ITHACA, NY – The characterization of Ithaca as “ten square miles surrounded by reality” starts to feel like more than just a quip when you put it in the context of Tuesday’s election results.

Aside from local elections, the average Tompkins voter was on the wrong side of pretty much every vote with state or federal impact. Granted, Ithaca Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton held on to her seat, as did Senator Chuck Schumer — but those were both races with almost unassailable Democratic bases to begin with.

Where progressive Tompkins residents were really looking to make waves were in other state-level races and in the House of Representatives.

Tompkins Democrats have tried three times now to defeat Republican Tom Reed, who has held the 23rd Congressional District seat since 2010 (at that time it was the 29th district, but has since been redistricted). In fact, two Tompkins legislators took the fight to him first-hand — Nate Shinagawa in 2012 and Martha Robertson in 2014 — Shinagawa came close, but both fell short.

In 2016, there was at some enthusiasm behind new challenger John Plumb, who perhaps could have benefitted from his rural roots and status as a Navy veteran, as opposed to being an “extreme Ithaca liberal.”

But again, it was not to be — Plumb took only 42 percent of the vote. What’s striking is that of the 108,163 votes Plumb received, a full 25,945 of those votes — almost 24 percent — came from Tompkins County. In fact, out of the 11 counties in the 23rd District, Tompkins was the only one that came out strong for Plumb. Even Chataqua County, Plumb’s home county, was carried with relative ease by Reed.

Another candidate who Tompkins residents had their eye on and enthusiasm behind was Leslie Danks Burke, an Ithaca-based lawyer. Danks Burke was challenging Tom O’Mara for the New Yorks’ 58th State Senate District seat.

Tompkins broke heavily for Danks Burke, giving her 15,819 of her 48,129 votes — almost a full third. But the story was similar to the Reed-Plumb race. Out of the five counties in the 58th District, Danks Burke carried only Tompkins. But despite a three-to-one victory here, she lost almost two-to-one in Steuben and Yates and by a healthy margin in Chemung and Schuyler.

And the story was again the same for the other State Senate races that Tompkins voted in. In the 54th District, which Lansing is a part of, Tompkins was the only county that Democratic Kenan Baldridge carried. Breaking the cycle, however, in the 51st District, Democratic Jermaine Bagnall-Graham failed to carry any county — though he only lost by about 600 votes where he lost other counties by three- or even four-to-one.

And of course, while Tompkins County — being part of thoroughly-Democratic New York — was never going to have much impact on the presidential race either way, it’s still worth noting how much of an outlier the County is, politically. The vast majority of upstate New York, with the exception of the major urban centers (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany) and a few other outliers, went for Trump. Trump took home just 25 percent of the vote in Tompkins, but in every one of our neighboring counties, he won at least 50 percent, with a few counties tipping past 60.

(Featured photo by The Ithaca Voice)

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.