ENFIELD, N.Y. –– On Saturday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m., the Tompkins County Democratic Committee held a forum for Vanessa Greenlee and Robert Lynch, two candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to represent County District 8 in the Tompkins County legislature, in advance of the Democratic primary on June 22.

The forum was held via Zoom and streamed on YouTube. The forum allowed each candidate to give a three-minute opening statement, gave them one and a half minutes to answer each question, and ended with them making two-minute closing statements; Marc Sadovnic kept track of the time and raised signs to warn the candidates when they were short on time.

Dave Bock, who moderated the debate, compiled questions for candidates based off input from residents. Topics included economics, commmunity and public health.

Greenlee, who works in agriculture managing projects related to food security and climate change introduced herself first –– recalling her upbringing in rural Southern Appalachia and how that has impacted her views on immigration and race relations. She said she learned Spanish when she was young because her father taught her “to meet people where they are and talk to them in their own language.”

Lynch introduced himself second as having been well versed in local government –– he was a  news reporter in the 1970s when the legislature was known as the Board of Representatives.  He said he wanted to return the Tompkins County legislature to its roots when it comes to transparency, saying that it holds too many closed meetings.

Lynch described himself as a centrist like President Joe Biden, as well as a former Republican who supported John McCain in the 2000 Republican presidential primary. He said he is not an activist, but that he is what he calls an “inclusionist” who believes in representing the people.

“Activists outside the government are good,” Lynch said. “They can move mountains. They can, like Martin Luther King did, they can help eliminate racial discrimination. But when they get into the powers of government, they can try to drag people along to their own particular ideology. I want to try to avoid that.”

Both candidates on top of being Democrats have additional party nominations –– Greenlee has the Working Families nomination, while Lynch has the Independent nomination Despite this, Greenlee said that she will not continue in the race if she fails to obtain the Democratic nomination. Lynch said he favors a “jungle” primary like California, in which voters can choose any candidate regardless of affiliation, with the top two proceeding to the general election, but encouraged Greenlee to continue regardless of the outcome.

And moving right along into the issues, both were asked about a living wage. Lynch stated that  he is aware of how severe an issue poverty is in Newfield, having volunteered at the food pantry. He said that raising the minimum wage could be counterproductive if other counties did not follow suit, as it could result in jobs being lost to adjacent counties.

“You can’t raise the minimum wage so high that businesses stop hiring and start firing, because then nobody makes much money,” Lynch said.

Greenlee described the living wage as a state-level issue, and that the county instituting a living wage requirement for county-affiliated positions was a good first step. She said that in order to understand poverty, it was important to consider the complete package of each household’s expenses, especially health care.

“When a family’s spending between 25 and 30 percent of its income on health insurance, something’s not right,” Greenlee said.

Both proudly touted the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lynch praised the efforts of medical professionals, contact tracers and those administering the vaccines. He said that he does not want people to think of the vaccine as being political or something that would harm them.

“The sooner we get everybody vaccinated- Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, independents, conspiracy theorists, I don’t care,” Lynch said, “the sooner we get everyone vaccinated, the sooner we can get on with our life and stop living our life under the bed because we can’t live it that way much longer.”

Greenlee said she is proud of how Tompkins County has the fifth highest vaccination rate in the state, and expressed her hope to vaccinate children before the start of the school year. She said that she hopes to have more rural locations for COVID testing and vaccination for the next pandemic.

“You can look back and find things that you can improve,” Greenlee said, “but our city and county administrators, and our legislatures should really be applauded for the full-court pass in getting us to this national position of having such a high vaccination rate. Other places are not this lucky.”

Additionally, both candidates included in their statements during the event sentiments about why they love the community and it’s civic engagement. Greenlee mentioned her service on the library board and role in establishing the music series in Mill Park a few years ago. 

“One of the things that’s so wonderful about rural living is that everything you see around you- parks, libraries, activities at the fire hall, they’re put on because people love their community and want to come together for it. That’s one of the wonderful things about being a rural community that I value so much.”

Lynch mentioned how grateful he is to have an opponent in the primary, as well as another in the general election, a sentiment Greenlee agreed with.

“I am so appreciative that Vanessa entered this race,” Lynch said “I am also appreciative that Randy Brown, the Republican (candidate), entered the rate for the fall. It makes us better, it sharpens our intellect, it lets us think the issues through, and say, ‘Am i doing the right thing, am I talking the right advocacy, am I suggesting the right thing for this community?'”

Early voting is already underway in Tompkins County, and Election Day is set for Tuesday, June 22. Polls are open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Enfield Community Center, 162 Enfield Main Rd., Ithaca. For more information visit the Tompkins County Board of Elections site here.