratory and they test just about any appliance, electrical product, building product, including alternative energy such as inverters and photo-voltaic panels. In addition to safety testing, Intertek tests for the energy star ratings, so that’s the business background that I am coming from. But in addition to that I’m interested in the unfunded mandate problems that the County struggles with and I would like to contribute on that issue for the County government. And overall, I want to help give a careful analytical look at the budget.”

4 — What do you think of the new budget?

“I have looked at the budget. It’s a really big document and it’s really at the core of County government, so if you don’t understand the budget that’s a real issue. I’ve managed a budget. I’ve managed a business department at Intertek and it does all come back to where you are going to spend money, because that’s how you set your priorities. There are other issues and votes that the County takes that are important, but you always come back to: where is the money going? I want to watch that very carefully.”

5 — Kirshner said that, if elected, he will be working on affordable, quality housing. Will you address this issue?

“I agree that affordable quality housing is an important issue and we need to support more options in the core of Ithaca. At the same time, the Legislature needs to examine the particular projects where it may be involved to assess cost and how the County will participate. The recent vote regarding sale of the old library is an instance where the Legislature made a housing decision, but in large measure those are issues that are going to be dealt with at the City level. To the extent that the County is involved I would love to see whole solutions, so it is not just senior, low income or student housing, but mixed use with housing integrated within a broad spectrum in the community.”

6 — What do you think of the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services project at 210 Hancock Street and the 11-story building proposal for the Trebloc site on State Street?

“The Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services project is outside of the District and is certainly addressing a housing need that exists in this community, so that’s important. As I said in answering the last question, I favor development that allows diversity. So it’s not just one kind of housing. For example, I support development that brings people together from different economic backgrounds. Similarly, I live on East Hill in a neighborhood where student housing is intermixed with people like myself who have lived there for years and years. I think that that’s a good healthy mix.

As for the Trebloc building, I am in favor of density over sprawl. I understand the need to bring more people downtown and it’s part of making the Commons economically viable, but that’s a very big building. It does seem out of scale with the surrounding building environment. I’m also concerned that it has no parking. It would be great if we had the public transportation to match that kind of views, so that nobody there would feel they needed a car. While TCAT provides a lot of service, I am not sure they would have convinced everybody in that building to not own a car. As the plan would lose the parking that is there now, I have concern about the impact on the neighborhood. It sounds as if that development is now up for more discussion and I think that is a good thing.”

7 — What are your thoughts on the environmental sustainability in Ithaca? Is there any other issue you would like to address, like jail expansion, or tax abatements for developers?

“Everybody is for environmental sustainability and we have to be, but you have to get to the next level of what does everyone mean. I see it as a real focus on energy efficiency, and alternative energy options, if we can implement them on County buildings and in County vehicles. That’s one of the areas I would really like to look at as a legislator. More broadly, I look forward to the development of the Energy Road Map that the County is currently rolling out.

In terms of jail expansion, I don’t think that there is a lot of difference in position between my opponent and myself. You need to have reasonable conditions in the jail and you don’t want to outsource prisoners to other counties because of the expense. At the same time, alternatives to incarceration is a critical piece of the puzzle; keep people out of jail all together as long as it can be done safely. I have been asked a related question about Ban the Box. This is a proposal to remove the employment application question about prior convictions until later in the hiring process, so the prior is not automatically disqualifying. I support Ban the Box and, in fact, I have hired people who have had criminal records. You have to look very carefully at those circumstances, but I think everybody deserves a second chance, and a fair look at getting a job. I talked to the people I’ve hired who had prior problems. We had a very candid conversation in each case. I understood what had happened and I thought they could get by it, and in those cases they did, they both did great work for me. So I believe in Ban the Box. I think it’s a very positive balance.

If the County is considering a tax abatement, there should be something extra in that development that makes it particularly desirable for the community: local labor, living wage, environmental Leed certification for the building, or added public amenities. There is a development in the District up in Collegetown, where there is a new building with a bus stop right there, which is a great thing, and that’s the kind of development where you say ‘Ok, there is some kind of basis there for a tax abatement’. I do not think they should be automatic.”

8 — Who do you think will support your candidacy?

“I hope I am convincing everybody. The shallow breakdown would be that students are going to vote for Elie Kirshner, but I hope that’s not the case, because students should be looking to who can do the best job for the whole community. I think experience does matter. I don’t want to be condescending towards young people at all, but I think that everybody needs to be properly represented in this District, and I think I can do that really well.”

9 — You lived in Ithaca for a long time. What is the best thing about this city?

“Certainly the thing that makes Ithaca different is culture. It’s got a great economic base, because of the educational institutions here. It’s very diverse. Several years ago I was on the board of Historic Ithaca, when the community got the State Theatre re-opened. In advocating for the project, I repeatedly said this is a great thing for our community because it’s historic preservation, it’s a cultural resource, and it’s an economic engine. I think it has turned out very well. And it is a great example of the vibrancy that makes this place great and special.”

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