ITHACA, N.Y. — Belle Sherman resident Henry Granison is running for District 3 of Tompkins County Legislature. Housing affordability and a living wage are two priorities in his campaign, he has said.
Granison is a lifelong Democrat with a background in law and is an adjunct professor at Tompkins Cortland Community College. Granison has said he is interested in protecting social services and making sure issues like a livable wage don’t fall through the cracks.
Granison is facing two other candidates for the seat — Carolina Osorio Gil and David Shapiro. They are vying to represent the residents of Belle Sherman, Bryant Park, South Hill and portions of upper Collegetown and East Hill and Tompkins County on Legislature.
Granison is facing Osorio Gil and Shapiro in the primary Sept. 12.
Ithaca Voice Reporter Kelsey O’Connor sat down with Granison to discuss issues of housing and affordability, the living wage and other hot-button topics in Tompkins County. The interview has been edited for brevity.
Why are you seeking election?
I’m seeking election to Tompkins County Legislature for a couple reasons. My initial reason was in response to the November election. … I was shocked that Clinton did not win. I really felt that I had done nothing for Hillary. … So I really looked into myself to see what I could do to make a difference, hold myself responsible for her not winning.
When I found the seat was open, I debated a long time about whether to run. I debated about two months before I decided to run. But then I decided it would be a great use of my talents, that I would really be able to help the community and benefit the community by running.
Since that time, I really have learned more about the Legislature and feel like “OK this is just a good fit for me.” So I’m running because I really want to help people, it’s as simple as that. People who don’t have benefits, who are in need of services. I really want to be a player in the community, to be involved in the community and everything else.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing Tompkins County?
The three biggest issues are affordable housing, the jail study, the jail analysis and I believe saving the social safety net.
I think the (social safety net) was part of the reason why I was motivated to run for this office … that the safety net I felt was going to be threatened by the Trump administration — in terms of his budget, the cuts he’s proposing.
Do you think any voices or communities are underrepresented in Tompkins County when it comes to local government? Or just in general?
I do feel that there are some voices that are underrepresented. I am, as far as I know, the first African American male to run for this position. I know that my district is overwhelmingly majority white, but I do feel that there are probably some African American voices that have not been heard and maybe they don’t want to be heard … And part of my campaign is to try to reach out to those untapped voices, to maybe have have a Facebook page, maybe do other things that really involve the community more in the process of being on the Legislature.
I also think that people who are maybe in the middle, lower income classes here, their voices may not be heard as often a they should be. There are some legislators who protect those voices, but it’s easy when you have a room full of people who are all upper or middle class to not think about the issues of people who are on those other lines. And so they all get around and say I don’t have that deep analysis, where I think that I’m a little bit more in tune with that analysis, having grown up in a less-than-ideal economic situation that again I can represent those voices perhaps a little bit more in the process.
What do you think are some of the biggest issues for constituents in your district?
I think that the issues that my constituents face are really the same issues that are in general. My district is fairly suburban, not suburban but single-family households. We do have, part of my district are groups of college students. … I think that they may have different viewpoints, but again that’s sort of hard to tap into to find out what’s going on, but I’ve already reached out to the Ithaca College and the Cornell Democrats to find out, to get the word out there, but also to start a dialogue with them about the process.
Otherwise the district really cares about affordable housing. There’s housing going in my neighborhood for $400,000. That’s an average house. And so there really are concerns about people not being able to afford to pay for housing, and basically moving into my neighborhood or staying in my neighborhood because their taxes are so high.
People also care about the administration and care what the administration is doing to act on economic issues.
Affordable housing has been a big topic of conversation in Tompkins County for a long time. What do you think the biggest gaps in housing are in Tompkins County? Who’s getting left behind? And what can legislators do about it?
I think the biggest gaps — I was looking at this information recently — because when I did law school admissions, I would refer people to housing in Tompkins County and apartments. And I would say one bedroom would cost between $500 and $700. At the time, that information was correct.
Now I’ve learned when my daughter’s looking for housing recently because she’s moving out of the house, that really for a one bedroom, she’s looking at, a cheap place for $900. So that’s really the concern … people are finding rents really expensive. So that’s one concern. The other concern is people who just want to buy a house. They’re looking at a house that’s $400,000. You can’t just drop that money down unless you make that money at Cornell or someplace else.
It’s really across the board. Senior citizens also have a real concern about housing. There’s not a Medicare facility in the area. People who live in the area for 20, 30 years and find their taxes are so high. They’re on a limited income and they can’t afford to pay the increasing taxes and so they’re also having a gap. So really, as the prices keep increasing, everybody’s having a concern.
I know the analysis is that you’re supposed to spend 30 percent of income for housing and that many people are spending much more than that for housing, they’re spending 40 to 50 percent on housing and that’s the gap.
So what can you as a legislator do to help that?
What I can do as a legislator, and I really commend the County Legislature for putting together this (Housing) Plan they have, the 15-page strategic plan, all those analyses of giving out tax abatements for all housing, to really spread the housing out in terms of having density inside the city. So then you hopefully lower the prices in the outskirts of the city, having a multi-nodal process, of having housing that is in Lansing and other places so the prices are hopefully a little lower than they are in center city. So people who may not be able to afford to live in the center city of Ithaca can live in Lansing or live in Trumansburg and commute in on TCAT or whatever.
I think the county Legislature can also do websites about housing. They can do other things to attract developers to put up housing in the area. Again, there’s lots of details. There’s also something in the report about fair housing element to deal with current housing … a local law not having people discriminate on the source of income, so people using Section 8 housing, to be able to allow people to use it everywhere as opposed to using it in only 10 percent of the rental apartments because people won’t accept that type of funding.
The issue of people not being discriminated against in terms of housing and using the Human Rights Commission to enforce those laws. I think there’s lots of things that the county can do, basically it just means really focusing on it and making it a priority. … Whenever we have an opportunity for housing, we help the people, we do whatever to help them to be able to get into the area.
As opposed to just doing nothing because we know that doing nothing will not work, that affordable housing is just not as affordable to build, that most developers want to build high-income housing because they get more of a profit from it. So just reaching out to people and doing all the things that are included in the housing report to encourage people to build affordable housing.
We recently got the results of the Jail Study. What do you think some of the biggest takeaways from the report were?
The biggest takeaway from the report is one, we do not need to build a new jail. I think that’s the biggest takeaway. But really, there’s a lot of other issues that have to do with the jail in terms of maintaining the jail, in terms of maintaining the number of people in it and everything else that we have to pay attention to. That perhaps we have to change our bail analysis.
We have one of the lowest incarceration rates in the state, but we can do better. In fact, people keep talking about how New Jersey doesn’t require bail for anyone. That is a way they handle the problem.
There’s a thing with nurse services in the jail, that they only have one nurse who works 40 hours a week and that’s it. They also talk about adding another nurse in the jail. There’s also talk about a detox center, whether that’s inside the jail, outside the jail, because again there’s some people who are being incarcerated because either they’re drunk or they’re addicted to drugs. Should the jail be the place they’re sent or should they be sent to process somewhere else and receive treatment? I think those are the takeaways of the study, to really talk about the population and talk about what are the ways we can help those people as opposed to just put them in jail.
What kind of programs are you in support of personally when it comes to reducing the jail population?
I definitely believe that the situation with the bail is a concern and I know that (the court study) they talked about, people who have not missed an appearance and are doing a minor crime should in fact be released on their own recognizance as opposed to put in jail with bail.
We don’t control the court system but we can at least try to influence people, talk to people talk in town, talk to the justices about that … talk about alternatives to incarceration.
Now would you be willing, as a legislator, to put money towards this? No matter what, if we wanted to build a new jail it’s going to cost money, but also to support these programs and add things like another nurse, it all costs money. So are you willing to put money into that and where does that rank for you?
In terms of where it ranks, basically the jail still has to get a waiver from the state … to be able to maintain the number of people they have in the population already. So in terms of that, it ranks pretty high.
Since it’s not a big project, building a whole new jail that that would cost $20 to $30 million, that this is more spending on the edges. The nurse is not going to cost $20 million. It’s going to come piecemeal. I do have the commitment for that, doing it piecemeal. They recommended hiring an administration for 12 to 18 months to oversee the project and I would certainly be in favor of that too. So doing it piece meal and sort of setting limits as opposed to building a whole new jail, which would cost again millions of dollars for a certain time period.
Where it ranks? It depends, if we’re out of variance, then it’s going to rank pretty high. If we’re in variance, but then we’re talking about making it better, that would be lower on the status, but it would still be important. Where it falls? I would have to look at the budget because if there’s a safety net issue where people are not getting medical care versus someone else who in fact needs additional nursing, we’ll have to balance that and see which is more important at the time.
Cargill has been e a source of contention for many in the community lately, from the tax abatement in the Fall to now environmental concerns about mining under Cayuga Lake. What are your thoughts on Cargill generally? Do you think concerns about mining under the lake are well founded? Would a moratorium on expansion hurt their business and the 200 people employed there?
My thoughts on Cargill, I went to the CLEAN presentation on Cargill about a month before Barbara Lifton came out an asked for it. My understanding is that Cargill received a waiver for presenting as much evidence required to get the permit as possible.
My analysis would be is if there’s anyway Barbara Lifton can encourage Cargill to provide that information … safety information, the environmental impact statements … that they did the tests, they just don’t have to release them. Anything we can do to get that information released because the real issue is whether the future of the lake is going to be safe — should it be a cave in or something else with the lake because of the way they’re drilling. So if we can get information about that in some way possible, then I would probably support Cargill, but without that knowledge. … If there’s a way where we can cajole them into presenting this or whatever then that would be fine and as long as that information showed that it was a safe way of doing things and everything else. Then again I have no problem with them going forward.
I’m not against them just by the very nature of the salt mines. I’m just really concerned about the safety issues.
In terms of the tax abatement issue, my position on tax abatements, I’m not against tax abatements per se, but I do like to see them use local labor and a local prevailing wage.
It sounds like you’d like to see the evidence and decide?
I know there are people who are seemingly just against the Cargill salt mine expansion, just by the nature that it’s a Cargill salt mine expansion, and that’s not my position. My position is to look at it and see what we can find out, do an analysis of it, then make a decision.
I value them as part of the community but I also value them as being a good citizen in the community. So that means do no harm.
Do you support a living wage?
I truly believe in a living wage. I support it fully, but I also support doing a deep analysis of it. … If it’s not possible, then it’s not possible.
My preference with that would be yes, we would do a living wage. There may be many exceptions, there may be many outs or whatever that we would have. Not saying no exceptions, no nothing, everyone has to pay the living wage and that’s it. I would say no, I know that not-for-profits probably can’t pay a living wage, that other organizations can’t pay a living wage. I know Seattle did exceptions for employers that were 50 employees or less. They also could tailor it, they made it special. I know that people also say that in the area that we couldn’t do it all in Tompkins County, that we may be able to do it in the city and town of Ithaca but not in Tompkins County because people would just move to Tioga County or move to someplace else because they can’t pay a living wage outside of the center city. So that may be another analysis.
But I would at least hope and put forward that we’d look at it almost assuming that we can do it with exceptions or whatever, but I’m not going in with iron clad, but I am going in with a clear preference. I do believe it’s a very, very important issue that needs to be discussed and discussed in a serious way.
Featured image by Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice