TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Six Tompkins County legislators have announced jointly that they will seek re-election this year, almost all of whom were part of the wave of turnover that came to the Tompkins County Legislature during the 2017 elections.
That turnover was a result of intense interest in the legislature races stemming from the previous year’s presidential election, and yielded five new legislators on the 14-person board. Now, Shawna Black, Deborah Dawson, Henry Granison, Dan Klein (the only multiple term legislator declaring reelection so far), Amanda Champion and Anne Koreman have all come forward this week to declare their candidacies to maintain their positions.
The Ithaca Voice sent a brief questionnaire to each candidate who declared for re-election, trying to gauge their priorities, their time on the legislature so far and what they want to see pushed to the forefront of the coronavirus pandemic recovery this year.
Shawna Black – District 11
Black’s work since entering the legislature has centered on her position as the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, a post she assumed as soon as she took office.
She said her main focuses this year in that capacity would be facilitating the ongoing public safety reform process, which is continuing at both the city and county levels, as well as nursing the local economy back to health and maintaining support for affordable housing development locally.
Testing funding, which just received another positive vote in HHS, and expanding the contact tracing staff were two items she named as important work she had done since the coronavirus began, and will likely still be relevant topics moving forward even as the vaccine becomes more available.
“I’ve been very proud of the way Tompkins County has worked with its partners,” she said of the pandemic. “We have continuous communications with the hospital, doctor’s offices, school districts, colleges, local businesses, and non-profit organizations. We are very fortunate to live in an area that has a community hospital that is willing to serve the people and work as a team with our health department. It’s this successful partnership that will allow us to be the leader in the state for delivering vaccines. Obviously the vaccine won’t fix all of our problems (…) However, as we start to feel more comfortable and safer in our environment—we should see our economy slowly get better.”
Deborah Dawson – District 10
Dawson views future green jobs programs as a pillar of the coronavirus pandemic recovery in Tompkins County and something that should only take on increased importance and urgency as the county tries to recover economically. Overall, though, she admitted that the ability of the county to recover depends on action at higher levels of government.
“It goes without saying that the degree to which the county will have adequate resources to address the socioeconomic aftermath of the pandemic will depend very much on the degree to which Washington and Albany provide us with fiscal assistance,” she said. “We may be facing a tsunami of evictions, foreclosures, and homelessness when the various state-imposed moratoria expire. All I can tell you at this point is that we will do our best to address those challenges as they arise.”
In that same vein, she cited her work with local labor on the Climate and Sustainable Energy Advisory Board as her most significant contribution since entering the legislature, emphasizing an important recent achievement: the Green Workforce Development Report, which has so far resulted in local labor gaining one spot at the table for Industrial Development Agency decisions. That could theoretically provide local organized laborers with a larger presence in area construction projects, a constant complaints of unions in Ithaca and Tompkins County.
Dawson will also be chairing the county’s budget committee this year, acknowledging that it will be another “fiscally challenging year.”
Henry Granison – District 3
Like others, Granison highlighted the public safety reform process as his top priority in the coming year.
“We have been collecting vast amounts of information regarding people’s thoughts about possible changes to public safety,” Granison said. “We have heard from people a wide range of suggestions which go from defunding the police to reform the police force to handle matters which only call for armed officers. The report we create will hopefully set the stage for how public safety is maintained in our county for years to come.”
The coronavirus influenced his most significant contribution to the legislature, as he helped prepare and assemble the 2021 budget during autumn last year. This was an arduous process, he said, as cuts were necessary to make sure that no employees were laid off heading into the new fiscal year. Conversely, spending increases were needed for things like COVID-19 testing funding, which has been crucial to keeping the tests free for county residents.
Granison further said that vaccination delivery is the most important short-term issue of the pandemic recovery, particularly with convincing the crowd locally that doesn’t trust vaccinations, for one reason or another.
Dan Klein – District 7
Klein has long been one of the loudest environmentalist voices on the legislature, and he intends to continue that work this year. Among his most important accomplishments since joining the legislature, in his mind, are working to enhance transparency, expanding the South Hill Recreation Trail and utilizing the county land acquisition fund.
“I am looking to cement into place a county police to stop the logging plan currently in place for the 550 acres of land the county owns, and to allow it to mature into old-growth forest,” he said, adhering to his environmentalist roots when talking about his non-COVID priorities.
He also said he’d be pushing for the hiring of more staff to work at the Health Department, even temporarily, and that to do so the county should be ready to dip into its rainy day fund instead of raising taxes.
Amanda Champion – District 12
Similar to Klein, Champion said she believes her most significant work she has done during her time on the legislature has been environmentally related: an approved policy that stops the county from using “disposable/single-use plastic and styrofoam items like water bottles, dishes and utensils” for county operations. That comes with her additional focus on the aforementioned labor seat on the IDA and pushing for funding of the Community Outreach Worker program, which was almost cut by the coutny this,
Champion noted the difficulty that the vaccine rollout could pose, especially in light of the relationship necessary between state and local officials—one that has already proven rocky at times.
“Because the state process of distribution is changing every day, county government must work closely with the state as it rolls out the vaccine,” she said. “We must continue to provide COVID tests to everyone who wants one, and make sure everyone is vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. I see my role as a conduit between county operations and the needs of the public. This is such a challenging time for so many, and my goal is to help the people of Tompkins County.”
Anne Koreman – District 5
Hoping to take advantage of what appears to be an opening for racial justice progress around the country, Koreman said she wants to focus, in part, on working with the county’s new Chief Equity and Diversity Officer “to make substantive improvements in TC’s policies and practices.” That includes aiming to examine each step taken with an eye towards amplifying equity and diversity and elevating it to the same important as the legislature’s financial responsibilities to constituents.
Koreman also reiterated the need for federal economic assistance to relieve some of the burden on local governments, particularly when it comes to the individual impacts on workers.
“A silver lining of the pandemic is that I have had a chance to reevaluate my priorities and in the coming year I will make sure TC’s sustainability goals are at the forefront; the Arctic Ice did not take a pause on melting,” Koreman said. “I will make sure we continue to electrify our vehicle fleet, retrofit our current buildings to be as energy efficient as possible, and ensure many of our employees can continue to work from home.”