ITHACA, N.Y. –– After serving for more than 20 years, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, the Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature, will not be running for re-election this year.
In an interview with the Ithaca Voice, McBean-Clairborne said she will be stepping down to allow another community member to serve.
“It’s a hard decision for me. But after 20 years, I think it’s time to step off and allow someone else the opportunity to serve in this incredibly high-esteem position as a legislator,” McBean-Clairborne said. “I loved the learning that I experienced on the legislature, I loved being able to represent people. And we need to allow opportunities for others, to bring their experiences and their new energy.”
McBean-Clairborne represents the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County’s 2nd legislative district. She’s been a resident of Ithaca for more than 26 years. She was first elected in 2001 and served as vice-chair from 2006 to 2009. In February of 2020, she was elected as chair, becoming the first woman of color to lead the Tompkins County legislature. She was unanimously re-elected for a second term earlier this year.
Within the legislature, McBean-Clairborne chairs the Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Public Safety Committee.
During her speech after being elected chair in 2020, she noted the increased diversity on the legislature, saying “50 percent of this body are now women, 50 percent now hold progressive values. There have been an increase in people that hold jobs and report to someone else. And there was a 50 percent increase in women that have children, as I do.”
For the past 5 years, McBean-Clairborne has also served as executive director of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC). She said her work with GIAC directly informed her policies and issues she advocated for.
“The platform that GIAC operates from—the foundation of which are racial and economic justice issues—is what fueled my experiences that I brought to the legislature,” McBean-Clairborne said. “As a body, we also talk about those things in the legislature and how important it is for us to provide the safety net services to those who are most marginalized and disenfranchised in our community, those who are living in the condition of poverty.”
She also said that her personal experiences as somebody affected by housing insecurity in the past informed her legislation.
“(The legislature’s focus on) diversity and inclusion has informed decisions around transportation and housing. Affordable, quality housing, low income housing, so folks can continue to live in the county and have transportation,” McBean-Clairborne said. “I came onto that legislation. I brought that experience—and I know there were others who did as well—as someone who got housing vouchers, Section 8. You know, that was me, someone who understands what it was to not have a home for a few days or a couple of weeks.”
McBean-Clairborne brought up concerns about representation in the legislature, and says she hopes diversity and inclusion will expand.
“You can’t live in a vacuum and serve in political office. You have to be involved in the community, you have to understand what’s making the community tick and what’s making them ill,” she said. “Because often, I think that people before me and others who were tapped to serve in these policy making bodies that impact our lives, are people who didn’t have jobs or who (are) independently wealthy. And that’s not good representation. For me, representation should include people from all walks of life.”
All seats on the legislature will be up for reelection, with voting taking place later this year. There will also be a special election on March 23 to fill the District Two Legislature seat recently vacated by Anna Kelles, who was elected as a New York State Assemblywoman. Legislator Martha Robertson announced this week that she too will be stepping down, making two long-term legislator seats now up for grabs.
After her tenure on the legislature ends, McBean-Clairborne said she’ll continue her work with GIAC and spend time with family.
“It’s gonna be a hard one for me. So I haven’t been able to think about what’s next, besides putting a lot more of my time and energy into GIAC, and paying attention to my family,” she said. “I have a 14 year old who’s a freshman in high school, and I think it’s time for me to give her my time. Being there a lot more for her is important for me, and then figuring out what’s next.”