ITHACA, N.Y. — After struggling to come to a consensus on matters of leadership in 2020, the Tompkins County Legislature voted on Tuesday to name Leslyn McBean-Clairborne chair — marking the first time a woman of color has lead the legislature in Tompkins County history.

The move comes 11 days after County Clerk Maureen Reynolds selected Shawna Black (D-Town of Ithaca) to fill the vacancy, as outlined in the county charter.

An emotional McBean-Clairborne expressed gratitude to her colleagues, as she said she struggled with the decision over the last couple of weeks. She said she was ultimately convinced the time was right after recent changes she has witnessed in Tompkins County government.

“As confident as I am in everything I do, I found this decision to be particularly intimidating. Although I still have my own doubts, the last two years began to present new possibilities. I took very careful stock of the changes happening in this body. As Ann said, 50% of this body are now women, 50% now hold progressive values. There have been an increase in people that hold jobs and report to someone else. And there was a 50% increase in women that have children, as I do,” said McBean-Clairborne, speaking for the first time as chair. “Taking all of those things into consideration, I began to feel like I was in good company. Like I wasn’t the only one that had those issues to take into consideration. The possibility for me seemed even more reachable.”

County Legislators cast their votes. Leslyn McBean-Clairborne was named chair of the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday evening. Thomas Giery Pudney/The Ithaca Voice

McBean-Clairborne, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1989, has been a resident of Ithaca for more than 25 years. She was first elected to the legislature in 2001 and served as vice-chair from 2006 to 2009. She is the Executive Director of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and has worked with an array of charities and non-profits locally. She has earned a master’s of business administration as well as two bachelor’s degrees in K-12 education and in intercultural communication/adult education.

Legislators Shawna Black, Anne Koreman, Rich John, Martha Robertson, Anna Kelles, McBean-Clairborne and the three Republicans on the legislature — Dave McKenna, Glenn Morey and Mike Sigler — all voting in favor, as McBean-Clairborne carried the vote 9 to 5. Legislators Amanda Champion, Deborah Dawson, Henry Granison, Dan Klein and Mike Lane voting for Lane for chair.

The year began with Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) at the helm. After several deadlocked votes between Mike Lane (D-Dryden) and Anna Kelles (D-City of Ithaca) for chair, the county clerk selected Shawna Black.

The calculus changed over the last two weeks, as Anna Kelles announced that she would seek the 125th Assembly District seat being vacated at the end of the year by the retiring Barbara Lifton, withdrawing from consideration for chair.

Shawna Black, who thanked her colleagues for the opportunity at the open of the chair vote, was selected to serve as vice-chair, as she did in 2019, by a vote of 13 to 1, with Rich John (D-City of Ithaca) voting against.