TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Tompkins County was recently authorized to add a third county court judge, and with only a few months until the election, the race for who will fill that seat got underway quickly. But in a joint letter issued Monday night, the two Democratic candidates — Ithaca City Court Judge Scott Miller and Lansing Judge Maura Kennedy-Smith — came to a decision to “promote unity in the Democratic Party and do what is best for our community.” In the letter, they said Kennedy-Smith will step back from the race.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially signed legislation that will allow Tompkins County to add a third county judge, the first in nearly 60 years, on June 25. A third judge will help move cases through the court system faster. In addition to general criminal cases, judges also oversee specialized courts like Family Court, Integrated Domestic Violence Court and Drug Treatment Court.
Voters will choose the next county judge in the general election on Nov. 5 for a 10-year term. The Tompkins County Democratic Committee had been planning to host a candidate forum on July 22 and advance a party nominee by the July 25 filing deadline. Independent nominations to fill the seat are due July 10.
Miller and Kennedy-Smith both announced they were running for the county seat, but in a letter Monday signed by both, they said Kennedy-Smith would drop out, leaving Miller the sole Democratic candidate.
In the letter, they said they met “as close friends and colleagues” in a mutual friend’s kitchen to discuss the best way to move forward.
“We are both busy working parents,” they wrote. “We both love the law and love our work. Neither of us want to be politicians. Our young children only get one summer of 2019. We would like to spend our time with them rather than running against each other. To that end, we had an honest and collaborative conversation.”
They concluded, “While we came to this race with different backgrounds, interests, and strengths, we believe both of us would do an excellent job and are highly qualified to sit on the bench. We discussed this decision at length and we both agree this is the best way, given the circumstances, to move forward. In the end, we are both judges. When the law reflects the values of our community, everyone wins. We are writing this, unified, so everyone will win, now and in the future.”
On his campaign Facebook page, Miller says if elected he pledges to: “make our community safer through long-term treatment solutions rather than short-term punishment; issue fair, unbiased, and legally sound decisions; give people who appear before me – victims, defendants, parents, children – the opportunity to be heard, and I will listen to their stories.” He has been Ithaca City Court Judge since 2013 and has 18 years of courtroom experience as an attorney. He also helped found the county’s first mental health treatment court, which recently got underway.
Read the full letter below: