ITHACA, N.Y. –– With early voting already underway and less than one week until Election Day, candidates for the City of Ithaca Common Council have just a few days left to inform voters on their platforms, policy ideas and overall why they should be the one to represent each city ward.

In that spirit the Ithaca Voice sent a questionnaire to each of the candidates. Here’s how they responded. You can click on your ward below to find out what candidates on your ballot said.

On June 22 –– Election Day –– polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Find out more information on early voting and poll information at the Board of Elections website here.

Ward 1 | Ward 2 | Ward 3 | Ward 4 | Ward 5

Ward 1

Cynthia Brock

First ward representative since 2011

Ithaca Voice: What is the driving force behind your re-election campaign? 

Cynthia Brock: There are several large structural changes that will impact City government and our community in the coming years: Implementation of Reimagining Public Safety Plan, Redistricting of the City of Ithaca Electoral Districts, restructuring City government and management, and the South Hill Neighborhood Plan.  Each undertaking is complex in its own right, and I feel that I my experience, my independent voice, and my connections with constituents will be valuable in helping our community successfully navigate such changes.  

Specifically in terms of the First Ward, the South Hill Neighborhood Plan will re-zone areas for increased density and height, as well as identify areas to be preserved for low density housing.  Upon completion, the current ban against multiple primary dwellings on one lot – an act which currently protects single-family housing in this high demand neighborhood – will be lifted.  This process will dramatically change South Hill as we know it.  A significant portion of the neighborhood is owned by a handful of developers who can tear down existing buildings, combine lots, and build apartment complexes.  South Hill has an elementary school, but fewer families feel the area is supportive of those with small children, and we are seeing families leave as more student housing goes in.   Rezoning must be carefully done, and I feel an obligation to my constituents to see this process through, and to be a voice for residents in the visioning of the neighborhood.

IV: If you had to choose, what is the number one issue for your constituents in your ward?

CB: Development is THE issue in the City of Ithaca.  How areas of the City are zoned for development, how we incentivize development, and how development impacts our community, our infrastructure and our resources, have profound impacts in how we live, where we live, how we deliver services, and how much it costs.

Our City is experiencing an incredible growth spurt, and we are feeling the intended and unintended impacts of that.  Downtown is vibrant, we are a regional attraction, and developers are lining up to build more.  We are also seeing stress on our most economically vulnerable residents, our infrastructure, increased traffic, higher rents, and ongoing construction.  I would like to see a re-examination of our approach to development in light of where we are now as a City and to tweak it a bit.  Our economic development has focused on the hospitality industry, which is a highly volatile industry that relies on low-paying seasonal and gig labor.  We should be expanding our focus to encourage the development of businesses and industries that provide living wage employment opportunities.  

Development on the West End and Waterfront will have significant impacts on the City.  Visually, those arriving from the east, north and the west will see large developments and heavy traffic.  The First Ward encompasses all four traffic corridors, and traffic, pollution, walkability, and livability are increasing if not daily concerns for residents.

Our City and County has provided generous tax abatements to encourage real estate development, which I don’t think is a sustainable approach over the long term.  With every new tax-abated development we are limiting the growth of our tax base, not expanding it – forcing residents to shoulder the burden while companies’ profit.  It is important to remember that abatements reduce not only City taxes, but also County and School taxes.  I think it is preferable to have sensibly sized development pay full taxes rather than oversized developments pay 40%-60% of the taxes that would be due.  We would grow our tax base faster and be able to fund needed government services – Water and Sewer, Streets, Fire, Police, Education.   Our residents benefitted from the biggest drop to our tax rate in 2017 when Collegetown Terrace came online – the largest fully taxed development.  If more developments paid taxes, it would help our residents and would support our ability to maintain staffing levels and to fund programs and services needed by our residents.

It is true that our tax rate is lower now than it was in 2017, but our property values are higher.  Our staffing and service levels need to expand to meet the needs of our growing population.  We have increased activities in every department, and high service expectations by our community.  Our infrastructure is aging and in need of accelerated maintenance and replacement – at more than double the rate we are able to do with our current budget.  This is why I think we need to rethink our position on growth and tax abatements.

IV: What is one concrete goal you hope to achieve if elected?

CB: As mentioned previously, I would like to see our tax abatement program to be shifted away from a map-based development approach to a merit-based development approach instead.   I would like to see projects demonstrate how they are providing benefits to the community, such as including childcare facilities, public green space or recreational areas, community meeting or educational resources in order to qualify.  Ithaca Area Economic Development should determine if a real estate project – which does not provide for job growth – warrants a tax abatement based on its merit to the community.  

In terms of a concrete goal, I would like to see completion of an Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility-Tompkins County-Cornell University partnership to address and process organic waste so that we can reduce community-wide GHG emissions, reduce landfill contributions, increase our green energy production, and create beneficial biochar for regional use.   This is part of a multi-year conversation that I have been a part of for some time and is being reinitiated post-pandemic.  I am very excited about this possibility and would be happy to talk about it at length with anyone who is interested.

IV: One of the most divisive pieces of legislation that has been passed by Common Council over the last year was the reimagining public safety plan. What do you think your future contributions to the implementation of this plan will look like?

CB: I hope to contribute to the implementation of the reimagining public safety plan in two ways: to (1) work with officers, administrators, and community members to build communication, dialogue and a foundation for collaboration and trust, and to (2) advocate for internal management structures that would provide increased accountability of an individual’s behaviors.

Discussions around policing cannot be conducted without explicitly recognizing that Black communities in America have been subjected to generations of physical, emotional, and economic oppression at the hands of police and government.  Deliberate and meaningful effort must be made at every step and stage of our local government to address this.  The fact is, structural bias also characterizes our education, healthcare, and human services systems.  There are good and caring career individuals in all of these structures, as well as inherent bias, and so any effort to analyze, assess and reform must include employees and the community as partners if we want to see meaningful change.  

In terms of my second point regarding internal management structures, a good example of one that I want to see incorporated into the culture of the Police Department is the “Duty to Intervene.” Officers and employees know who the problem individuals are.  We need to have established policies and procedures to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.  We need a complaint process which is recorded and investigated by an outside party, so that officers are not investigating other officers.  Mitigations must be consistently implemented across the spectrum of activities to demonstrate and affirm the priority of behavioral accountability.  Internal management structures such as these are absolutely central to serious change, to creating a culture of accountability, and to reimagining public safety beyond a new title or uniform.  

IV: Any endorsements you want to share?

CB: I am truly honored to have the endorsement of my First Ward colleague George McGonigal, outgoing Council colleagues Donna Fleming and Graham Kerslick, and First Ward resident and former Council colleague Josephine Martell.   I am deeply appreciative of the unions who have continued to stand with me over the past decade and today, the Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 81, the Tompkins-Cortland Building and Construction Trades Council, and IBEW Local 241.   Last but not least I am grateful for the support of First Ward residents who have come out and supported me as well as for the unanimous endorsement of the City Ward 1 Democratic Committee.  

Finally, I want to encourage all First Ward democrats to come out and vote!  This is an important election for all the candidates on the ballot, and every vote counts!  Your vote makes a difference and there has been a lot of confusion this season.  Please see my website at cynthiabrock.org for more information.

Ward 2

Phoebe Brown

Long time Ithaca activist

Ithaca Voice: In summation, what would you say is the driving force behind your run? 

Phoebe Brown: For me, the driving force is having seen common council, for many years, not representing grassroots voices. So I am running to give those grass roots a voice on the common council and work to build a beloved community that puts mutual aid and the collective over individuals and profit.

IV: If you had to choose, what is the number one issue for your constituents in your ward?

PB: I believe my ward needs to have more support for family assistance. Families are under assault in so many ways, whether it be insufficient childcare that does not extend into the evening, a lack of decent and affordable housing, continued displacement from gentrification, and family reunification for the formerly incarcerated. We need to look at these issues holistically and start addressing these needs as family needs and to do so together, not separately.

IV: What is one concrete goal you hope to achieve if elected?

PB: Defunding the police and then reallocating that money towards childcare and decent housing, eviction funds, childcare and other needs of the community.

IV: One of the most divisive pieces of legislation that has been passed by Common Council over the last year was the reimagining public safety plan. What do you think your contributions to the implementation of this plan would look like?

PB: My contribution would be to start a conversation about the history of policing. We can not say “let’s just rebrand the police or add another band aid.” We need to start seriously discussing what the history of the police is, what their place in the structure is and their role in suppressing black and brown people.

IV: Any endorsements you want to share?

PB: Myself and my slatemates have received the endorsements of Nicole LaFave, Democratic Socialists of America (National), Sunrise Movement Ithaca, Cornell Progressives, Climate Justice Cornell

Ward 3

Jeffrey Barken

Author and legal recruiter

Ithaca Voice: In summation, what would you say is the driving force behind your run? 

Jeffrey Barken: Having grown up here I know that Ithaca and Ithacans have a lot to celebrate in their local culture. To some extent, and to much lament, our city and our conscious progressivism has been discredited amid the rush toward activism in recent years. Ithaca is blessed with beautiful nature, great schools, (from Pre-K through public and alternative schooling, to IC, TC3, and Cornell). This city is internationally diverse, free-spirited and accepting. Our proximity to a premier research university allows children and adults alike incredible access to inspirational resources and mentors. The resulting draw, I believe, is a free and forward-thinking community. The task before us is to invite growth in a pragmatic and sustainable way, and at a pace that only enhances the culture we cherish. My focus will be on expanding the City’s tax base while attracting new, high-paying jobs. The city should also assist existing employers in providing wage growth opportunities. Likewise, I want to celebrate the adoption of the city’s new and bold, green building code. I am, however, mindful that measures like this place weighty financial burdens on business owners. Men and women involved in trades impacted by the new legislation deserve our ear throughout the process of implementation and wherever possible community assistance as they adapt their businesses. 

IV: If you had to choose, what is the number one issue for your constituents in your ward?/ What is one concrete goal you hope to achieve if elected?

JB: Third Ward constituents are concerned about the state of the roads. The 6 Corners intersection is a pressing safety concern for pedestrians and motorists alike, especially as traffic increases. It’s important that our neighborhoods maintain walkability, and that the Belle Sherman area remains a community-oriented housing district centered around the elementary school. Via the local network, and school initiatives, we can better involve the college students living in our ward through arts-integration, community gardening projects, and other mentorship opportunities. The goal should be a better integrated experience for all residents, however transient. Likewise, my hope is that a more open culture in the ward will enable students to better understand the hardships that working families face, and the pragmatism that must ground our decision making. Similarly, of the retirees and elderly in our ward, many are long-time residents who continue to contribute in countless ways to the daily functioning and vibrancy of our community. We need to celebrate their accomplishments, be mindful of their needs, and build meaningful intergenerational bridges in the years ahead.

IV: One of the most divisive pieces of legislation that has been passed by Common Council over the last year was the reimagining public safety plan. What do you think your contributions to the implementation of this plan would look like?

JB: We owe ourselves a moment of reflection regarding the Reimagining Report, which I hope will be possible once the Taskforce is established. Citizens need to know how the hastily presented and ultimately approved (though significantly amended) report has been misrepresented elsewhere by prominent news outlets. The inflammatory discourse has damaged morale at the force, impaired our ability to recruit new officers, and on a more personal note, allowed impassioned community members free rein to denigrate and even vilify public servants. I have immense respect for anyone who takes on the tedious and often dangerous responsibility of maintaining public safety, especially in the United States, where gun ownership is woefully unrestricted. I trust public engagement will continue to yield positive results. It is imperative that we listen to IPD perspectives, value their input, and do everything we can to uplift and empower them to partake in the change our city sincerely desires. For that matter, there’s a lot to celebrate in our move to reform policing. The emphasis on mental health is laudable, and I think there is widespread agreement that this is the proposal Ithacans are the most eager to see enacted. Our community’s commitment on this front is reflective of the accepting culture I describe above. 

IV: Any endorsements you want to share?

JB: I have been approached in recent weeks to seek the public support of local, state and national groups. I have, however, declined these invitations. While I recognize the utility of endorsements in a contested race, and my unique position running unopposed in the Third Ward, I think I would be remiss not to utilize this opportunity to acknowledge the dangers I see in seeking political accolades. Endorsements, in my view, contribute to the hyper-politicization and over time, polarization of society. If we’re to preserve the legacy of Common Council as a deliberative body governed by rational and respectful discourse, then it is imperative that elected alderpersons maintain professional distance from advocacy groups. This will enable us to be more attentive to the individual concerns of all constituents, and to patiently conduct the hard work of resolving community issues on a personal level. In that regard, I am committed to working with colleagues across wards, and to lending my ear to Ithaca’s many dedicated political organizations in order to establish a fair and inclusive dialogue. Ideally, this approach can prioritize prospects for building a better Ithaca and enable elected officials to better serve all Ithaca voters. 

Ward 4

Jorge DeFendini

Cornell student, activist

Ithaca Voice: In summation, what would you say is the driving force behind your run? 

Jorge DeFendini: I was not looking to run myself, but was asked to run by organizers and friends from different groups like the Ithaca Tenants Union and Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America. We are attempting a different style of politics with the solidarity slate, where we will be advocating on behalf of the community and working directly with the grassroots groups that do progressive work and have demanded change for years. Instead of being beholden to landlords, police unions and the wealthy interests of Ithaca, we plan to fight for the tenants, the overpoliced, and the unheard people who make this city what it is.

IV: If you had to choose, what is the number one issue for your constituents in your ward?

JD: Ithaca is over 60% renters, and this is no less true in Collegetown, where thousands of students seek housing after their first year at Cornell or Ithaca College. Many of these students come from working class communities and feel they need to get lucky to find a benevolent landlord and housing in livable conditions that is affordable. Affordable housing and avoiding abusive landlords should not be like winning the lottery. We need renovated housing, landlords that do not abuse their power, who make repairs, and we need reasonable rents for students looking for a good education.

IV: What is one concrete goal you hope to achieve if elected?

JD: Opting Ithaca into the Emergency Tenants Protection Act. We have a housing crisis here in Ithaca, where most of our neighbors either experience harassment from their landlords or are out on the streets. We need to strengthen the rights, protections and power of our tenant community here in Ithaca if we want to get serious about housing justice. While opting into the ETPA is important, it is a first step towards the larger goal of providing stabilized and affordable housing permanently here in Ithaca.

IV: One of the most divisive pieces of legislation that has been passed by common council over the last year was the reimagining public safety plan. What do you think your contributions to the implementation of this plan would look like?

JD: We need to ensure that the plan for “reimagining public safety” is not just a rebrand of the police. My contribution will be ensuring that we don’t simply deposit more money into the police in a well intentioned but misguided attempt to reform it. Our history and the history of policing has shown it is not a reformable institution and we need to authentically reimagine public safety as a world without police.

IV: Any endorsements you want to share?

JD: We have received the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America nationally and locally, Progressive Women of New York, Ithaca Tenants Union, Sunrise Movement Ithaca, Cornell Progressives, and Climate Justice Cornell, as well as community leaders like Russell Rickford, Kate Cardona, Matt Stupak among others.

Ward 5

Marty Hiller

Ithaca Community Gardens President

Ithaca Voice: What would you say is the driving force behind your run? 

Marty Hiller: Two issues I care deeply about are currently being implemented in the City, and I want to help move them forward and make sure they are successful. One is the Reimagining Public Safety initiative, and the other is the complex of issues surrounding urban growth and development, affordability and equity, and our Green New Deal. I believe the time is ripe to move these issues forward, and I want to be part of the solution. I’m running to help move our City toward a future that is sustainable, affordable, and socially just.

IV: If you had to choose, what is the number one issue for your constituents in your ward?

MH: In terms of direct effects on constituents, I believe the impacts of development pressure, including the rising cost of housing — rents, purchase prices, and property tax assessments — and concerns related to our changing City landscape are having the greatest impact right now. Addressing these issues requires a careful re-examination of our financial policies related to housing, including rent stabilization, tax assessment, and our standards for tax abatements for new development. We need more housing to meet increasing demand, but our current financial arrangements are putting too much strain on residents and on City finances.
My impression from my canvassing rounds has been that we are also deeply concerned about problems with policing in America and with how they play out in our local community, even though many of the people who are most impacted live in other Wards or have been displaced out of the City entirely. So public safety reforms are at the forefront of our minds, even though for many of us they have little direct impact on our lives.

IV: What is one concrete goal you hope to achieve if elected?

MH: I want to take the first steps toward a shift in priorities in the City that places pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure as equal in importance to car transportation. These steps include establishing a network of priority bicycle and pedestrian routes, improving sidewalk maintenance — including snow removal — and correcting accessibility problems along those routes, reducing speed limits in areas where bicycle and pedestrian traffic coexists with heavy vehicle traffic, and working to establish a municipally supported bikeshare program and to establish essential businesses, especially groceries and pharmacy services, within walking distance of new high-density developments. This will reduce the need for cars in our community, reducing our cost of living and use of fossil fuels, improving air quality, reducing wear & tear on our roads, alleviating traffic congestion and reducing the need for acres of asphalt in new development. A reduced need for cars would also free up some of the many acres along Route 13 that are already covered in asphalt, making it possible to establish higher-density mixed-use neighborhoods in that part of town.

IV: One of the most divisive pieces of legislation that has been passed by common council over the last year was the reimagining public safety plan. What do you think your contributions to the implementation of this plan would look like?

MH: I’m able to communicate effectively with both sides on this issue, which places me in a good position to work with them to implement an effective transition. I believe reforms will be most effective if they have support within the department, rather than being imposed entirely from without, and that with good communication it’s possible to achieve that without compromising our goals. I’m connected with our racial justice community and am committed to achieving deep and lasting reforms, but I also believe we should make a serious attempt to work with the existing department — as Common Council decided this past March — before we reconsider that decision. I suspect that belief is the reason I received such unexpected and unwanted support for my candidacy from the New York State Public Safety Foundation this past week. I’ve had long conversations with stakeholders as a result of that situation, which has deepened my understanding of this issue and how it is playing out in our local community.

The ultimate goal of these public safety reforms is to dismantle what remains of the legacy of colonial-era slave patrols, leaving a department that is genuinely focused on public safety rather than on regulating the behavior of oppressed populations. I believe this is a moral imperative for our generation, and we cannot lose focus on that goal until we have achieved it. One contribution I bring to this work is a focus on the relationship between the organizational changes we’re making and the deeper behavioral changes we’re trying to achieve. Ultimately we have no choice but to use people to ensure public safety, and unconscious racial bias is a universal problem in our society, so we have to address it no matter what we do.

The new name, “public safety officer,” comes with a changed set of expectations about the nature of the job. We need to take that change seriously. If we do our work effectively, I believe we will end up with a department of people who are genuinely dedicated to re-learning what has to be re-learned in order to serve in this new role. I believe we will find that adding an ongoing community engagement component to the job, where officers develop and deepen relationships with the community that are not focused on law enforcement, will help to achieve that outcome.**

IV: Any endorsements you want to share?

MH: Organizations include Progressive Women of NY and Sunrise Movement Ithaca 
and personal endorsements are Karen Smith, board member and former President, Ithaca Community Gardens; Aelita Kulko Early, Vice President and former Director, White Hawk Ecovillage; Alan Willett, Leadership Consultant, Author, Ecovillage Resident and Friend; Eldred Harris, Enterpreneurial Consultant, member of Ithaca City School Board and Greenstar Board, and longstanding community member.

**This statement has been updated to more accurately reflect the views of the candidate

Robert Cantelmo

Chair, Public Safety and Information Commission

Ithaca Voice: In summation, what would you say is the driving force behind your run? 

Robert Cantelmo: I am running because I care deeply about serving my community. Ithaca is my home. It is the city where my wife and I started our family. Ithaca faces important challenges, and it is because of my love for this city that I feel a responsibility to give back. My campaign platform is organized around four major issues: implementing the reimagining public safety initiative, addressing our housing crisis, furthering progress on the Green New Deal, and helping workers and local businesses recover from the effects of COVID-19. I believe I best distinguish myself through my commitment to evidence-based policy research that combines hard data with open dialogue between myself, my constituents, my colleagues on Council, and city staff. I pride myself in being an open-minded person who can change my perspective if presented with convincing evidence. If elected, I will bring a rigorous and methodical approach to policymaking that maximizes effectiveness and community engagement.

IV: If you had to choose, what is the number one issue for your constituents in your ward?

RC: I believe housing is one of the most consequential issues for constituents in the ward, because quality and affordable housing is inextricably tied to other important issues of stability, mental health, public safety, and economic opportunity. Ithaca is deeply impacted by an ongoing housing crisis characterized by high rents, resident displacement, low vacancy rates, and property taxes that threaten low- and moderate-income families. Ithacans are drawn to this city because of its values, diversity, and culture and it is imperative that Council use all available tools to promote a community where we can live and work. 

As a member of Council, I am committed to sustained dialogue with my constituents about their needs and challenges. Based on research and hundreds of conversations, I am advocating for three main avenues to address the causes and consequences of our housing crisis. First, I support expanding the stock of quality and green mixed-income housing in Ithaca as a long-term solution. This response takes time, however, that will not address the immediate needs of people facing housing insecurity. Therefore, my second proposal is to use rent stabilization legislation to intervene in the near term. If elected, I will work with Council to propose a study to certify Ithaca’s vacancy rate as below 5%, therefore qualifying our city for a housing emergency. This will enable us to enact and enforce rent stabilization through the creation of a Rent Guidelines Board with tenant, owner, and public representatives. Finally, my experience in government has demonstrated I can and will be a strong voice for our community in my work with county and state government. As Alderperson, I promise to advocate for policy that promotes a fair housing market, combats resident displacement, and protects tenant rights.

IV: What is one concrete goal you hope to achieve if elected?

RC: In addition to addressing our housing crisis and public safety reform, I am passionate about further democratizing the policymaking process. My time as chair of the public safety and information commission has revealed how useful these tools can be in aggregating community input and using public feedback to shape the policy Council enacts. If elected, I wish to enhance the research, advisory, and oversight powers of city commissions to strengthen the public’s voice in city government. Providing research training and institutional support will increase the number of individuals who can volunteer to support their community, while amplifying the effectiveness of commission activities. Furthermore, this will provide additional opportunities beyond Council meetings for the public to learn about, contribute to, and offer comment on projects the city is undertaking. This increases both the possibility for sustained conversation and greater access to information. 

IV: One of the most divisive pieces of legislation that has been passed by common council over the last year was the reimagining public safety plan. What do you think your contributions to the implementation of this plan would look like?

RC: One of the greatest immediate challenges facing the city is implementing the reimagining public safety plan. Included among these recommendations are new capabilities in de-escalation, mental health training, community reconciliation, and unarmed response. We need to focus on specific steps for implementation. This month, Council approved $124,430 for the Community Justice Center, demonstrating a clear budgetary commitment to this change. Going forward, Council should utilize its power to sustain dialogue around these reforms, direct resources toward the most progressive policies, and monitor and evaluate progress to ensure an adaptive approach. As the work of implementation moves forward, Council needs to listen to what works and where improvement is needed. To me, good governance means a willingness to have tough conversations and listen to all voices – especially those that have been historically underrepresented in the policymaking process. This includes holding public meetings, sitting down with constituents, and giving involved parties a seat at the table.

Furthermore, we must guarantee city resources prioritize the new capabilities in progressive public safety that we promise to cultivate. We should embrace this opportunity to build confidence in solutions that complement Ithaca’s culture as a diverse and innovative community. A crucial component of success is to closely oversee implementation progress with clear and measurable intermediate goals. 

IV: Any endorsements you want to share?

RC: I am a progressive and pragmatic choice for Common Council. My campaign has been endorsed by the Working Families Party of New York, Mayor Svante Myrick, Former Chief of Staff Dan Cogan, and Alderpersons Deb Mohlenhoff and Laura Lewis (5th Ward), Seph Murtagh and Ducson Nguyen (2nd Ward), Rob Gearhart (3rd Ward), and Stephen Smith (4th Ward). 

Anna Lamb

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