ITHACA, NY – Tom O’Mara, the Republican state senator who represents parts of Tompkins County including Ithaca, has run unopposed since winning his seat in 2010. This year, he’ll finally face a challenger.

[do_widget id= text-55 ]

Ithaca-based attorney Leslie Danks Burke officially declared her candidacy in a series of events across five counties on Tuesday and Wednesday, including a stop at the Tompkins County Public Library on Tuesday.

Before a crowd of roughly 50 supporters, Danks Burke outlined her platform, putting a priority on issues like lowering taxes for local businesses to encourage a living wage, working to improve resources for schools and lowering taxes for and protecting the lands of family farmers.

Another big issue for Danks Burkes is battling corruption and cronyism in the state’s capitol. In an earlier rally, Danks Burke said “We all know Albany is broken, and we know our schools are shortchanged, our jobs are leaving and our roads and bridges have been ignored… Business as usual in Albany is not good enough.”

According to a report from the Ithaca Journal, incumbent Tom O’Mara has labeled Danks Burke “another liberal Democrat” who he says is beholden to downstate interests and will only stifle the upstate economy.

Danks Burke told the Journal, “I think that, probably, Mr. O’Mara knows more about that than I do,” although she did not offer specific examples.

Who is Leslie Danks Burke?

The daughter of farmers, Danks Burke has been a Tompkins County resident since 2004, according to her campaign bio. Before coming to Ithaca, she practiced law in New York City for a major international firm.

She also has maintained an extensive pro bono practice throughout her career and won the New York Legal Aid Society Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Legal Service twice, in 2003 and 2004.

Danks Burke serves on the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council, which recently helped the region attain a $500 million grant from the state in the “Upstate Hunger Games.” She also sits on the Tompkins County Public Library Foundation Board of Directors and was once its vice president. Danks Burke was also the chair of of the Town of Ithaca Democratic Party, according to her campaign site.

Leslie is the past Vice President of the Tompkins County Public Library Foundation Board of Directors and a current member of that board.

In 2012, she attempted a run for Tom Reed’s 23rd district seat in the House of Representatives, but lost the primary to Nate Shinagawa, according to voting records.

Although she didn’t win the House seat, Danks Burke does boast some political experience on the national level. She spent two years in Washington D.C. as a legislation analyst, as well as working for Hillary Clinton’s senate and presidential campaigns, as well as President Obama’s.

She is also a community activist who has spoken out on issues like fracking in this very publication.

[do_widget id= text-55 ]

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.