ITHACA, N.Y. — Tompkins County Legislature candidate Amanda Champion is running on the Democratic and Working Families lines. Champion is a writer and has lived in Ithaca for 17 years. Though she does not have a political background, she was inspired to run for Legislature after organizing the Ithaca Women’s March in January.
Champion is running for District 12, which covers the southwestern portion of the Town of Ithaca. The district includes upper South Hill, Inlet Valley and a portion of West Hill. Legislator Will Burbank, who currently represents that district, is not seeking re-election.
Ithaca Voice Intern Anna Lamb spoke with Champion about why she is running for local office and what issues she thinks are most pressing in Tompkins County.
Why do you want to be a legislator over any other role?
I think what I like about the Legislature is that it’s a bigger picture of the whole county. The Town of Ithaca Board is more specific. I like that the county deals with everything, such as, social services and transportation. … I feel like I’m kind of a generalist and having the opportunity to participate in lots of different things is interesting to me. I like learning, so I like the variety of committees and the ability to participate in many things.
What is your background in politics or just your background in general?
I don’t have a background in politics so I’m very new to this, which is exciting. I’m a writer. I recently got my Master’s degree in creative writing and I’m an editor at an online journal. As many people know from all the other interviews I’ve done, I organized the Women’s March in Ithaca, which was a huge and awesome event. It empowered me and showed me that there’s more I can do. As a writer, you’re alone a lot. Becoming more public and doing what I can to help more people is a new task for me and I’m looking forward to it. A year ago I wouldn’t have thought I would run for office, but after the march, people approached me and suggested I run. It got me thinking and I talked to some current Legislators and decided this is something I could do and I want to do.
What do you think the biggest issues facing Tompkins County are?
Affordable housing. Which as you know, is connected to a lot of different things. The affordability in general of living in this county; people being able to work here and live here. And taxes are high. We have a lot of services, which is great, but there has to be a balance. A lot of money goes towards state mandates, which is a whole other topic. We have to decide where best to use the funds we have. The opioid crisis is another huge issue that’s only going to get bigger as time goes on.
As a legislator what do you think you would do to address those issues?
What I want to do is as a Legislator is learn as much as I can. Go in there, learn, talk to people and listen to what the community has to say. I will have to make the best decisions I can based on my own opinions and what my constituents want and what’s important to them. I’m very interested in learning and participating in the process. I think with any issue that’s complex, there is a lot of negotiation … in terms of housing it’s not just about putting more units downtown, it’s about tax abatements and property taxes and where best to locate the housing, and how to listen to and acknowledge people’s wishes and fears.
What have people in your district told you they want to see get done?
My district is interesting in that it’s very spread out, with a variety of communities within. It’s part of West Hill, part of Inlet Valley, and part of Ithaca College. There’s not one main center. Some of the things I’ve heard from knocking on doors are about property taxes being too high, though others have said there are great services that they appreciate. People are concerned about having sidewalks and walkable communities, about busy roads, traffic issues. And lots of people bring up the issue of affordable housing.
Do you think there are voices that are being underrepresented in Tompkins?
That’s part of why I felt it was important for me to get involved. Women in general are not in leadership roles in the same way as men, white men. There are currently five women on the Legislature and depending on who wins the upcoming races, we could be up to six women. I’m a mom, I have a young child, and I know a lot of parents. There is such variety of families here– single moms, LGBTQ+ families, children being raised by grandparents– whose perspectives aren’t being heard. … There’s one person of color on the Legislature, soon to be two, and that is certainly not representative of the makeup of our county.
What are the gaps that need to be addressed in housing and who’s being hit the hardest?
As I said, it’s a complex issue. There are problems with income discrimination, which may be brought before the Legislature. I hope we can protect people from landlords discriminating against people who use Section Eight housing.
I think there’s also a gap in mid-range housing options, both downtown and in the surrounding areas. My husband is a builder. He’s constantly getting calls from people wanting to build mid-size, affordable homes, but he, and other small businesses, can only build so many homes in a year. There’s definitely need there. There are large developers building high-end apartment complexes, which is helps fill some of the gap. But we need more low and mid-range options.
What can be done to keep the population down at the Tompkins County Jail?
We need to keep up with and add more services in the community. We need rehabs, we need detox centers, we need housing for people transitioning out of jail, more resources for Drug Court. All those things are very important. But I also think we need to take care of our children and families before young people turn to drugs or crime. We need to have enough, affordable childcare so that parents can earn a living and care for their kids. We need better transportation options so people can get to their jobs. Every person needs fulfillment in their lives, and if they can’t find it they may end up going down the wrong path. We need to support everyone in our community.
What are your thoughts on Cargill generally? Do think concerns about mining under the lake are well founded? Would you like to see an environmental study?
I think if I had been able to vote on that, I would have liked to see a study. I may be much more an environmentalist than most. People have a right to be concerned. It’s our lake and we want to protect it. I want to take care of the people who work there as well. They deserve our support. But I’m looking at the big picture, the long game. I think government often moves very slowly, because issues are complex and leaders want to make the best choices they can for everyone.
Do you think there should be a living wage standard?
Yes. I’ve talked to Pete Meyers at the Worker’s Center and that was very informative. I do support a living wage. I also think people have a right to be concerned. This is another complex issue that will take studying, listening, and deep thinking to figure out how best we can take care of our community members. No one should work a full time job and have to choose between paying rent or feeding their kids.
Do you have any opinions on it affecting small business?
I have a friend who owns a small business who’s struggling to make it. If she had to pay her few employees more, then that would definitely affect her takeaway. I also wonder about people who work part-time and get other government benefits, such as Medicaid or health care subsidies. If they’re suddenly making more, will they lose some other benefits?
What qualities do you think make you a good candidate?
I think I will be a good Legislator because I’m very thoughtful about things. I tend to ponder a lot, maybe that’s my training as a writer. I’ve held many jobs, traveled extensively, and worked with such a variety of people in my life; that has made me a strong woman. Mostly, I am deeply committed to my community. I’ve lived in District 12 for 14 years and I have built my life and raised my family here. I love this place and want to serve.
Featured image provided.