Letter to the editor.
This is a letter to the editor from Sujata Gibson, candidate for New York State Assembly District 125. To submit opinion letters, please review our letters policy here and submit them to Managing Editor Thomas Giery Pudney at tgpudney@ithacavoice.com.

My focus as a legal scholar is analyzing how change is made. Major change in favor of the people does not occur because of effective power-brokering or coalition building. Major legislative change happens because people are in the streets demanding it until legislators feel enough pressure to deviate from the status quo.

I’m running for the 125th District Assembly seat because we are in a moment where we need major change.

This moment is ripe. The streets are filled with people. We are saying with every fiber of our beings – enough. Institutionalized racism is a cancer. It is killing our nation’s soul along with black and brown people’s bodies.

Simultaneously, our economy is crashing, showing starkly how decades of trickle-down economics failed us. These two problems are connected.

Now is not the time for timid reforms. We have the momentum to dismantle our broken systems and build a government that serves the people, not the elite.

I know how to work with this momentum to achieve the change we need. I’ve been fighting David and Goliath battles my whole career. As the attorney for We Are Seneca Lake, I helped stop big oil’s plan to make our region the “fracked gas capital of the northeast.” I’ve organized dozens of unions. I’ve fought big fish, big banks and big corporations – often successfully. And I speak truth to power, even when it costs me.

Many of my opponents are in positions to make change but choose not to rock the boat. When Anna Kelles ran for her seat on the Tompkins county legislature her number one issue was corruption around the Old Library development. She promised to radically reform the tax abatements in Tompkins County. Five years later, she hasn’t done anything to fix the broken abatement system. The bulk of our resources still go to high end luxury developers. Anna refused to even speak up – emailing us that she is a “public figure now and can’t take sides” when the Old Library development got an extended tax abatement. It offers us no local jobs and no affordable housing. The legislature oversees the IDA – taking a position is Anna’s job. Seph Murtaugh has been just as complicit – after voting for a resolution to tie abatement recommendations to affordable housing, he went out of his way to fight for a loophole to justify the City’s unlawful endorsement for the abatement.

We spent $10 million over budget in Tompkins County to build a new airport terminal, exclusively for private planes. Anna Kelles raved about the project in the press without discussing if that money could be better spent on all of the people who can’t afford to fly anywhere (much less on a Lear Jet). Or talking about what it means to invite homeland security and customs enforcement into our midst. 

At the start of the pandemic, Seph’s and Anna’s first priorities were to push through a controversial conference center that in the best of times will need to be subsidized $200,000/year by taxpayers. Projections about how this will trickle-down into money in our community were criticized as unsubstantiated and overly optimistic even before the pandemic hit. The conference center requires cutting 55 units of affordable housing.

At the Black Town Hall, all the candidates in this race agreed budgets are moral documents. Seph said funding Southside was his priority. A few days before, he’d voted to revoke $23,000 in funding, most of which was promised to Southside, and simultaneously to purchase a $250,000 new accounting system instead.

If budgets are moral documents, what do these choices tell us?

We have a rare chance in 2020 to make real change. My record shows that I can withstand the pressure and fight for this change. If you know we need more, I need your vote on June 23rd.

Sujata Gibson

Candidate for New York State Assembly District 125