LANSING, N.Y. — Lansing resident Deborah Dawson has announced she will run for District 10 of Tompkins County Legislature.

Dawson has been active in local government for several years for the Village of Lansing, where she currently serves on the Planning Board. If elected, Dawson said she will work for Tompkins County to have “sustainable and independent fiscal future.”

Dawson has a background in law and has focused much of her career on tax policy issues. She has worked for the Department of Justice, for private firms and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Her works has taken her to Washington, D.C., North Carolina, Texas and California. She was also an adviser to an FDIC business committee, where she provided legal advice to the committee that managed an $8 billion pool of distressed bank assets.

Dawson chose to retire in Tompkins County in 2009 with her husband, Ronny Hardaway, who is now deputy mayor of the Village of Lansing, after falling in love with the area when she attended Wells College. She is also a Buffalo native, so she said retiring in Upstate New York was like coming home.

Dawson is not part of the wave of candidates inspired to run for local government after the election. As she said at a candidates forum in early May, “I’m not a post-Trump candidate.”

The seed was first planted to run for Tompkins County Legislature when she was involved with drafting an updated Comprehensive Plan for the Village of Lansing. Because she was so invested in writing the plan, she said someone suggested she run for Legislature. She said she laughed at the idea at first, but it stuck in the back of her mind. In January 2016, she began regularly attending Tompkins County Legislature meetings.

Having served on the Citizens Advisory Committee and the Planning Board in the Village of Lansing, Dawson said she really enjoys local government.

“It’s not partisan or ideological, it’s just people who are really concerned and caring and love their community and want to do what’s best,” Dawson said.

When repealing the Affordable Care Act was a big local topic — before Tompkins County Legislature passed a resolution opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act without an alternative — Dawson spoke out about the effects a repeal might have on the county. She specifically noted the financial hit Tompkins County could take because of Medicaid reimbursement.

Election 2017: Who’s running for Tompkins County Legislature?

With her background, Dawson said her concerns are primarily in the areas of tax policy for the county. She said the first main issue she wants to focus on, if elected, is to plan for a “sustainable and independent fiscal future” for Tompkins County.

To reach that goal, Dawson said the county needs to be doing everything it can to shore up its tax base.

One problem Tompkins County faces, she said, is dealing with a large percentage of property that is owned by tax-exempt organizations.

“I would like to work with Cornell and [Ithaca College] to see if there is some way they can contribute more monetarily. If not, let’s explore ways that they can contribute services, or property or something else that we need in the county,” Dawson said.

She said she wants to see the county use its money more cost effectively. For example, with the jail study ongoing, she said there must be better options than expanding or building a bigger jail.

Dawson supports more development in the county, and particularly development that meets needs for affordable and senior housing.

She would also like to examine the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency’s policies and ask, “What our IDA policies are really accomplishing for us.” She said the IDA is meant to create good jobs locally, to build up the economy going forward. However, she said what she has seen is a lot of subsidies going to big projects like the new hotel downtown.

Dawson said they need a much stronger labor utilization policy. She said also said they should look at what kind of jobs these big projects create. In the case of a hotel, it creates mostly minimum wage jobs like housekeeping, maintenance and retail.

“I don’t see that using our IDA to support big, big, big projects is the answer. I think the answer is use it to support local businesses, local projects, local entrepreneurs who will train a workforce and pay them above minimum wage,” Dawson said.

Dooley Kiefer currently represents District 10, which includes the villages of Lansing and Cayuga Heights. In early May, she announced she will not seek re-election. Kiefer has a long history of environmental advocacy, and Dawson said she plans to carry on that legacy.

Dawson said she also wants to establish and maintain an open channel of communication between her constituents and their legislator.

“That’s something that not every legislator has been successful at doing, but I think it’s really important,” Dawson said. “I think the more information you can give to your constituents, the more engaged they are with what’s going on, and the more feedback they’ll give you. And that enables you to do a better job as a legislator.”

Dawson said though it may not sound like it from her financially focused issues, Dawson said she is really progressive.

Dawson said she considers herself a progressive Democrat. She is a founding member of the Tompkins County Progressives and is a member of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee.

“People need to understand there’s a limit to what county legislators can do, and what they really do is control resource allocation. So resource availability is everything, because if you don’t have the money, you can’t do all the things you want to do — environmental and energy initiatives and all of that stuff — is just going to sit there on a piece of paper unless we have the money to make it happen,” Dawson said.

Learn more about Dawson at her website.

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CORRECTION — An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Dawson managed an $8 billion asset pool, however she provided legal advice to the committee that managed it. 

Featured image: Deborah Dawson in Center Ithaca. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.