ITHACA, N.Y. — Tompkins County Legislature Candidate Keith Hannon is running on the Cayuga United and Independence Party lines.
Hannon said he has always had a passion for politics. He is an Ithaca College alumnus and though he went to Los Angeles after graduation, when he and his wife were having a child, they decided to move back to Tompkins County because they were committed “to the idea that this community has the values and the quality of life we wanted for our children.”
District 5 includes the Town of Ulysses and portions of the towns of Enfield and Ithaca.
Ithaca Voice Report Kelsey O’Connor spoke with Hannon about why he’s running and what he would like to accomplish.
Why are you running for Tompkins County Legislature?
After seven years being a resident here, I think the 2016 political season — I’m not even counting Donald Trump, even before Donald Trump — it was clear it was pushing us all to really examine all political structures and even at the local level and take a really good look in the mirror and say you know are we are we doing the best we can? Are we getting complacent with how we govern? Are we pushing new ideas or are we being innovative in local government? Are we communicating local government? So many people don’t care about their local government.
Why is that? I would argue because there’s no really thorough attempts to engage the public at local politics. You can make information available if they want to find it. I think a more proactive communication approach is really important. So those are the kinds of things that really got me thinking about running and certainly some more progressive issues I thought you know we have a really progressive reputation here. But you know overuses maybe that word progressive has become. I think it still means something. And I think there’s still elements of our county where we could use a little bit more progressive thinking within local government. The trick with progressivism is it really has to be backed up with a plan where it can exist and succeed within the political system.
So what kind of skills and background do you have to translate that into being a legislator – putting some of these progressive ideas into action?
Being in communications my whole life really has taught me how you take important and sometimes sophisticated concepts and translate them to an audience to engage them in those things. It’s really hard to get things done in government if you’re not recruiting support from your fellow legislators, in this case, but also public support is a huge thing. If you want to move the needle on some issues and some policies, you need both of those things.
And I think that comes from being able to communicate a message that maybe people don’t always understand and engage them in a way that makes it comprehensible.
I think it’s also important, like I said, to be able to communicate and collaborate with people that disagree with you. That’s hugely important and I think when you’re working in communications for years and day in and day out you’re constantly running into different opinions on how to talk about things whether it’s in your office or with your audience. One of the huge things is learning that to be a good communicator, you have to be a good listener. Listening is hugely important for someone in government. Too often we see elected officials who have their opinions but who don’t always have their ears open. And that frustrates people. And I think that’s hurt people in the whole democratic process. People don’t feel listened to.
….I also got into this because I felt like there’s an occasion for local government too excited about what’s happening at the national level. I would really aim to really focus on bettering life here in the county. I guess that was a major motivation for running. I have a young family, I see a lot of young families, affordability problems, housing problems. I really want to just make sure the eye is on the things we can have the most impact with.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing Tompkins County?
Well you’d be hard pressed to not talk about housing. But as big of an issue as it is, it would be improper of me to say that there aren’t a ton of people working on it, right? For me to say like I’m gonna come in and do something about housing … so this issue’s out there. Talented people are working on it, they’re working hard on it.
With regards to housing, I’m going to take it back to the communication aspect because what I’ve learned being up in Trumansburg and being actively involved in trying to build support for a housing project up there that I think could be very beneficial. …
What I’ve witnessed a little bit while they were trying to build the Hancock Square project is that when it comes to housing, a county with a housing problem can’t have a problem with housing, and so if we really have a housing problem, we get zoning cleared and we get a good proposal in but then everybody in the neighborhood’s against it, it really makes it difficult to fix the housing problem. So the more we can be really proactive with housing and I know we’ve had housing summits and we’ve done some stuff like that, but the first thought we have that a neighborhood might be a good spot to put a housing project, we’ve got to be out communicating with that neighborhood and sitting down at the table with them, making them feel like they’re part of the process and listening.
Neighbors, residents want to be heard. If you’re going to drop a housing project in the neighborhood they want to feel like they’re heard that they’re part of you know the planning in a way and how it’s going to impact their community and that will have a tremendous impact on them. So housing is certainly a major issue. I think transportation is a big issue.
Cornell’s upping their commitment to TCAT. I think that’s really important. And now we have a bit of a debate with ride sharing, which I’m really conflicted on. I’ve made it very clear that I don’t think, certainly Uber is not a company I’m fond of for many of their practices.
Lyft I would say is a little bit better in some ways. But I know people like to talk about its Cornell roots. I think as we talk about housing, everything kind of links up.
You can’t go build affordable housing complexes in Trumansburg or Lansing and not have an efficient transportation system for people to get to jobs and get to work unless you’re just going to build businesses up in those places, but that’s probably a little less likely.
Do you think there are any voices or communities that are underrepresented in Tompkins County in terms of Legislature?
Our underrepresented populations are always in need of more representation. That’s pretty clear. Another thing that really pushed me to run when I was looking at bodies to run for, I looked at them all – school board, town board, village board – one thing that really stuck out to me at the Legislature level is by my count there was only three people out who had children in schools out of 14. It’s an older group. It’s an older governing body. When you look at a lot of people’s frustrations with education … when you look at things like housing and living wage, these are issues that really impact young families but not to say that the people on the Legislature are not sympathetic to young families. But buying a house, paying for daycare, paying for groceries, these things come with a lot more stress now in the last five, 10 years, then they did 20, 30 years ago when maybe some people were going through that.
I think as we debate some of these economic issues and social issues, having the perspective of people that have multiple mortgages because they have a house and daycare payments, and the stress that comes with that in a county that’s becoming increasingly expensive and hard to afford. Not to mention we’re seeing, it’s gradual, but there’s about a 13-year decline in our county in the 25 to 44 population. And I think the affordability and some other issues are a big part of that. So I would really put it on myself to kind of try to be a voice from experience … for that population in hopes of finding ways to turn that curve around.
Featured image by Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice