Elie Kirshner, candidate for Tompkins County Legislature

Editor’s Note: The following is an opinion column submitted by Matthew Clark, an Ithaca resident, about a local Democratic committee’s recent decision to nominate Cornell student Elie Kirshner for the Tompkins County Legislature.

Kirshner’s response to Clark’s letter is included below.

Kirshner is running to represent a seat recently vacated by Nate Shinagawa that includes Ithaca’s Collegetown and much of downtown. You can read more about his candidacy here

To submit guest columns, email me at jstein@ithacavoice.com.

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To the Editor:

As a resident of the Fourth District in the City of Ithaca, I am writing to express my anger with the Democratic Committee for selecting an unqualified candidate in this year’s Tompkins County Board special election. The triple simultaneous announcements of Kathy Luz-Herrera, Nate Shinagawa, and Elie Kirshner immediately prior to the special election deadline clearly indicate that the process was engineered to avoid a primary. Without a primary, the four people on the Fourth District Democratic Committee chose the inside candidate, a nineteen-year-old sophomore at Cornell.

Rich John is a lifelong Ithacan, a lawyer, and fellow homeowner in the 4th District with a wealth of experience that would be useful on the County Board. When asked for potential candidates, I helped promote Rich since he would be the best candidate to serve the people in our district. The Committee’s supposed reason for overlooking the experienced candidate was the importance of trying to encourage students to vote. While this goal of student participation is interesting politics, picking a lesser candidate just for demographic reasons does not not make much sense. The real goal should have been to choose the best candidate instead of protecting a small club inside the Democratic Party. While I am sure Elie is a pleasant person, as a taxpayer, parent, and homeowner, I want a grown up on the County Board. Frankly, the students in the District should want the same, since volunteering as an intern at City Hall is just not enough.

The process smells, and the Committee made a remarkably poor decision. I, for one, am going to write in Rich John on election day, and I encourage my neighbors in the District to also send this message as well. We deserve better.

— Matthew Clark, 4th District, Ithaca

The response from Kirshner:

I want to briefly respond to the Letter to the Editor questioning my candidacy for the 4th District seat of the County Legislature.

Elie Kirshner, candidate for Tompkins County Legislature

First and foremost, I understand frustrations that the Legislature’s special election procedure did not allow for a primary this fall. Under New York State election law, there are no primaries in special elections, only committee nominations. This is also the case at the congressional level in our state. I agree that this is a flawed system and that primaries are a better process for choosing nominees. Unfortunately, the law is clear.

I have enormous respect for Rich John. He and I each sought the support of the Democratic committee earlier this week, and we each pledged to support whoever emerged as the nominee. I value and appreciate his support.

I also understand that there are concerns about my age. My only response is that I am a young person, and I will be for some time to come, but my youth does not define my passion for the future of Ithaca, or my dedication to serving the residents of the 4th District.

I am running because I love our community. Despite being unopposed in this election, I will still be knocking on doors and reintroducing myself to the district I have lived next-door to since I was born. I know I have a lot to prove, and I am ready to listen to and learn from each person I talk to in the coming weeks, and throughout my time serving our community.

I believe good government is rooted in respect, empathy and communication, and I look forward to what we as a community could accomplish on the County Legislature.


Elie Kirshner

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.