ITHACA, N.Y. — The 4th Ward Vacancy Selection Committee is unanimously recommending Cornell University junior Patrick Mehler to fill the empty seat on Common Council left by the resignation of Steven Smith.
Voting on the Committee’s recommendation will be the first order of business before Council at their Oct. 6 meeting. If approved through a majority, Mehler will immediately leap into his position in local government and begin voting.
Mehler was one of two applicants, along with recent Cornell graduate Katie Sims, to be interviewed on Sept. 22, by the Selection Committee, which includes Mayor Svante Myrick, and Council members Ducson Nguyen and Graham Kerslick. All three of them expressed that both applicants would make suitable candidates to fill the vacancy in the 4th Ward during a public discussion on Sept. 28.
During Tuesday’s public discussion of the two candidates, Mayor Svante Myrick said, “My thought— and this isn’t always a thought — but my thought was how do we get both of these talents working for the City?”
Sims holds a degree in Environmental and Sustainability Science, and currently works remotely as a social media specialist for 350, an international NGO that’s mission is to address climate change.
The Committee unanimously agreed that Sims is in the position to make significant contributions to the sustainability and decarbonization initiatives in Ithaca, but they ultimately sided with Mehler for his experience in public engagement in the political process. Committee members were impressed with Sims enough though that they will likely ask Sims to consider participating on a board or a commission.
Mehler is the president and one of the founders of Cornell Votes, a student-led initiative to increase voter registration, voter turnout, and civic engagement in the Cornell Community. He has also served as the Director of Elections for Cornell Student Assembly, where he was able to improve student voter turnout by 33 percent from a 50 year all-time low, by his own claim.
Kerslick was the first to show his hand, saying that he favored Mehler over Sims. Kerslick, who represents the 4th Ward, said he favored Mehler as an applicant because of his enthusiasm for connecting with constituents as well as his work registering voters.
Myrick—who was elected to represent the 4th Ward when he was 20—called lifting up student voices a “colossal task” in the district.
“I believe that’s the constituency that we hear from the least,” he said.
After Kerslick put his vote behind Mehler, Myrick shared that he favored him as well. Nguyen echoed the points raised by his fellow Committee members, and said he appreciated that Mehler expressed an interest in the permanent residents of the 4th Ward, as well as the students. However, Nguyen originally favored Sims.
He said that Sims’ interest in biking and pedestrian infrastructure piqued his personal bias towards those initiatives, and her enthusiasm about participating in the work of Ithaca’s Green New Deal would be important as it develops in the future. Nguyen also listed Sims’ stated interest in the less glamorous parts of city government, like taking care of sidewalks and potholes, as reasons why she would make a great candidate.
Myrick and Kerslick both covered much of the same ground when they were describing what they though qualified Sims, but the Mayor explained that he sees Mehler’s experience in public engagement as an important skill set to bring to Common Council.
Kerslick ultimately put his weight behind Mehler because, “It’s a limited appointment, obviously, until December, and given Patrick’s experience working with the student body…I think he has a better sense of what can be achieved in a limited amount of time,” said Kerslick.
In the end, Nguyen cast his vote for Mehler, because he still saw him as a “great candidate,” and wanted the Council to vote on him with unanimous consent behind the Selection Committee’s recommendation.
If selected, Mehler will serve until the end of Dec. 2022. If the Common Council does not approve him as a candidate, then the Selection Committee will be required to present another recommendation.