ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithacans now have another candidate with a hat in the race for Tompkins County Legislator in District 4 — local community organizer Reed Steberger.

Steberger, 27, is among a handful of new Tompkins County Legislator candidates vying for a seat at the table in November.

“I woke up on the day after the election feeling, you know, in shock like a lot of us were,” they said. “And then after I went through that shock, I realized that I had a lot of anger that wasn’t just at the new administration. It was the Democratic party because I think that this election was Democrats to lose and they lost it.”

Steberger said that so many people have a lot at stake in this country under President Donald Trump’s administration — queer or transgender and gender non-conforming people, people of color, women, immigrants, young people.

“These are the same issues we would have faced under either administration — Trump or Clinton — and the need to do something big, bold and different is as pressing now as it would have been. But the stakes are much higher. It’s sort of like the gloves are off,” they said.

Steberger has been a community organizer for the past six years and has worked hard to build cooperation and trust between local groups to help marginalized people have better representation in Ithaca. They currently work at the Multicultural Resource Center and most recently helped organize, among many events, “The New Jim Crow” community read.

“I’ve said for that whole time that elected office isn’t something I’m interested in,” they said, noting that it felt more pressing to help people advocate for themselves. But now they hope to bring a community mindedness to the local legislator.
When asked what top issue was at the top of the list of local concerns, Steberger narrowed it down to affordable housing.
“As far housing goes, so what’s most essential is that we stop telling people that housing is a complicated issue and start engaging residents to help us solve the problem,” they said.
A prime example of community members being left out of major discussions, they said, was the Tompkins County Housing Summit that happened in November.
The summit was helpful and raised awareness about local issues, but they said it wasn’t until about a week or so before the summit that people who’d been displaced or homeless were invited to talk about their experiences, and the primary speakers were agency heads, developers, and outside speakers.
They said the community is important in this conversation because the housing crisis impacts everyone in the county differently, but the traditional conversation tends to focus on how to balance the needs of students with the needs of seniors wanting to age in place. Meanwhile, there are people on the west end who are being evicted and losing their homes because of rising rent prices.
They said, “I think that the county’s approach to housing is like a microcosm of the broader problem in the country and with the Democratic party….which is that we don’t believe that people have the power or the knowledge to solve problems for themselves if you make the space for it.”
There is a long history, they said, of people with little time, money and energy fighting for policies that benefit them. If that’s not happening in Ithaca, they said it’s because there is not enough opportunity for people to do so and not enough change happening when marginalized people speak out about needs in a community.
If elected, they plan to do a door-to-door deep canvas of people living in District 4 every year as part of a pro-active approach to creating relationships.
Steberger also talked about the importance of addressing criminal justice inequity, climate change and workers rights.
“If we want a democracy, we have to make a democracy. If we want a process that’s inclusive, we need to make a process that’s inclusive,” Steberger said. “Legislators need to know how to organize.”
To read more about Steberger’s proposed policies and run for legislator, visit their website here. 
Featured photo courtesy. 

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.