ITHACA, N.Y. — The three candidates vying for the District 3 seat of Tompkins County Legislature debated and talked about what issues they think should be a priority for the county.
Ithaca Town Hall was packed Thursday evening for the forum, which was moderated by Kay Sharp of the League of Women Voters. The forum was a chance for the public to meet the three candidates, Carolina Osorio Gil, David Shapiro and Henry Granison, in one place. Some issues discussed included affordable housing, a living wage, social justice, shared services and transportation.
District 3 includes Belle Sherman, Bryant Park, South Hill and portions of upper Collegetown and East Hill. The district is currently represented by Legislator Carol Chock, who has served on Tompkins County Legislature for nearly a decade but announced she would step down this year.
► Watch the full forum below
Here’s a few questions the candidates tackled Thursday.
1 — What do you think makes you different from the rest of the candidates running for the same seat?
Granison said one advantage he has is time. He has a part-time job teaching at Tompkins Cortland Community College, and said he will make working as a legislator his full-time job. Granison also highlighted his legal background and said it is important for legislators to understand the law.
Shapiro, who is the president and CEO of Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca, said he has devoted his professional career to working in the social service community and serving others. He said he has dedicated the last 12 years running various programs, all focused on how to run high-quality programs, doing so cost effectively and in a way to pay employees a fair wage. Shapiro said running for Tompkins County Legislature is also something he has thought about for a long time.
Osorio Gil said she also has a part-time job working at Cornell University and said she has the time to dedicate to being a legislator. She is the director of CULTURA Ithaca and the engagement coordinator for the Latina/o Studies Program at Cornell University. Something that makes her unique, Osorio Gil said, is she has a large amount of generosity that she offers to her community. Osorio Gil said she has worked for many years in the community as a volunteer.
2 — What is the very first local problem you want to work on and how would you solve it?
Shapiro said “source of income protection.” Shapiro said currently there are a lot of local landlords who are able to prevent people from applying for their housing if they have housing vouchers, which can impact people of color and single women households, he said. Shapiro said while legislation has been discussed at the level of the Health and Human Services Committee, he said as legislator he will make it a priority to work on source of income protection legislation.
The first thing Osorio Gil said she would work on is passing a living wage in Tompkins County. As legislator she said she would work with business owners and workers to find a way to push a living wage in Tompkins County. The living wage was recently calculated by Alternatives Federal Credit Union to be $15.11 per hour.
Granison also would like to work on passing a living wage in Tompkins County. However, before jumping into it, he said he would like to fully investigate the issue thoroughly to decide whether a living wage can be put forth. “I believe it can,” Granison said.
3 — If you could magically change one thing about Tompkins County, what would it be?
Granison would like to see all housing affordable. “It’s the biggest challenge we face,” he said.
If she had a magic wand, Osorio Gil said she would end structural racism. Getting rid of deeply historical prejudices would help address issues like housing, access to services and participation in local government.
Shapiro said looking at the finances and millions Tompkins County Legislature handles, he said he wants to ask if money is supporting the greatest number of people locally. He wants to look at housing affordability, a living wage and access to affordable and high-quality childcare.
4 — How does your cultural awareness and background empower you to be a leader for our community?
Granison said he grew up in a diverse community, which allowed him open up to other viewpoints and people. He said part of being a leader is being able to take information about all different people and viewpoints.
Shapiro said he is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. “This is the single biggest factor in determining who I am today and how it shaped my life,” Shapiro said. He said his grandfather came to the U.S. with nothing, but found a way to heal. He said his grandfather’s compassion is the greatest inspiration to him, and is how he tries to lead.
Osorio Gil said came to the U.S. when she was 4 years old to escape violence in Colombia. She grew up for several years as an undocumented immigrant and eventually attended Cornell University and stayed in Ithaca as a community and cultural organizer. “I consider cultural awareness and cultural endeavors to be a strength of mine,” Osorio Gil.
5 — How do you remedy the public transportation needs in the outer part of the county?
Shapiro said there are many people in the county who, once the 6 p.m. bus leaves, they’re not able to get out of town. Lack of transportation impacts people’s access to services, the jobs they can take. “Really the only solution I know of to this is we need more money invested in the TCAT system. We need more buses going to the outskirts of our county.”
Granison said the county could look at sources of funding for TCAT from the colleges or other places. Granison said TCAT doesn’t necessarily need more funding, that they could try to look for place to adjust schedules.
Osorio Gil said she has seen people impacted by the bus schedule who have had a hard time accessing services, making it to work and also taking part in community events. “That transportation crisis also links to the housing crisis as we push people out (to) the cheaper housing that is further out of town,” Osorio Gil said.
Shapiro also responded to a comment Granison made that service just might not be able to happen. “I think it’s a responsibility of the Legislature to make sure all our community members have access to housing, jobs, etc, and so much of that relies on transportation.” He also said the community has made a commitment to the environment. To rely less on cars, the community needs to have a robust public transportation system.
Primary day is Sept. 12.
Watch the full video to hear all the candidates’ responses to more questions at the forum.
Featured image by Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice