ITHACA, N.Y.—Election day is little more than a week away, but voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots before Nov. 2. Early voting started on Oct. 23rd, giving any Tompkins County resident who’s registered to vote in New York State the option to access one of two polling sites before the 2nd—no explanation needed.

Below are the locations and schedules of the two early polling locations in the county, courtesy of the Board of Elections.

The Ithaca Voice sent out a questionnaire to each of the candidates vying for a seat on the Common Council. You can follow the links below to see what the candidates in your ward said.

To check which of the City of Ithaca’s Wards you’re in and learn what your polling place is on election day, you can check this map of the City of Ithaca’s Election Districts.

Ward 1

Cynthia Brock

Democrat

First ward representative since 2011

Bio

Born in Southeast Asia and raised in Hawaii, I identify more as Chinese than American.  Despite our modest background, my parents helped me attend college and graduate school, and I was able to pursue a career in international venture development and sovereign debt markets.  

A resident of West Hill for 20 years, I live in an active multi-generational household which includes my mother, my husband Ray, and our three children.  In my free time I am an active long-distance canoe paddler and enjoy paddling Cayuga Lake year-round.  I first became involved in City government in 2009 because I wanted to see a sidewalk installed the length of Hector Street, and was proud to see it finally completed in July 2020.

Q&A

Ithaca Voice: Ithaca is going through a period of rapid growth and change to address long standing issues around housing. What do you think the future of housing should look like in Ward 1 and why?

Cynthia Brock: In looking at our comprehensive plan, Ward 1 includes zoning that allows housing developments of all types.  In areas closest to downtown and commercial areas, it is appropriate to have higher density residential and mixed-use developments.  As development radiates out to the hills towards the City-Town line, there is a transition from high to medium to low density zoning. 

I think we need to find creative ways to promote mixed-income development in complexes rather than focusing on a single demographic to foster a vibrant and more equitable community.  We need high-quality, safe housing that is affordable to renters and homeowners at all income levels, bringing opportunities for owner-occupancy into our downtown as well as income-based housing into our low-density family-oriented neighborhoods. 

As we look to the future and a growing population, it is important to support people in all stages of life – seniors who would like to age in place, multi-generational households, families with children, professionals, and students.  We should make sure we have public parks and green spaces that are close and walkable from home, providing space for play and quiet reflection.

IV: Much of Ward 1 contends with challenges accessing downtown Ithaca, where goods, services, and employment opportunities are concentrated. At the same time, Ithaca is working to turn itself into a bikeable and walkable community. Can you detail this often cited challenge for the west end of Ithaca, and what you see as the most viable solutions to address it?

CB: I consider downtown our cultural center, and the west end corridor as our commercial center.  Most people come to the west end to shop for groceries, household furniture and supplies, and stay to enjoy our waterfront, restaurants, and services.  The west end is, however, a highly trafficked through-corridor, not only for locals but for commuters driving to get from one side of Cayuga Lake to the other or going to- and from-work to their homes outside of the City. 

I am not proposing this, but the reality is that until the time comes when ferries are re-introduced to Cayuga Lake (remember Kidders Landing and King Ferry), or a bypass is installed diverting traffic around Ithaca, the City will be tasked with seeking ways to make the west end more hospitable to biking and walking amidst tremendous commercial and commuter traffic.  I think that once completed, the new bridge across the flood control channel from Floral Ave to Cecil Malone Drive will be pleasant amenity for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as the new black diamond trail extension that will connect our trails from Taughannock Park down to Buttermilk Falls.

IV: Reimagining Public Safety is one of the most complicated and important policy initiatives taken on by the city. How do you want to see this plan developed and implemented?

CB: The Reimagining Public Safety initiative is a collaborative process undertaken by the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County.  In the coming months working groups made up of community members and staff are developing strategies to implement the recommendations with the goal of achieving positive change – including equity and safety for all residents, especially people of color.   The processes that are being put into place are being thoughtfully done, and I know that attention is being made to ensure that all voices, experiences, and perspectives are included.  I expect this to be a multi-year process, and I appreciate the participation and support of the community, our officers, and our social service providers in this effort.

IV: What do you think makes you uniquely qualified to serve on Ithaca’s Common Council?

CB: The issues the City faces won’t be addressed with quick fixes, or copy-and-paste legislation.  Meaningful change requires collaboration, due diligence, and the input of specialists, municipal staff, residents, and community groups.  

In my ten years on Council, I have strived to provide a critical and practical perspective on the issues before us.  I evaluate proposals based on the real impacts they will have on the lives of our residents, our employees, and our community as a whole.  I work to seek input from a broad variety of sources – including those who hold a different perspective than mine – so that I can gain a better understanding of a proposal’s impacts, benefits, and challenges. 

The vast majority of City operations function behind the scenes and do not receive the funding and attention they deserve, and I am focused on highlighting these needs while also working and planning for the future.  Some of the accomplishments I am most proud of are:

  • Working with DEC and ChainWorks to achieve comprehensive testing and cleanup of the former Emerson facility as a precursor to redevelopment
  • Obtaining state funds for environmental testing of Nate’s Floral Estates
  • Implementation of the South Hill Overlay Zone
  • Completion of the South Aurora and Hector Street sidewalks 
  • Collaborative thermal energy capture partnership between City Harbor, Guthrie and the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility
  • City policy of non-participation in immigration investigations and enforcement

In the coming years I will continue to support City efforts to implement the dredging and reinforcement of the 60-foot dam in Six Mile Creek, improved stormwater management to protect properties, creeks and roads, and the installation of a West Hill Recreation Trail. 

Endorsements

  • Tompkins-Cortland Building & Construction Trades Council 
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 241
  • Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 81
  • City of Ithaca Ward 1 Democratic Committee

Ward 1

Maddie Halpert

Independent; Solidarity Slate

Bio

Maddie (she/they) grew up in a large Jewish family in downtown Ithaca. In recent years, her work has centered around growing seeds and working with farmer-led social movements. Her commitment to collective action that creates care-based community spaces, prevents harm, and that works towards a world without oppression has led to her involvement in Ithaca with movements for mutual aid, tenants’ rights, a free Palestine, climate justice, and more. They were volunteer coordinator for the Solidarity Slate before former Slate candidate Shaniya Foster ended her campaign.

Q&A

Ithaca Voice: Ithaca is going through a period of rapid growth and change to address long standing issues around housing. What do you think the future of housing should look like in Ward 1 and why?

Maddie Halpert: The shortage of housing in Ward 1 falls hardest on low-income community members who may feel stuck in under-repaired apartments without good access to downtown services but feel they have no other housing options. One way or another, we need to have enough low-income housing that tenants have somewhere to go while renovations are happening. If and when we are going to build, we should require new developments to include low-income units (inclusionary zoning).

Given the needs expressed by many residents, we also should promote new buildings including spaces for childcare centers. I generally believe that more options of public and cooperatively-owned housing would be a benefit to our community, as would expanding community housing trust so low-income people can become homeowners. I have also heard stories from Ward 1 residents about having to move because their past apartment was turned into an AirBnB. We should make sure that there are limits on AirBnB rentals so that residents are not getting displaced from their neighborhoods in the name of tourist-driven profit. 

IV: Much of ward 1 contends with challenges accessing downtown Ithaca, where goods, services, and employment opportunities are concentrated. At the same time, Ithaca is working to turn itself into a bikeable and walkable community. Can you detail this often cited challenge for the west end of Ithaca, and what you see as the most viable solutions to address it?

MH: Fare-free TCAT bus service designed for the working class is part of the Solidarity Slate vision (and a plan that is feasible given the majority of TCAT’s budget does not come from fares). Effective service with expanded stops, hours, and frequency would have widespread community benefits, encouraging more and more people to use the buses, and therefore reduce traffic, emissions, and so forth.  

IV: Reimagining Public Safety is one of the most complicated and important policy initiatives taken on by the city. How do you want to see this plan developed and implemented?

MH: Ultimately, safety comes from people having their needs met, so we should see funding community services and programs as key to public safety. Additionally, if we are fully committed to the idea of reimagining public safety, and not just reforming, the process needs to stay true to the original directive to center communities of color, and specifically grant people as much openness as possible to reimagine without the assumptions of our current systems, or reinforcing the power within our society that the institution of policing holds.

Already, the parameters Common Council has set has undermined that process by requiring working groups to include police officers and by going back on the idea of having all officers have to re-apply for the new positions. We should ensure going forward that the outcomes of this process are equitably centered on people of color in our community.

Tiffany Caban, running for city council in NYC, has the most inspirational, grounded, and reassuring plans I’ve seen on this topic — unpacking the range of public safety needs that arise in communities and looking at effective, well-supported and trained community-based responses to both prevent the situations from happening and respond when they do in ways that maximize safety and minimize trauma for all involved.

IV: What do you think makes you uniquely qualified to serve on Ithaca’s Common Council?

MH: The Solidarity Slate is born out of community organizing in Ithaca and local grassroots movements. I don’t think I have all the answers, but I believe in the more collectivist approach of the Solidarity Slate, being accountable to social movements organized by those most affected by the issues in our community. I was asked to step up to this role when Slate candidates and volunteers went through a consensus process in the aftermath of Shaniya needing to end her campaign.

In terms of my personal experience, I have a deep love of Ithaca from growing up here and have been re-rooting into the community in recent years (volunteering in mutual aid gardens, showing up to support people facing eviction, printing materials for local rallies, etc.). In the past I have been both elected and selected for leadership and organizational-policy-making positions (e.g. as a consensus facilitator in a 100-person dining cooperative, and as a “Peace Corps Volunteer Leader”).

Endorsements

  • Cornell Progressives
  • Democratic Socialists of America (Ithaca Chapter)
  • Ithaca Tenants Union
  • Sunrise Ithaca
  • Shaniya Foster
  • Nicole LaFave
  • Christa Nunez
  • Veronica Pillar
  • Harry Smith

Campaign Website: IthacaSolidaritySlate.org

Ward 2

Rick Murray

Independent

Bio

Growing up in Ithaca I’ve seen a city blessed with prospering industries and a world class university and college spawn a thriving and diverse community. Of course, this is fragile. Having lived in other communities while serving in the military and working as a senior operations manager, I know how unique Ithaca is, and how many interests we need to balance to sustain our prosperity and diversity.

I have firsthand experience implementing complex growth and development strategies geared at supporting the needs of the community while providing incentives for businesses to flourish. This background will be an asset to Council as we work to enable growth, and to ensure the safety and welfare of citizens in the next legislative session.

As I’ve knocked on doors in the 2nd Ward these past few months, something that has been a defining and eye-opening experience for me after beating cancer this Spring, I’ve found myself telling many neighbors that I have love for all who have love for all, and this is resonating. 

Q&A

Ithaca Voice: Ithaca is going through a period of rapid growth and change to address long standing issues around housing. What do you think the future of housing should look like in Ward 2 and why?

Rick Murray: Given the current economic state of the city, it is understandable that housing in the downtown area surrounding the commons is under pressure. Many residents and developers are embracing plans for densification as a more environmentally sound way to increase student and affordable housing opportunities.

The concern is that increased development also brings an expanded strain on the infrastructure surrounding the area, sewer, water, electric and public support (police, fire, EMS). Scaling services to accommodate these needs will all be a challenge. Caution is also warranted to ensure that overdevelopment does not lead to the destabilization of neighborhoods where single family homes exist. There has been a flight of residents leaving Ithaca and moving to surrounding communities due to the increase of density, as well as a spike in crime and rising home prices in the Second Ward. I will work to counter these concerns and will listen intently to the needs of residents.

IV: Ithaca is on track to achieve a dense housing core largely set within Ward 2. At the same time, constant roadwork and a high volume of commuters has led many to complain about congested city streets. Do you see this as a potential long-term issue that needs to be addressed? If so, how? If not, why?

RM: Traffic in and around the city will continue to be a challenge. There will need to be a deliberate plan to upgrade the road networks in the city. The streets are narrow, making parking challenging. We need to look at all options to manage traffic flow within the city. I understand that there are residents that embrace a downtown area that is more pedestrian friendly with more bike paths and walkways. Again, I believe a well-developed plan can be developed, that balances both pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the downtown corridor.

There is a need for speed bumps in the north side streets that run parallel with main arteries, as these streets are used as short cuts through the city and speeding in the neighborhoods has increased. The use of traffic cameras may be an option to deter speeding in the neighborhoods.

IV: Reimagining Public Safety is one of the most complicated and important policy initiatives taken on by the city. What’s your take on the plan, and how do you want to see it developed and implemented?

RM: I write this in the wake of a drive-by shooting that has many Ward 2 residents terrified, and people across Ithaca deeply concerned. Knowing how politicized Reimagining Public Safety is, and how much the Mayor has touted our initiative nationally, it’s hard not to question parts of his statement this week on the violence.

The uptick in crime, especially violent crime that we’ve witnessed this summer may very well be a product of economic insecurity and the pandemic, but the severity of the situation requires real reflection. Had we not allowed members of the community to denigrate the police, prompting several retirements, would we be in a better position to confront the increase in crime?

People want to heal and be reassured, but the Mayor’s remarks about the PBA appear to echo a partisan point of view and slogans that are popular among ideologically driven voters. Whether or not this was his intent, the mayor has given a dangerous amount of legitimacy to calls to defund the police, sowing division. 

The bottom line is that many people did not feel safe before the Reimaging initiative and hardly anyone feels safe now. Like most Americans, and especially as a mixed-race black man, I was horrified by what the country witnessed in Minneapolis. I think it is a testament to Ithaca’s diversity and tolerant culture that neighbors across wards rallied so powerfully to urge their elected representatives to establish a task force to review our policing methods and to investigate accusations of systemic racism within the IPD. I believe that any reimagining of public safety should be an issue that is brought before the voters in the city, as this is a change that will affect the safety of the community for years to come. 

That said, I hope the task force will help us envision real change that not only allows the people of Ithaca to feel safe in their community, but also enables the officers entrusted to provide that safety to feel that their commitment to professionalism is embraced and valued. I do agree that change within any organization is necessary. You cannot stay the same, as communities change the organizations that support them must be adapted. Changing the name of the organization is not as important as ensuring that the officers have the proper training, and I think placing emphasis on recruiting a more diverse police force would go a long way to comfort people.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the city of Burlington Vermont underwent a similar reimagining of their police force and saw a mass exodus of officers. This has become so problematic for the city that they are now paying bonuses for officers to return to their police force. Extreme caution is warranted so that the City of Ithaca does not find themselves in the same position. 

IV: What do you think makes you uniquely qualified to serve on Ithaca’s Common Council?

RM: I am a mixed-race Black man from Ithaca that understands the effects of racism. My mother was seventeen when I was born, she was white carrying a Black child and as a result I was born at a home for unwed mothers. I am thankful that there were many in Ward 2 that helped her through that period. I am truly the meaning of “It takes a village to raise a child.”

With guidance I pushed on through adversity and I have been successful on several levels. I am retired from the US Army with more than 20 years of Active-Duty Service as a senior Non-Commissioned Officer (Senior Leader) with a background in Operations Management and Strategic planning that required me to collaborate with other team members to accomplish operational goals. After retirement in March of 2000, I spent another 19 years in Senior Logistics Management positions, teaming with others to accomplish planning and operational goals, with an emphasis on budget management and efficient operations. I served as the Diversity and Inclusion Officer for a Fortune 500 Company, collaborating with a large multi-cultural team facilitating change. I have a BS in Economics and Management from the State University of New York (SUNY) and I understand that unless you study and measure a change initiative, realistic and impactful change cannot occur.

I will provide a level-headed approach to the needs of all residents of Ward 2 with a Non-partisan point of view. It is important to remember that as an Alderperson you have a responsibility to represent all in the ward, not just the members of your political party.

Endorsements:

Several organizations have offered to endorse my candidacy, but I’ve declined. As an independent, I want to provide a reasonable voice for my ward without any perceived partiality toward any one group. Reason, to me, means listening, the ability to show constituents that I’ve heard all sides of an issue and weigh everyone’s concerns patiently and equally. I hope this approach can be appreciated as honest and will be refreshing to those who are tiring of partisan politics.

Ward 2

Phoebe Brown

Democrat and Working Families Party; Solidarity Slate

Bio

Phoebe Brown is a long-time community activist in Ithaca and one of the founders of Mutual Aid Tompkins. She currently serves as 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.

Phoebe has lived in Ithaca for over two and a half decades, coming from Harlem, where she gained a deep understanding that mutual aid, strong relationships and community support systems are the bedrock of a strong society— in stark contrast to those who rely on abstract metrics that invariably find that high rise luxury apartments are the answer to every city’s problems. Since then, Phoebe has worked ceaselessly to secure access to resources for marginalized communities and to create a resilient Ithaca that prioritizes strong relationships and healthy neighborhoods.”

Phoebe has been among the most active organizers in Ithaca, and is deeply committed to giving a voice to those who are usually left out of the political process or ignored during conversations about economic development. She has directly worked with many local institutions and organizations over the years, including the Ithaca City School District, Cayuga Medical Center, Southside Community Center, Get Your Green Back Tompkins, Building Bridges, Bike/Walk Tompkins, The Multicultural Resource Center, BOCES, the Crisis Hostel Project, among others. And even with all of this, she still says that her biggest achievement is being a mother to three and a grandmother to eight.

Q&A

Ithaca Voice: Ithaca is going through a period of rapid growth and change to address long standing issues around housing. What do you think the future of housing should look like in Ward 2 and why?

Phoebe Brown: I see a lot of gentrification happening right now. It’s very sad to see people losing housing, city housing, because people are selling property to private businesses. I can only think of one local affording housing from INHS. I’m aware of neighbors of the Northside projects being given three months to find housing. The kinds of housing with large housing generally isn’t easy to find in Ithaca, so they’ll have to go to the outskirts. The city and the Common Council have approved selling city housing, which displaces people, including non-native people who don’t even speak English and are going to have a hard time finding regular housing.

For the future, I want to end gentrification. I want to make sure Ithaca city housing follows the mission of getting our people housing.

IV: Ithaca is on track to achieve a dense housing core largely set within Ward 2. At the same time, constant roadwork and a high volume of commuters has led many to complain about congested city streets. Do you see this as a potential long-term issue that needs to be addressed? If so, how? If not, why?

PB: There’s a frustration with this that is and always will be an ongoing issue with this growing city, and it can only be more frustrating for the people dealing with it everyday. I will be new to this role, and I’m still in the learning process of the responsibilities and how I would be able to help to continue to make changes to lessen the burdens on my constituents through Common Council.

IV: Reimagining Public Safety is one of the most complicated and important policy initiatives taken on by the city. What’s your take on the plan, and how do you want to see it developed and implemented?

PB: They are not going to the root and talking more about why policing happens as it does. Policing came from capturing slaves and indigenous people. It was all about protecting property. If we’re not talking about that, we’re not talking about changing the mindset of policing. Policing has not prevented crime – they don’t come until the crime has been committed. We need to begin those conversations.

We need to have our community needs met so we CAN prevent crimes and so that people do not commit crimes to survive. The uptick of crime isn’t new, it’s just not reported to match the IPBA push for policing. We need to understand who the police are and where they come from.

IV: What do you think makes you uniquely qualified to serve on Ithaca’s Common Council?

PB: I bring a different tone than what has usually been brought to Common Council. Being a person of color, for one, being a woman, being someone who endured a lot of the issues that our community has endured. Growing up in Harlem, my life experience helps me understand the importance of community and what the community’s needs are. I am the voices of the people who usually aren’t heard at the table.

Endorsements:

  • Cornell Progressives
  • Democratic Socialists of America (Ithaca Chapter)
  • Ithaca Tenants Union
  • Sunrise Ithaca
  • Shaniya Foster
  • Nicole LaFave
  • Christa Nunez
  • Veronica Pillar
  • Harry Smith

Campaign Website: IthacaSolidaritySlate.org

Ward 3

Jeffrey Barken

Democrat

Bio

As the Democratic Candidate for 3rd Ward Alderperson, I’m grateful for this opportunity to introduce myself. I grew up in Ithaca. Having graduated ICSD K-12, I hold a Bachelors of Arts from Cornell University. I later earned an MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing from the University of Baltimore. I’ve worked as a preschool teacher, I am a novelist, publisher, and a legal recruiter. Coming home to start a family highlights what I believe is the mark of a successful city. So long as our children can find inspiring opportunities to ground them here, as well as a culture that they wish to impart to future generations, then we must be doing something right. 

Q&A

Ithaca Voice: Ithaca is going through a period of rapid growth and change to address long standing issues around housing. What do you think the future of housing should look like in Ward 3 and why?

Jeffrey Barken: The 3rd Ward is emblematic of how thoughtful zoning can enable walkability, and the preservation of green space. The Belle Sherman area at the heart of our ward remains an internationally diverse, community-oriented housing district centered around the elementary school. Residents are committed to preserving this foundational vision for an inclusive ward and the unique housing options that distinguish our neighborhoods. I will be a strong advocate defending the integrity and original intent of our current zoning. 

In the 3rd Ward it is understood that homeownership is a proven vehicle enabling families to achieve stability and generational wealth. To this end, the R1 zoning designation ensures homebuyer opportunities. There is an eerie feeling when neighbors discover that a house on their block has been carved up for student rentals, or has quietly become an AirBNB. Both internally and externally imposed market pressures inflate the cost of purchasing and maintaining domiciles. This imperils our community’s vision. Many residents express sadness and consternation. They seek a means to alter course. 

Increasing opportunities for homeownership must be a part of Ithaca’s growth. Where deemed appropriate by City Planning staff, the construction of townhouses and condos should be explored. This will facilitate first-time homeowner opportunities and allow aging residents to downsize. Concurrently, this will open up existing housing stock. While I recognize the environmental concerns that justify a push for taller buildings and a denser city center, it is reasonable to expect that new neighborhoods will be built outside the city limits. This emphasizes the need to develop fast, clean and reliable public transportation in collaboration with neighboring municipalities.

IV: Reimagining Public Safety is one of the most complicated and important policy initiatives taken on by the city. What’s your take on the plan, and how do you want to see it developed and implemented?

JB: I look forward to reviewing the Reimagining Task Force’s initial findings. Their effort to assess which incidents warrant an armed police presence versus an unarmed response is notable and appears to be yielding constructive dialogue. Whether a system can be devised that readily discerns the emerging facts of every incident, and can efficiently dispatch the appropriate Public Safety unit to each call on a rolling basis, remains a serious question. In a country that has no meaningful gun restrictions, it is understandable that officers of any Public Safety outfit will assess the risks they undertake daily and insist on certain protections. 

No matter what we decide to call our reformed force, I think recruitment will continue to be a challenge. Ithacans need to acknowledge that the debasing of the IPD that took place in the initial phases of Reimagining has had serious consequences. Retirements, and beleaguered morale have left us with a diminished ability to offer deterrence, let alone keep up with the rise in violent crime. 

Our City is compelled to designate an authority to help manage the potential for bodily harm or the destruction of property. We must recognize the immense challenge inherent in wielding such force equitably and without prejudice. Those who are willing to risk their lives protecting others must accept our scrutiny but also deserve respect. Our community should continue to work alongside dedicated officers and City staff to ensure public safety. We can do this through a pluralistic, compassionate lens that integrates the experiences and knowledge from the activist community. I believe long-lasting reforms will come from collaborative pursuits and an environment in which Ithaca’s Public Safety apparatus is able to recruit and retain highly trained, diverse, and professional personnel.

IV: What are the biggest Ward 3 specific issues that you think people need to be talking more about?

JB: As stated during introductions from the Primary, Third Ward constituents remain concerned about our roads and City infrastructure. It’s important that our neighborhoods maintain walkability with well maintained sidewalks and streetlights, as well as enhanced traffic safety. Most notable is the 6 Corners Intersection.

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: What do you think makes you uniquely qualified to serve on Ithaca’s Common Council?

JB: I think the fact that I grew up here, and maintain many intergenerational family relationships will continue to expose me to diverse perspectives. In turn, I will share these dialogues with colleagues on Council. Our politics are extraordinarily polarized right now. My emphasis on collaboration and arts integration provides an avenue to bring people together and to impart understanding. As a legal recruiter, I am a seasoned networker. We’re engaged in a great talent search and I believe I can be influential, helping newcomers and established residents realize opportunities in Ithaca.

Endorsements:

As I commented prior to the primary, I have declined to pursue endorsements. 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. Common Council is a deliberative body governed by rational and respectful discourse. Ideally, candidates should maintain professional distance from advocacy groups while campaigning. 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. 

Ward 4

Alejandro Santana

Independent

Bio

My name is Alejandro Santana, and I’m running to be your Alderperson for the Fourth Ward, taking an independent line. I’m an immigrant, father, and business-owner with a deep understanding of the issues that Ithaca faces and an enthusiasm for new solutions. I immigrated to Ithaca from the Dominican Republic 21 years ago, when I earned a Presidential Scholarship to TC3, and now run a private general contracting company in the Ithaca area. Moreover, I have four children in the Ithaca City School District. If elected, I would bring a diverse range of personal experiences and longstanding commitment to the community to the Common Council. 

Q&A

Ithaca Voice: Ithaca is going through a period of rapid growth and change to address long standing issues around housing. What do you think the future of housing should look like in Ward 4 and why? 

Alejandro Santana: The way I see it, the 4th Ward is sort of like a landlocked concept, with nowhere to grow but up. I think the future of housing in the Ward should look like more affordable housing for students and the general community, with plenty of mixed-use development to bring out the bustle and vibrancy of Collegetown.

The 4th Ward covers some of the most exciting and energetic parts of Ithaca, but housing prices are out of control—students are often paying nearly as much for housing as they would in New York City or Boston, which is particularly challenging for students from lower-income backgrounds. So the best thing we can do is encourage development of more units to lower rent prices. That being said, I think there is still a place for single-family homes in the 4th Ward, which can be a really great investment opportunity and source of rental income for local families.

IV: Reimagining Public Safety is one of the most complicated and important policy initiatives taken on by the city. What’s your take on the plan, and how do you want to see it developed and implemented?  

AS: Reimagining Public Safety has some great ideas, but it is too focused on capturing national attention and isn’t sufficiently based on the local realities of Ithaca. We have a unique economy and population here in Ithaca and just because something might work elsewhere doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best idea for our community.  

Concretely, I think the Reimagining Public Safety initiative should be scaled back to focus on three achievable measures. First, we need to better train and equip the police force in mental health and de-escalation to peacefully address a wide range of situations. This will require more investment in police training to ensure that they can better serve the community.  

Next, the police must become more engaged with the public—police officers should feel like members of the community, a part of daily life. This will help both law enforcement and the general community, because community members will feel more comfortable relying on the police for help, and the police will have a better understanding of what people in the community know or want. And I don’t think we should discount the importance of both community-members and law enforcement feeling safer because they trust, respect, and empathize with one another. Part of accomplishing this will be reorganizing the way the police operate—the police department should be divided into more units with different roles in the community, and should look for more ways to incorporate civilian community members into a variety of flexible roles.  

Finally, Reimaging Public Safety can only achieve its goals if it remains grounded in what the actual people in the community want, as opposed to what the most nationally-popular ideas might be. To do this, we need to consult focus groups in different interested segments of the population, from which we can gather the best ideas from our citizens and get an understanding of what different groups of stakeholders need. 

IV: What are the biggest Ward 4 specific issues that you think people need to be talking more about?  

AS: I think there are three:  

  1. Figuring out how to make Collegetown a year-round economy. The population of Ithaca varies a tremendous amount depending on whether Cornell is in session, which is a real challenge for the local businesses that Cornell needs to survive. We need to figure out how to keep Ithaca’s energy going all year round. 
  2. Infrastructure. The roads of Collegetown are a mess, are difficult to navigate for both drivers and pedestrians, and are beginning to pose a safety hazard. We need to invest in local infrastructure for the future.  
  3. Public safety. We need to think carefully about realistic, long-term ways to ensure that every member of the community feels safe—and is safe—in Ithaca. This requires law enforcement and community-members to understand one another, respect one another, and work together to keep our city safe.  

IV: What do you think makes you uniquely qualified to serve on Ithaca’s Common Council? 

AS: Most importantly, I bring a voice that’s different from those that you most commonly hear on the Common Council, and will ensure balanced and vibrant discussion of the issues. As a business-owner and an active member of the community who has been engaged with everything from groups at Cornell to local recreation groups, I’m a listening ear to the needs of a wide range of constituencies, many of whom do not feel that the Common Council has represented them in recent years. I love Ithaca, I love the 4th Ward, and I hope to have the opportunity to give back on behalf of the people of my district. 

Ward 4

Jorge DeFendini

Democrat and Working Families Party; Solidarity Slate

Bio

My name is George DeFendini but please call me Jorge! I am a college senior running to represent Ithaca’s Collegetown. Growing up as a Latino in Queens, I saw the realities of gentrification and housing insecurity firsthand, the very same that are currently gripping this city’s most vulnerable. When I launched my candidacy, Common Council enjoyed little tenant representation and no representation of college students. There are many challenges that impact working class students just as they do working class locals, especially when it comes to housing justice. I’m fighting for change that swells from the bottom up, to unite these communities rather than divide them and find common ground solutions to make a better Ithaca a reality.

Q&A

Ithaca Voice:  Ithaca is going through a period of rapid growth and change to address long standing issues around housing. What do you think the future of housing should look like in Ward 4 and why?

Jorge DeFendini: I think for a long time we’ve understood housing from the perspective of landlords and developers in this city. When we talk about development, we are building luxury apartments none of my friends in Cornell or the broader Ithaca working class can afford.

More so than appearance and style, we need to talk practically: How do we house everyone in Ithaca? That means a few things; it means we need to build more public housing that is affordable and not sub-standard quality. It means passing the Right to Renew Leases legislation to diminish the level of housing insecurity in Ithaca, giving our tenants more stability and the opportunity to stay in homes they know and love. It means ensuring all future development projects have inclusionary zoning and that we are prioritizing housing people versus not making profit.

This is what the future of housing should look like– substance over aesthetics– and it’s what I intend to deliver when I join Common Council. 

IV: Reimagining Public Safety is one of the most complicated and important policy initiatives taken on by the city. What’s your take on the plan, and how do you want to see it developed and implemented? 

JD: I appreciate all the work the city has done in addressing the moment we’re in in terms of Criminal Justice, but the Solidarity Slate has its own perspective on Public Safety.

As it stands now we have both a bloated police budget, making up close to 20% of the city’s budget, and a reactive philosophy when it comes to crime: more police to counteract crime. The Slate and the communities we represent recognize the need to take a proactive approach to Public Safety. If we want to reduce levels of crime, we need to address the reasons people commit them; do people have access to food, to grocery stores? Can they access & afford hospitals and mental health resources? Are they isolated from their communities?

Understanding crime not as a force of nature but as a consequence of policy failures is a first step we as the Slate plan to address. The next step is to then refund our communities; instead of allocating thousands of dollars for military grade policing equipment, we need to expand our transit service and the affordable housing that is available, because economic security creates public safety. 

IV: What are the biggest Ward 4 specific issues that you think people need to be talking more about? 

JD: The biggest issue by far is Housing. Every year, my friends and peers leave Cornell campus and begin the search for collegetown housing, and every year it feels more and more like entering the lottery: higher rents, fewer units, at substandard quality.

These conditions are even harder for non-citizen residents who reside here, who many slumlords feel they can especially abuse without facing repercussions. The cycle continues each year, with fewer students and local renters able to keep up. Housing should not be like the lottery, we should not be pitting students against students or students against locals. We need to start asking what “Housing is a human right” really means and what it looks like in practice.

For those of us on the Slate, it means housing everyone, less housing insecurity amongst our most vulnerable neighbors, and putting people before profit. Beyond housing, I would love to work on voter registration and creating a broader sense of community in collegetown.

Ward 4 has already received a representative in Patrick Mehler who has done tremendous work in voter registration at both Cornell and in Ithaca. I look forward to working with him and seeing if we can channel some of that energy into Ward 4 and make those living here feel like this is less of a checkpoint in their lives and more like a second home.

IV: What do you think makes you uniquely qualified to serve on Ithaca’s Common Council? 

JD: To be truthful, there is less unique and special about me than the movement I am a part of. While I’ve studied public policy and government for four years and have worked on or with political campaigns since I was 18, I don’t believe that is what makes me qualified.

I am a strong believer in Bernie Sander’s philosophy of “Not me, Us,” and recognize that what will make me an especially qualified and effective Alderperson is my connection to the organizers of this community, the pool of knowledge and lived experiences we all share, and our collective energy to make sweeping change.

What makes me qualified to serve is that I am not alone and I have the political will to work with my community to build a Better World here in Ithaca

Endorsements

  • Democratic Socialists of America
  • The Ithaca Tenants Union
  • Progressive Women of NY
  • Sunrise Ithaca
  • Cornell Progressives
  • Cornell Democrats
  • Climate Justice Cornell
  • The People’s Organizing Collective
  • Nicole LaFave
  • Veronic Pillar
  • Harry Smith
  • Niya Foster

Campaign Website: IthacaSolidaritySlate.org

Ward 5

Robert Cantelmo

Democrat and Working Families Party

Bio

I am the Democratic and Working Families nominee for the Fifth Ward seat on the Ithaca Common Council. I began my public service for the City of Ithaca in 2019 when I was first appointed to the Public Safety and Information Commission. As a member of Council, I plan to implement evidence-based policies that provide housing for all, reform public safety, demonstrate our commitment to the Green New Deal, and promote economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. I am a political economist by training and currently work as an Associate Director at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at Cornell. Previously, I was a PhD candidate, research fellow, and teaching assistant in Cornell’s Department of Government.

In addition to the WFP, my campaign has been endorsed by 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). 

Q&A

Ithaca Voice: Ithaca is going through a period of rapid growth and change to address long standing issues around housing. What do you think the future of housing should look like in Ward 5 and why?

Robert Cantelmo: Housing is a centerpiece for my campaign because its quality and affordability is deeply tied to issues of education access, stability, personal safety, mental and physical health, and economic well-being.

I have long supported a three-prong approach to addressing this issue. First, I support the expansion of our housing stock in the City and permissive zoning regulations that promote livability and affordability. As a community, we need to be positioned to adapt to the changing realities of our community and acknowledge that all Ithacans are entitled to the opportunity to live and work here. Second, I am a proponent of utilizing rent stabilization measures to offset the economic disruption and housing precarity that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Finally, I will be a vigorous advocate for housing policy to our representatives in the County Legislature and in Albany.

IV: Reimagining Public Safety is one of the most complicated and important policy initiatives taken on by the city. What’s your take on the plan, and how do you want to see it developed and implemented?

RC: I would like to reiterate the promise I made during the campaign: I am committed to implementing meaningful public safety reform. I support the recommendations adopted by Council and will work to incorporate new capabilities in de-escalation, mental health training, community reconciliation, and unarmed response. From the outset, my emphasis has been on implementation. As a program manager, I know implementation requires three things to be successful. First, it requires that we maintain an open dialogue with the public. The residents of Ithaca are the most important stakeholders in this process, and we need frequent and clear channels to hear their questions, comments, and concerns. Second, we need to focus resources toward prioritizing the most progressive policies and ensure their swift and effective adoption. Third, we need to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of these policy changes and remain adaptable to changing circumstances.

IV: What are the biggest Ward 5 specific issues that you think people need to be talking more about?

RC: Ultimately, many of the major issues facing our community are city-wide in their scope. Housing, public safety, and transportation are all community-wide issues, and we need to solve them in a concerted way. That does not mean our neighborhoods are impacted by each challenge in a uniform way. Climate change is likely already having a more pronounced effect on flooding in the Fifth Ward. We are not the only area impacted by this trend, but I know it’s an important priority for many residents. Accessibility is another challenge that needs more attention. Individuals with mobility challenges need to be able to fully participate in City life and that is complicated by the deterioration of roads and sidewalks, especially when the latter are not promptly cleared during the winter months.  

IV: What do you think makes you uniquely qualified to serve on Ithaca’s Common Council?

RC: I am a political economist by training and am equipped with the necessary research and data skills for formulating evidence-based public policy. As a project manager and evaluator, I know how to identify problems, design solutions, and monitor progress to ensure success. Prior to moving to Ithaca, I worked in the nonprofit sector doing research and international democratic governance work. A lot of my professional life has focused on promoting dialogue between voters and their elected officials. I am a problem solver and I do not shy away from tough decisions. 

Endorsements

  • Working Families Party
  • Mayor Svante Myrick
  • Former Ithaca City Chief of Staff Dan Cogan
  • Alderperson Seph Murtagh (Ward 2)
  • Alderperson Ducson Nguyen (Ward 2)
  • Alderperson Rob Gearhart (Ward 3)
  • Former Alderperson Stephen Smith (Ward 4)
  • Alderperson Deb Mohlenhoff (Ward 5)
  • Alderperson Laura Lewis (Ward 5)

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at jjordan@ithacavoice.com Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn