ITHACA, N.Y. –– After just shy of a decade-long career as a Common Council member representing the Third Ward, Alderperson Donna Fleming announced that she will not be seeking reelection in 2021.

“It will have been 10 years at the end of 2021,” Fleming said in an interview with the Ithaca Voice.And I just feel like that’s sufficient time both for the city and for myself, for me to switch to some other interest or activity and for somebody else to take up the seat. I think that in a good, strong, functioning democracy, there has to be some rotation and it’s not like I’m sick of the job or anything like that.”

Fleming said that her original motivation for joining council was her love for the community and want to be involved.

“I’ve tried to be involved in the community ever since we moved here in 1986. I mean, I started volunteering at the women’s community building. Way back then. I volunteered for Planned Parenthood, for the Ithaca community chorus, for the Belle Sherman PTA and then the high school PTA. I was president of the high school PTA. I was president of the Civic Association. So for me, it was a natural path of community and public service and it was the logical next step for me.”

During her tenure on council, Fleming has held a steady interest in local development—she currently serves on the Planning and Economic Development Committee –– and some of her proudest accomplishments have been in that arena.

“I’m very proud of serving on the task force that developed the legislation to create the sidewalk improvement districts and to assess the sidewalk fee from all property owners such that all property owners are responsible for paying into this sidewalk fund,” Fleming said. “And so we’ve got miles of new sidewalk and repaired sidewalks throughout the city now from this program that I’m pretty sure is unique, at least in New York State.”

In addition to her accomplishments in terms of legislation, Fleming said she is proud of the culture she has contributed to on council.

“I’m also proud of the kind of the style or demeanor that I think I’ve developed, and that is that I would like to set an example for rational and respectful public discourse. And sure, I fail now and then, but that’s my goal, because particularly since Trump was elected and politics has gotten so divisive and so ugly, I would like for at least in this teeny, tiny bit of the universe, for there to be elected officials who deserve respect and who set an example for how to disagree respectfully,” Fleming said. “So I think I have contributed to that ethos on Common Council, and I’m very proud of that.”

There is still a year left for Ithaca Alderpersons, and Fleming added that she still has goals she is looking forward to accomplishing, or at least goals she wants to put in front of council for future consideration.

“I’d like to I hope that we can focus a little bit as a as a city government on developing opportunities for employment and for economic development outside of hospitality, tourism and education. And I guess that would be tech or light manufacturing. I don’t really know,” she said. “I think we saw in the last nine months that you’ve got to be careful about expanding your economy based on hospitality and tourism. It’s not good. So I don’t think we can do it in a year, but I think we have to shift our focus away from that and more towards how can we help Ithacans develop skills that will allow them to have stable jobs that will afford allow them to have incomes on which they can support themselves consistently.”

She added that in addition, she would like to implement a plain language policy for the city resolutions.

“I think resolutions should be written in a clear, simple style,” Fleming said. 

As for who will be next to represent the 3rd Ward, Fleming said she hopes whoever may be even marginally interested consider getting involved.

“Mostly it just takes a willingness to take a risk and do it with a sense of humor and a good attitude and some respect, that’s all,” she said. “I hope that citizens are interested in serving in local government. There’s so many opportunities, not only serving as an elected official—and Common Council is just one way…It’s a great way to get to know one’s community and one’s neighbors and to become educated. And so I really would like to promote a more active participation in local government.”

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com