ITHACA, N.Y.—Three new candidates have declared for Common Council, taking the unusual step of announcing as a contingent under the Solidarity Slate tag. Shaniya Foster, Phoebe Brown and George DeFendini will vie for the seats representing Wards 1, 2 and 4 in Ithaca, respectively.
The newly formed Solidarity Slate has created a website to present its goals and vision, putting forth an ambitious 10-plank set of campaign initiatives, which they said will continue to evolve and expand through development and collaboration with the community.
The 10 issues the slate presented are: dignity and systemic justice for Black and Brown people, quality housing as a human right, taxing Cornell more heavily, dignity for LGBTQ people through anti-discrimination laws, free public transportation (potentially through the repurposing of Ithaca Police Department funds and vehicles), city-funded childcare centers throughout Ithaca, following through on the Ithaca Green New Deal, inclusion in democracy (such as enacting laws that would allow voting rights for undocumented immigrants and those who are incarcerated), justice for workers through additional anti-discrimination laws and pushing for a higher minimum wage statewide, and focusing on community organizing outside of elected office.
Foster, who also goes by Niya, is a 24 year old Ithaca native and lists herself as a “musician, poet, survivor, strong multi racial woman and proudly queer mother of three.” She has been heavily involved in Mutual Aid Tompkins, a Facebook-based group that has been very active since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, connecting people to resources and even accumulating those resources themselves.
With that group, Foster said she has organized donation drives to the Free Food Cabinets and the free gift economy. She was furloughed from her job as a Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) Ambassador, doing community outreach work, due to the coronavirus pandemic, but said her experiences there made her realize some of the inequalities that the transportation system can exacerbate. Additionally, her lived experienced as a single mother pushed her to include free daycare as part of her platform.
“My vision is an Ithaca where all people—and especially people of color and low-income people—make enough to feed their families, don’t have to fear eviction or live in seriously uninhabitable apartment conditions, and have outstanding daycare facilities,” she said. “We can walk the streets without fearing harassment or racism at the hands of the police, free from slumlording and racial segregation, where we confront colorism and where we can have autonomy over our workplaces, homes and health.”
Brown is the most well-known name of the group of candidates, having made her name as a community activist for years locally, most recently in spring 2020 as the George Floyd protests persisted nationwide and in Ithaca. She currently works as the Central Regional Coordinator for Alliance of Families for Justice, where she “supports, empowers and mobilizes families of incarcerated people and people with criminal records to marshal their voting power and advocacy skills for systemic change.”
Her candidate platform states that Brown has “worked ceaselessly to secure access to resources for marginalized communities and to create a resilient Ithaca that prioritizes strong relationships and healthy neighborhoods.” She continued that her understanding of local institutions, many of which she has worked with on behalf of marginalized populations, would aid her in serving the Second Ward.
“I believe I can listen to my community to bring their voices to Common Council,” she said.
The youngest of the three candidates is DeFendini, a 21 year-old Cornell student who is vying to represent the Fourth Ward, which includes Collegetown. He also goes by Jorge. Hailing from Queens, DeFendini was born to Puerto Rican parents and witnessed the impacts of gentrification and low-income living during his upbringing.
“Since then, his politics have been guided by his understanding of the need to pass legislation that takes ambitious action to combat climate change, establishing that housing is a human right, and opposing the expansion of a police state that institutionalizes violence and low-income communities and communities of color,” according to the announcement.
In his announcement, DeFendini deems himself a Democratic Socialist and touts a belief in the power of working people, highlighted by his belief that renters should lead housing policy since they make up the vast majority of residents of Ithaca. He also specifically endorsed the defund the police movement, stating that money should instead go toward making local childcare and transit free.
“The answer isn’t a leader, it’s a movement,” he said.