ITHACA, N.Y. — The Ithaca Voice published hundred of local stories this year, and it’s hard to whittle down the list of top stories as every story is impactful in a small community. These stories we settled on below are a look at what issues were most read and most discussed.

Crime, Courts & Criminal Justice

At the beginning of the year, the Voice started off with an in-depth look at crime data for Ithaca in 2018. For a fifth year, crime decreased (note this is 2017 data). But despite the overall downward trend in crime, violent crimes in Ithaca rose slightly. You can see the number of crimes in the context of about three decades of data in the article here.

Despite the trend of crimes falling, the perception of crime locally and nationally does not match that trend, as the Voice explores in the above article. Though overall crime is down, 2019 was marked with some major violent crimes, including the recent fatal shooting in Newfield; a shooting on a morning in Downtown Ithaca; and a fatal stabbing on Lake Street. Police are still searching for suspects in all of these crimes.

Last week, an Ithaca police officer was attacked in the lobby of IPD headquarters on Dec. 21. The suspect, Michael DeCastro, 57, of Ithaca, was killed.

In Tompkins County Court, Tompkins County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Walters was found not guilty on all charges by a jury after facing trial for charges of rape and sexual abuse. Two cases that drew close public attention this year were those of Rose DeGroat and Cadji Ferguson, who were charged after an altercation on the Ithaca Commons. Charges for both were dismissed. Also in court news, Seth Peacock was named new Ithaca City Court Judge as Scott Miller was elected county judge.

Demonstration held in front of Tompkins County Courthouse on Friday September 20, 2019. Photo by Jacob Mroczek

The Ithaca Police Department also has a new police chief this year, Dennis Nayor, after the retirement of Pete Tyler.

The Ithaca Voice also covered the nationally watched trial of a group known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7. Longtime Ithaca resident Clare Grady was one of the seven facing federal charges after taking part in a demonstration at the Kings Bay nuclear submarine base in April 2018. Read coverage of the trial here, including a special section of letters, and a profile of Clare Grady here.

A crowd gathers in front of the courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia. (Provided Photo)

The Ithaca Voice also published a special series in collaboration with The Chronicle of Social Change on the early impacts of Raise the Age legislation in New York. The legislation, passed in October 2018, requires defendants aged 16 and under are placed in juvenile facilities. And in October, the law expanded to include 17-year-olds. Here are the stories:

Local Government & Education

After New York passed legislation eliminating the religious exemptions to school vaccine requirements, the Voice looked at the local impact. We found that about 26,000 students across the state were impacted, and 280 were in Tompkins County.

One of the most-discussed and debated pieces of legislation is whether Ithaca should allow e-scooters on its streets. As the Voice recently reported, that debate will have to carry into 2020 after Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation.

Lime e-scooters in Oakland, CA (Devon Magliozzi/Ithaca Voice)

New Roots Charter School was placed on probation by the SUNY Board of Trustees Charter School Committee after multiple violations of its charter agreement. The school is now on a remedial action plan to bring them back into compliance after not meeting the terms of its charter due to “low enrollment, fiscal mismanagement and admitting students outside of the permissible grade range.”

In a local election this November, Svante Myrick was re-elected as Ithaca mayor and several members of Common Council were re-elected after facing a last-minute write-in campaign by Sunrise Movement candidates. See the full results here.

After much discussion and debate, Seneca Street will be the new home for intercity bus company, OurBus. Read the latest on that story here.

Amid a local housing crisis, Tompkins County got approval this year to spend local dollars on affordable housing.

Svante Myrick proposed a Green New Deal for Ithaca this year, which outlines local measures to address climate change. It calls for the city to be carbon neutral by 2030 and for city operations to meet energy needs with renewable energy sources by 2025. To get started on the Green New Deal, the city put aside about $35,000 and created a sustainability coordinator position.

Hundreds of students gathered on the Ithaca Commons for a climate strike in September. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Local government and development are often intertwined. If you want a recap on some of the most important stories in local development, be sure to read the five biggest development stories.

Features, Good News & Off-beat Stories

To end this list of top stories, the Voice would like to share a few features our reporters found inspiring, uplifting, or just interesting.

Earlier this month, we shared the story of an Ithaca mom who stayed strong through a diagnosis of cancer while pregnant. She found immense support in a local, online support group.

File this under the “interesting” category. Our reporter went to visit a haunted old home in Brooktondale. Paranormal investigators from the Travel Channel show Ghost Nation visited the old Speed family home built in 1850. What’s so spooky about it? Be sure to save this long read.

Though it came close to closing a couple of years ago, Buffalo Street Books had positive news to report this fall. Thanks to community support, the bookstore has seen a “steady upward trend in sales” and is looking forward to the future.

On the subject of literacy, the Tompkins County Public Library eliminated fines this year. “What it really is is a movement,” Library Director Annette Birdsall said. “It’s libraries recognizing that this is a social equity issue, that fines have become a privilege and they — not only do they not work — they actually encourage people to keep materials longer if they can afford it. If you can afford it, you pay your fines, you don’t feel guilty and you support the library. We love people to support the library. We don’t love that it was a privilege and that people who couldn’t afford fines stopped using the library altogether.”

An Ithaca toy shop went the extra 500 miles to replace a 5-year-old child’s lost crocodile this summer.

Katie Austin and Greta Perl at Alphabet Soup. (Devon Magliozzi/Ithaca Voice)

Bool’s brightened the day of many passersby when it gave out bouquets to strangers one day in October. Flower shop owner Doreen Culver-Foss said she wanted to put a smile on people’s faces, and it was also a way for the shop to celebrate 125 years in business.

This year, the Cancer Resource Center celebrated 25 years in the community and had a very successful annual Walkathon and 5K. Marilee Murphy, who is CRC’s executive director, said after the event, “It’s the most heartwarming, inspiring experience to have the community come out that way … We just cannot do what we do without the community support.”

Ithaca has many murals and there are stories behind all of them. In October, the Ithaca Voice shared the story of a new one at the corner of Seneca and Geneva streets. It was designed by a group of teens who wanted to share their families’ journeys as refugees from Burma to Ithaca.

An Ithaca High School graduate and members of the GIAC Navigators program, represented her community, state and country at this year’s Pan American Under-20 Athletic Championships. She brought home a bronze medal and shared her story to inspire youth now in the Navigators program.

A time capsule recovered from the Old Library building was opened this year after 50 years buried. Here’s a look at what was inside.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.