ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca Common Council member Steve Smith has announced his resignation from the city’s leading body, effective immediately. It is unclear who will be appointed to fill his seat for the time being.

Smith said in a letter that the decision came with “conflicting emotions,” but that his wife Genevieve has the chance to enter a doctoral program in education, leading the family to move to New York City. Smith had served on Common Council for nine years, representing the Fourth Ward, which includes most of Collegetown. He was reelected four times, and this current term was set to expire in 2023.

“While we are immensely saddened to be leaving our home, I am proud of the impact we have had in our short time,” he wrote. “Genevieve has been a stalwart presence in the physical therapy community as a provider, a teacher, and by
representing our region in the NY Physical Therapy Association. Genevieve has been an adjunct faculty member with Ithaca College for five years, and has developed a true passion for teaching. The next step in her career will be to get a research degree which will make her tenure-eligible.”

Steven Smith

The COVID-19 pandemic gave Smith and his wife a chance to pause and reflect on their respective lives and careers, which indirectly led to the decision to move. He also took the opportunity to look back on his time on Council, saying he voted with his conscience and “fought for an affordable community at every turn,” having entered council while the city was still rebuilding financially from the 2008 crash.

The departure marks another step towards a significant turnover on Common Council. There are ten seats on Council, but Donna Fleming, Deb Mohlenoff, Seph Murtagh and Smith’s Ward 4 colleague, Graham Kerslick, all previously stated that they won’t be attempting re-election, meaning that come 2022 Council will be made up of at least half newcomers.

Smith said he is proud of the work that was accomplished during his time as an alderperson, finding immediate and long-term ways to make the city more profitable and thus able to spend money on things that are important for the daily lives of Ithacans, like infrastructure repair—which the city is seeing plenty of right now. He did mention that one of his regrets is that some local residents will have their time in Ithaca plagued by “the process instead of the results,” relaying an anecdote of dodging construction as he and his wife walked around Collegetown for their last trip to Collegetown Bagels.

A staunch development advocate since he was elected, Smith continued to push for affordable, sustainable housing policies in his resignation letter, acknowledging that the city still has a massive amount of work to do to stabilize its housing situation. The seminal policy point Smith emphasized is that the city’s best tool is to “allow growth and continue the work of unraveling the effect of a half-century of anti-growth policies,” most pointedly referring to the policies that allowed Collegetown housing needs to bleed over into the Belle Sherman neighborhood instead of being built upwards.

“There is so much important work left for Ithaca,” Smith wrote. “We’re in the midst of reimagining public safety, creating a vision for the west end, and have projects in the works for Collegetown that will be transformational. We leave Ithaca saddened that we’ll no longer be participating in that work, but nonetheless confident that our community will arrive in the right place. More than anything, we find ourselves deeply grateful to Ithaca for welcoming us, and to everyone who has held us up, provided encouragement—or a reality check, and made this place a home for the
past decade.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com