Story by Kelsey O’Connor and Jolene Almendarez

ITHACA, N.Y. — Reed Steberger has withdrawn from the Tompkins County Legislator race amid accusations of rape and sexual assault while a student at Cornell University.

Steberger and incumbent Rich John, both running for the District 4 seat of Tompkins County Legislature, were set to debate Thursday at Ithaca Town Hall. However, at the beginning of the event, Steberger announced the withdrawal and made a statement addressing the accusations.

Hours before the event, the Cornell Daily Sun reported that Steberger had been accused of rape while attending Cornell University. At the event Thursday evening, Steberger said during Slope Day in 2010, they — Steberger uses they/them pronouns — and a former partner engaged in what “began as consensual sex.”

“Partly because of the alcohol I consumed and partly because I did not understand what consent was, I did not recognize when our sex became non-consensual. Regardless of my intentions, I caused harm with my actions,” Steberger said.

Related: Cornell alumna comes forward about rape, sex assault by former Tompkins Leg. candidate Reed Steberger

The Cornell alumna involved came forward with her story after hearing Steberger was running for office. She said the sexual interaction with Steberger was “definitely forced.” After the incident, her roommate took her to Cayuga Medical Center where a rape kit was administered. The incident was also reported to campus police and the case was investigated by the Office of Judicial Administrator.

In the statement, Steberger acknowledged going through the judicial administration process at Cornell.

“It fundamentally shaped my understanding of intimacy and consent, which is and must be at all times an active ‘Yes,’” Steberger said.

Steberger apologized.

“I’m sorry for hurting people who were close to me and their trust,” Steberger said. “I know that trauma is lifelong and can surface years after a traumatic event has taken place and I understand an apology cannot undo that and I know that the difficult of discussing this in public cannot be compared with the pain I caused.”

Steberger said they have worked hard to shift their behavior.

“I will continue to practice different behaviors that reflect my understanding of consent, equity and justice,” Steberger said. “With regard to my campaign, I am making the decision to withdraw because I want to take what action I can to show that I’m treating this issue seriously.”

After making reading the statement, Steberger left.

Incumbent John is now the only candidate running for District 4. However, Steberger’s name will still appear on the ballot for the primary election next week.

After the event, John said he was surprised by Steberger’s announcement.

“I was sincere in that when you have to campaign, you work a lot harder in thinking about issues and trying to understand, how to explain what you believe and that’s a good process. And it’s good that the public challenges the politicians. That’s happened,” John said.

Watch the statement below: 

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.