TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The Tompkins County Legislature, just like the Common Council, is ready to see a significant amount of turnover in 2022. More than a third of the legislative body is set to be replaced in the new year, including districts representing everywhere from the City of Ithaca to the Town of Groton.

Here’s your introduction to all 18 of the candidates, answering a fairly uniform set of questions meant to illustrate their thoughts on some of the most impactful issues in Tompkins County in this current era. For other coverage, here is information on early voting and Ithaca Common Council candidates answering their own Q&As.

For a map of district polling places for Election Day, visit the Tompkins County Board of Elections site. You can also jump to each district’s race by clicking the link of the district below:

  • District 1 (Representing the City of Ithaca) – Travis Brooks (Democrat, Working Families), Christopher Hyer (Republican)
  • District 2 (City of Ithaca) – Veronica Pillar (D, WF)
  • District 3 (City of Ithaca) – Henry Granison (D, WF)
  • District 4 (City of Ithaca) – Rich John (D)
  • District 5 (Town of Ulysses, parts of Towns of Enfield and Ithaca) – Anne Koreman (D, WF)
  • District 6 (Parts of Town of Lansing) – Mike Sigler (R, Independence Party)
  • District 7 (Towns of Caroline and Danby and part of Town of Ithaca) – Dan Klein (D, WF)
  • District 8 (Town of Newfield and part of Town of Enfield) – Randy Brown (R, Rural Issues), Vanessa Greenlee (D, WF), Robert Lynch (Tompkins-Southwest)
  • District 9 (Town of Groton and parts of Towns of Dryden and Lansing) – Lee Shurtleff (R)
  • District 10 (Villages of Lansing & Cayuga Heights) – Deborah Dawson (D, WF)
  • District 11 (Town of Ithaca) – Shawna Black (D, WF)
  • District 12 (Town of Ithaca) – Amanda Champion (D, WF)
  • District 13 (Western part of Town of Dryden) – Greg Mezey (D)
  • District 14 (Eastern part of Town of Dryden) – Thomas Corey (R, Independence), Mike Lane (D, Protecting Dryden)

District 1

The Republican candidate in this race, Christopher Hyer, has not yet turned in his answers to the Ithaca Voice‘s questions. He had previously agreed to do so, though, and his answers will be included in this section as soon as they are submitted.

Travis Brooks (D, WF) – newcomer

What would you deem your top priorities if you are elected? 

TB: My top priorities include affordable and accessible daycare and housing, not just for affordability but also quality, ownership, and taxes. These are two integral parts of humanity that routinely create barriers to being a contributing community member and improving the place that we live, work, and play. I also care deeply about the Green Deal and becoming energy efficient by 2035 which comes through sustainable development supported by a green bond to build locally owned infrastructure related to climate resilience. Lastly, County services, budget, and effectiveness are a high priority of mine. County services ranging from mental health to law and judicial services need to be audited for effectiveness so we can analyze how we can better reach the desired outcomes of these programs that ultimately support the community. 

The First District largely represents the City of Ithaca. How do you view Ithaca’s role in Tompkins County, as the economic center?

TB: The City has an opportunity to be inclusive in the development of opportunities in employment, housing, services and opportunities for all of its citizens. The City must make decisions that are best for the entire community in both its funding of services, recruitment in developers, employers and the development and retaining of small businesses. A local business owner is on the precipice of losing a business that has served this community for decades over its City tax bill. They got behind because of Covid-19. During the endemic they did not lay one employee off, they still gave back to the community and continued their traditions of doing what’s best for their neighborhood. When all is said and done they were hoping to have the city work with them on their looming tax bill and the response was “Foreclosure is imminent unless the bill is paid in full by this date.” This is just an example of the City not making a decision that is best for the entire community. We need to rethink policy and procedure, we need to be creative and imaginative as well as inclusive, supportive and intentional. 

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

TB: As a person who served on the task force and continues to serve in the Reimagining Work Groups, I feel the recommendations did not go far enough. More importantly, it was clear that under the time constraint, it would be impossible to present a comprehensive plan. This led to obvious concern and anxiety about the draft not offering a clear vision forward to the many concerns that it will address. 

As we work through the reforms I urge community members to engage with the process, drown out the noise that is being generated from political groups and focus on the work. I would like to see a process that involves the stakeholders and is bold enough to take advantage of the rare, maybe even a once in a lifetime opportunity to make fundamental changes is a system that has been unjust and brutal to segments of our community. 

What concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

TB: I am really looking to increase the number of affordable housing units over the next three years by 100 to 150 units. To do so, we need a solid strategy that both utilizes and builds the community that already exists with which I propose we call on existing homeowners to add additions or second dwellings to the properties they already own. To make this feasible for everyone there are a few proposals I have. First, homeowners who live in their home would be able to apply for local funding that includes low to no interest loans and forgivable grants to aid in keeping the costs of the additions low. Second, homeowners would be eligible for a 12-year abatement on taxes for the increased property value. Law 421F allows for the County and City to do this, but we need to partner with ICSD to make this happen. These abatements and benefits are exclusively for homeowners that live in the home and rent the dwelling to families receiving housing assistance. 

These additions and half homes would be green energy compliant, and this would be a good opportunity for electric conversions of these homes’ heating and cooling systems. The program would work directly with Cornell and have a pool of architects willing to provide design help with the focus on green energy and sustainability. Additionally, the program would work with local suppliers like Ithaca Re-Use for sustainability purposes and others to support the local economy. As a collective, the County would work with local labor with the understanding that we would be given up to 150 homes to work on, which would support local labor in a very tangible way; this would allow homeowners to create another stream of income to offset rising taxes and Seniors who want to stay in their homes. Individuals who qualify to live in the homes could do so through dignified housing, they would integrate into the community of homeowners without the stigma and label of being in low-income/affordable housing sites that are not in locations that community members should live in or can thrive in.

The housing issue has gotten worse because housing developments that are designed to meet the needs of families that struggle financially is not profitable. On top of that, the growing number of dwellings that are now being solely used for Airbnb units has made it even less desirable to rent to families and individuals who struggle financially. Affordability is an interesting word that is relative to who can afford to pay the rent, not if it is affordable to those who need it the most.

Looking beyond the city, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access?

TB: Lack of affordable childcare and housing are the issues that are faced all over the county. It doesn’t matter if you live in the City of Ithaca or are a resident of rural Enfield, there are many community members facing the struggle day in and day out of trying to keep a roof over their heads and a safe place for their children to go while they work. We cannot expect our community to grow immensely in other facets if our citizens’ basic needs are met without overwhelming worries.

District 2

Veronica Pillar (D, WF) – newcomer, running unopposed

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected? 

VP: My top priorities would include: 1. Countywide municipal broadband internet. Running a public utility would be a big shift, but we have good local leadership in that direction in the Town of Dryden, plus the example of public electricity in Groton. Internet is fully a basic utility at this point, but many folks in the county have weak or no connection – even legislature meetings themselves have struggled with connection issues. Publicly owned internet would be much cheaper for the end user than that provided by companies like Spectrum, and it would allow us to decide where to build infrastructure based on need and equity considerations, rather than based on what’s profitable for a corporation outside of Tompkins. The county is currently working on studying the current state of internet connectivity, so now is the perfect time to move in this direction.

2. Workforce development, specifically around building trades and preparing for sustainability retrofits as green building codes come out. The county is in a good central position to promote training programs for local people, especially among populations historically disconnected from the trades. Focusing on training more local workers would improve stability and equity among our county residents and keep employment local, as opposed to having to rely on laborers from other cities to do local construction jobs.

3. Housing stability: though not purely a county issue, the county has a role to play in facilitating Ithaca and other municipalities opting in to the Emergency Tenant Protection Act and passing Right to Renew legislation. Both would keep more people in stable housing and thereby improve the health of our community. At the same time, though not legislative actions, I want to push for stronger support for genuinely affordable housing through the guidelines of the development funding and tax abatement programs that the county participates in. 

What do you view as District 2’s role in Tompkins County?

VP: District 2 has a good mix of mostly longtime residents and Cornell students, all within the City of Ithaca. It’s overwhelmingly residential, with the exception of the schools and Stewart Park, with a lot of middle-income homeowners and renters. As such, its role is intimately bound up with the economic, employment, and community centers in other districts. The Fall Creek neighborhood (where I live) is the dominant area in the district, with a strong sense of place and an active community listserv, but I’m very interested in continuing to connect with the rest of the district, especially inviting in student residents who may not realize they can participate in the local political process during their years here.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

VP: At the county level, the proposal passed in the spring had a lot of great recommendations designed to increase transparency in the whole public safety system and make responses to emergencies more appropriate to the nature of each emergency. I support those recommendations but want to note that most of the work is still ahead of us in deciding the details and implementation of each recommendation. So far, the County has mostly been working on assembling committees to hire staff for the Community Justice Center and they seem to have been thoughtful about how to make the center fulfill its goals. (It’s worth noting that the highest-profile reform, restructuring IPD, is outside the County’s purview.) 

As I’ve said before, the public is truly safer when everyone has their basic needs met, has a healthy environment, and has strong community connections. Proactive public safety measures would resource people in this way, in contrast to policing, which is a reactive measure–police are set up to respond after harm has already occurred. Because these reforms are so long-term, I would have liked to see them include explicit plans to move public resources into proactive safety measures and reduce the workload on police. Going forward, I would like to see two questions centered in the reform implementation: how can we reduce the rates of crime, community harm, and health emergencies by addressing their root causes? And at every stage, are the people most affected in the centers of spaces where the decision-making happens?

You will be a newcomer to the county legislature. What do you think you bring to the body that isn’t there now? What topic do you think you could be particularly impactful on?

VP: Every legislator is connected to their own networks and communities within the county, and I’m involved with several community organizations doing work in Ithaca and Tompkins County that don’t yet feel particularly connected to the current legislature. More broadly, my political work thus far is fully rooted in solidarity movements and collective work, and I trust the people who’ve supported my campaign and my political understanding to remind me of the diversity of needs and experiences in this county that aren’t always visible inside the legislative chambers. I’m also a physicist by training, so I bring a strong scientific background to decision-making that none of the current legislators share. My intention is not so much to focus on one particular topic, but rather to bring different perspectives to the whole breadth of issues that the County Legislature deals with.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

VP: We certainly could do more. While the county offers a lot of social services, there are often monumental barriers to accessing them–lack of transit to appointments, lengthy and confusing forms, overlapping requirements that don’t fit people’s individual situations, and more. Many people have opted out of government support systems entirely despite still having very real needs for support. At the same time, I understand that the county does not have complete control over the way it administers various programs because of the attached state mandates, creating a complex social service landscape. I’m looking forward to learning more details about how our social services operate and who gets left behind in order to shift things for the better and fund programs that will successfully lift people out of poverty and isolation.

The City of Ithaca has obviously struggled with housing for years, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns that can be enacted or secured on a county level? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

VP: In brief, I think the housing problem has taken so long to address because much of the public conversation is controlled by developers and landowners, while the perspective of renters and housing-insecure folks gets lots. It’s hard to participate in policy-making as an individual, especially while possibly moving around a lot as a tenant, though the Ithaca Tenants Union has been doing a good job shifting this balance over the past year. 

One thing the county could do to alleviate affordable housing concerns is to change IDA project guidelines, specifically by lowering the definitions of affordable rents and ending the option to pay a fee in lieu of building any affordable units. The county can also support its qualifying municipalities in opting in to the Emergency Tenant Protection Act to stabilize tenants in certain housing developments, and it could potentially pass Right to Renew legislation or something like it such as that which is before the City government right now, again to promote stability for low-income tenants especially. 

Outside of your district, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

VP: Countywide broadband is a viable solution to a serious equity and access issue, as I described above, and lack of broadband access is certainly one of the most pressing issues facing the county outside of my district. But climate change is probably the most severe issue facing the county as a whole. I wouldn’t describe any county-level initiative as a solution to the global problem of climate change, but there is a lot we can continue to do with initiatives like promoting energy efficiency in buildings and transportation, reducing waste generation, expanding food waste and recycling programs, and ending displacement of residents away from community centers and public transit lines. 

I assume transportation isn’t the *largest* issue facing District 2 residents? Is public transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT?

VP: Transportation is indeed not the largest issue facing District 2 residents, given our downtown location and fairly high rate of car ownership. That said, I’ve spoken to multiple residents of District 2 who brought up the transportation challenges that people they work with face, or who would happily live further out of town if the relevant buses didn’t stop running so early. I do think resource increases need to be part of the solution. TCAT’s new transit development plan has some promising efficiency changes, but it’s limited by the requirement to stay within the current budget and therefore retains challenges for people living and/or working outside of the city center. Investing more public resources in public transit would save many people a great deal of personal resources trying to find transportation workarounds

District 3

Henry Granison (D) – incumbent since 2018, running unopposed

What would you deem your top priorities if you are elected or re-elected? 

HG: My priorities are Reimaging Public Safety, adding more affordable housing and working on a Living Wage.

The Third District represents at least a portion of the City of Ithaca. How do you view Ithaca’s role in Tompkins County, as the economic center?

HG: The 3rd District includes Belle Sherman, Bryant Park and the South Hill neighborhoods. These neighborhoods house many of the people who work either at Cornell or downtown Ithaca.

The district also includes a significant portion of the Cornell campus. There are not many businesses in the 3rd District except for Cornell which when the campus was closed during the pandemic had a very direct impact on the sales tax revenue for the County. I view Ithaca as the major economic center of the county but it is not the only such center. From just the tax revenue numbers, the county to city ratio is about 3 to 1. So we must treat the City as a big cog but not the only cog in the economic center.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

HG: Yes, I mostly do agree with the reforms so far. I think the real challenge is keeping the momentum going in the future. The Legislature has been doing a good job implementing the reforms, but we must continue to maintain the public’s buy in of the process. During the creation of the plan, we kept saying that the plan was a living document that would keep changing over time. I look forward to the evolution of the reforms.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more should they be doing?

HG: That is a challenging question to answer. The largest part of our annual budget is spent directly or indirectly on social services to support people. So, from that standpoint, I would say yes that the county is doing enough to support people. But we also know that there is still significant need out in the County. We know that there is a great need for affordable housing, childcare, jobs that pay a living wage, food security, mental health resources and more. Sadly, the county has limited resources. Most of our funding comes from property taxes and sales taxes. We must always balance property taxes because we are aware of the burden of high taxes on people. Our sales tax numbers were doing well until the pandemic struck and we were hurt by the loss of this revenue source. So, the county tries to support as many people as possible but there will always be more need out there then we can address.

For example, we received 19 million dollars from the federal government for American Rescue Program funding. We used all of that funding towards the County expenses but committed up to 7 million for public projects. I personally do not think that this amount is enough, and I will keep trying to increase that amount.

We try our best to balance all these issues and I believe that will generally do a good job at it.

What concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

HG: The concrete initiative that I would continue to work on would be the Community Housing Fund which the County, the City and Cornell contribute to a development fund to support affordable housing. This program leverages the funding that we contribute but the demand always exceeds the supply of funding. I would like to see us increase our funding of this program. The problem has taken this long to address and has gotten worse because of market forces. There is a great demand for housing in the County, so prices have continued to rise. Many developers see this demand and build housing at market rate to make money on their projects. We know that building affordable housing is not a huge profit-making business; therefore, we must incentivize these projects to get built and that takes time and effort.

Looking beyond the city, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access?

HG: I think that Reimaging Public Safety is the most significant issue facing the County. I firmly believe that the county is taking steps to solve the many challenges involving public safety. It will take a great deal of time and energy to solve these challenges, but I feel that we will solve many of them. As for climate change, affordable childcare and broadband access, I feel that we are moving in the right direction, but it is too early to be able to tell if we have viable solutions. Take affordable childcare for example. We know that we are a childcare desert with the number of childcare spots much lower than the demand for childcare. With the County’s financial assistance, the Childcare Development Council (the “CDC”) has been advising people how to start and run childcare centers. But the additional childcare openings have been minimal. The CDC has made changes to their planning and the County has again supported these changes. We do know that without the County’s financial support, we would have lost childcare spots over the last few years. So yes, this financial support is a viable solution to the problem.

District 4

Rich John (D, WF) – incumbent since 2015, running unopposed

What would you deem your top priorities if you are elected? 

RJ: Because I think we have not yet fully worked through the pandemic, we need to maintain focus on readiness. I say this because much of the crisis has arisen from uncertainty and not from Covid itself. We have had to react as we learned, and will need to continue to do so until the pandemic has run its course. Being ready entails maintaining County financial strength, and reacting quickly to problems when necessary. Standing up the Covid testing, contact tracing, and information flows are good examples of where we reacted and served the community pretty well. We have to stand ready for the next curveball that comes our way. A supporting priority is to make sure we are appropriately encouraging economic activity in the County. Within that effort is support of both construction projects, and workforce training. We need a strong economy to maintain this ability to react. Finally, as the response to a later question will develop, managing the rollout of the Reimagining Public Safety initiatives will absolutely be a priority.

The Fourth District represents at least part of the City of Ithaca. How do you view Ithaca’s role in Tompkins County, as the economic center?

RJ: The Fourth District is actually entirely in the City and has the highest density of any of the County Districts. The Fourth District includes Collegetown and the Commons, so there is a real mix of student rental properties, long term residents (owned and rented), restaurants, and businesses. Over the past decade, the District has seen the most significant construction and change in the County, with the addition of more than a dozen large projects completed or underway, not counting those in the planning stages. These projects have provided a tremendous amount of new tax base in the form of hotels, businesses and rental housing. While the changes have happened here, the impacts are felt well beyond the Fourth District. For this reason, it is really helpful when the City and County can work collaboratively to make sure these changes are well managed. By the way, a signal new and different addition to the District and our Downtown in the next few years will be our conference center. The process to get that project to groundbreaking serves as a great example of what the City and County can accomplish when working together.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

RJ: If you compare the work that Tompkins County did in developing its Reimagining plan with other Upstate counties, we can be very proud of the effort and energy put into these initiatives. We have adopted an ambitious agenda of goals and have backed them up with significant funding. We are in the process of setting up a joint office with the City, the Community Justice Center, that will provide a focal point for all the initiatives and serve as a source for data analytics. I am sure that moving through these changes at a steady deliberate pace may be frustrating to those who believe we should go further faster. But I believe that we need to work through each step with plenty of transparency and opportunities for community feedback.

Ultimately, what we are trying to do is increase trust between law enforcement and all of the community. Ultimately, what I would like to see happen are better connections so that when there is a problem, EVERYONE in the community is willing to call for help when they need it, and will assist the first responders when they arrive. This may seem simple, and perhaps it is, but getting there is really hard and important work that will take time. We need the dedication to see if we can get there.

You’ve been one of the leading local voices on incarceration reform locally. Is there more you’d like to do in that space?

RJ: Again, Tompkins County has taken a different approach in dealing with incarceration. Our Jail population is substantially lower than neighboring counties Upstate. In fact, the public can see the daily Jail population as reported on the Sheriff’s website. As I write this response, the Jail population is 36 individuals. The national average for a county our size is around 226. So far, we have been able to hold fewer people in our Jail without seeing a corresponding increase in crime. Reducing the Jail population can save money and avoids warehousing people, but the real story is in the extensive array of alternatives to incarceration (“ATI”) programming that Tompkins County supports. It is not enough to either have people sit in the Jail or just let them out. Neither approach works very well. We work very hard to try to identify the underlying cause(s) that led someone to enter the criminal justice system and address those issue(s), whether they involve addiction, mental illness, joblessness, homelessness, or educational deficits. The point is to try to take the people out of the criminal justice system permanently, and instead get them on a more productive path for themselves and the community. And, yes, there is more we want to do. We are taking some significant steps to improve our ability to respond pro-actively, particularly in the areas of supportive supervised housing and a collaborative comprehensive community agency led job training program. I hope we can have a conversation in the future on those issues as these important initiatives roll out.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region,
particularly Ithaca. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government?
What more should they be doing?

RJ: As indicated in the last response, Tompkins County has adopted a force forward approach to dealing with people struggling within the criminal justice system. Similarly, the County has devoted real resources to human services programming to make them available to those who require a helping hand. We certainly need to be fiscally careful, but at the same time recognize and respond to the acute needs. In particular, the pandemic has hurt some people far more than others. We need to recognize and address these imbalances.

What concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing
concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

RJ: Tompkins County has long had a housing problem. Essentially, our housing issues are a result of our successful local economy. Approximately 15,000 people commute into the County to work each day. As a result, the demand for housing has been strong for a long time, with the obvious impact on housing cost. And we have needs across the spectrum, including not having enough affordable, workforce, market rate, senior, student, supportive, or shelter housing. I am happy to say that over the past several years we have made some real progress in supporting several of these housing needs, particularly in adding affordable rental options. As Chair of the T.C. Industrial Development Agency, I have had the opportunity to examine these projects as they are proposed and to help provide critical support to getting them to break ground. And as indicated above, the Fourth District has seen a lot of this construction, so I see it from that direction as well. With all that said, it does appear that we are seeing more people openly camping within the City.

I believe that allowing the camping to grow is not a policy solution at all. Certainly, it is not a housing option that works on a sustainable basis. We as a community just have to do more on an emergency basis to provide basic shelter and at the same time enforce the rules on camping.

Looking beyond the city, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access?

RJ: We have real challenges in continuing to manage our response to the pandemic and all of the economic and social fallout from it. Certainly, this is a priority and we will continue to pay attention there. However, the pandemic has brought us at least one positive opportunity. We have received a substantial grant from the Federal government. The Legislature has agreed to use a portion of those funds to create a grant opportunity for community projects, called the Recovery Fund and voted to apply up to $7M of this Federal money. While the terms of the grant program are under development, I hope to see proposals that drive positive transformational changes in our community. I have already heard conversation on possibilities in day care, emergency shelter, health care training, housing, and economic development. We are going to have a very robust community conversation/argument on where our priorities should be. I anticipate that the Recovery Fund will be ready for applications within the next couple of months. Stay tuned.

District 5

Anne Koreman (D, WF) – incumbent since 2018, running unopposed

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected?

AK: Climate mitigation, Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, affordable housing, broadband expansion in rural areas, access to childcare, and navigation through & recovery from the pandemic (sorry I couldn’t stop at just 5).

What do you view as your district’s role in Tompkins County? 

AK: District 5 plays many roles in TC; farming, housing, & recreation/tourism. In most of my district, the housing is a lot more affordable than in the City of Ithaca. A lot of us just like living in the beautiful quite rural areas like the hamlet of Jacksonville and along the shores of Cayuga Lake. We have a large portion our land which is farmed to produce food and support local employment. We also have a vibrant downtown in the Village of Trumansburg which is adjacent to Taughannock Falls State Park and the Black Diamond Recreation Trail. 

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen? 

AK: I do agree with the outcomes to this point especially with the extensive amount of public engagement. What I would like to see happen sooner rather than later is engagement with additional municipalities whether they have a public safety department or not. 

You’ve been on the legislature since winning election in 2017. What topic are you most bothered by because of either inaction or failure to address during that time period?

AK: It was a struggle to get any significant focus and action on diversity, inclusion, and equity issues during my first couple of years. After the death of George Floyd and the subsequent social uprising, our county legislature and administration did positively respond by hiring a Chief Equity and Diversity Officer. That person oversees the forming and implementation of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

AK: We can always be doing more. With that said, one of the many things I like about TC is that we don’t sit on our laurels, we are ever evolving to try to meet the changing needs of our community. Substance abuse is a huge issue which many departments and agencies address, but the need is always greater than the services. I am grateful for the recent announcement from NYS Attorney General Letitia James of $1.75 million for substance abuse prevention and treatment.

Though I assume it’s less prominent in other parts of the county than in Ithaca, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? 

AK: One of the most concrete things I am doing right now is to work with the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency to institute a local labor requirement for any project which receives tax abatements. Most everybody I talk to would rather have a better paying local job so they can afford the high price of housing here. Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim? Wages are not keeping up with inflation including the exploding housing prices. People are coming from downstate and out of state to move or invest here because compared to a lot of other places, we are a vibrant and progressive community – this is partly to blame for driving up the cost of housing.

Looking beyond your district, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

AK: All three of those issues are very important but I see THE most important issue is mitigating climate change. TC recently hired a Sustainability Officer to shepherd us through many green initiatives such as aggressively reducing our facilities’ carbon emissions down to net-zero by 2026. As the chair of our Planning, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee and a long-time environmentalist, I am proud to support our county’s efforts towards sustainability and help us be a role model for other counties across NYS. In addition, TC now has about two dozen fully electric vehicles in our fleet and many more hybrids.

Is transportation the largest challenge facing your district’s residents? It is an issue, but I don’t believe it’s the largest issue for most of the people in District 5. However, for those that it is an issue for, it is often their biggest challenge trying to get to work, get food, and take their children places. Is the public transportation situation here fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT?

AK: I will leave that answer to my legislative colleagues, who are included in this article, and are working on this issue more intensely than I am.

District 6

Mike Sigler (R, Independence) – has served on legislature for 11 years, running unopposed

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected? 

MS: Development is the top issue facing Lansing. There are now two utility-scale solar projects on the table that would cover more than 3000 acres of the town. It will change the face of the town for my lifetime, if not my children’s. These powerplants are going up on active farmland, next to people’s homes. There needs to be a balance. It’s one thing to industrially develop land that’s been zoned that way, quite another to blindside homeowners with development that’s out of character to the area and was not even a type of project just 10 years ago. Much of the siting of these power plants will be done by the state, so when asked what the county’s role should be, it should be as a bridge between state and local governments and at very least should be informing constituents about these enormous changes and fighting to mitigate the impact these power plants will have. Farmland protection is clearly a top issue for the county.

Development is always a pressing issue. Lansing finds itself asking, how many Dollar Stores can the town support? Is that the only kind of development we’ll see? The town is still under an onerous natural gas moratorium, making industrial development difficult and costing residents thousands more to heat their homes. To these concerns, NYSEG has had little to say other than they’re coming up with a plan. Lansing wants to be more than a bedroom community for Ithaca which has most of the development advantages.

The reconstruction of the county jail is another pressing issue for the county. It’s been on the back burner because of Covid, but it needs to be addressed and soon. It’s an outdated building. I’m not suggesting a new jail, but a retrofit that can adequately keep both people in custody and our people in the jail safe. This was an issue before the reimagining campaign and I believe separate. We’ve addressed keeping folks out of the jail who are better served continuing with their lives as their cases make their way through the courts, but it’s a constant struggle to maintain that balance.

The reimagining of the police and its effect on the Sheriff’s department is in my top five. I voted against much of the move to take authority away from the Sheriff, an elected official, and place it in county administration. We can argue if that’s what’s been done, but that’s how I see the establishment of the Community Justice Center. I still believe the Sheriff has the ultimate authority over county policing and that the “Center” from a County standpoint is on Warren Road, not Tioga Street. If there are changes that need to be made, I believe those will come and be implemented by the Sheriff and the mayor of Ithaca and the mayors of villages with their own departments.

Lastly, Covid will continue to be a struggle, but with cases now hitting single digits, I think we’ll see more good news than bad.

What do you view as Lansing’s role in Tompkins County?

MS: The lack of natural gas supply is changing Lansing’s role in the county and not for the better. Heat pumps are very effective when building housing of four units or larger, but for anything smaller, it’s very expensive. What does that mean? It means you’ll get more apartments and fewer homes and fewer industries, restaurants and retail. NYSEG has dropped the ball as Lansing’s utility supplier. Lansing has a choice to make. We have always been a farming community. I would encourage the town to embrace that and support every business that relates to that from the salt mine, to farm to table, farmers, and breweries. Lansing can become an outdoor destination with lakefront and wide-open fields, or it can be covered in glass and
steel where people sleep, but don’t live. We are a town that’s always at the beginning. That’s our strength, not our weakness.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

MS: No. I’ve been one of the most vocal supporters of local police and I’ve been shocked at the turn some of the debate has taken. I believe law enforcement has been treated poorly in our county by both some citizens and politicians. We took two law enforcement groups that were models and grouped them in with every department suffering enormous challenges. We have not supported our people. In many cases police are enforcing a law that some may find unjust.

Why are folks not protesting their legislatures to change the law as opposed to the police? We have a Sheriff who ran on a platform of addressing inequities found in policing, who was and is enacting those changes, and yet some in the community and politicians decided it better to attack those efforts in favor of what they, with no policing experience, no management experience, and who have never volunteered for so much as a seat on an advisory committee, thought was a path forward. Any change to policing will have to be enacted internally by the very people some have spent the last 18 months tearing down. They’re not tearing down to rebuild; if they were they would have understood the police they attack are their neighbors, their kids go to the same school, their parents and wives or husbands may work at the same company. They are just as much a part of the community as the protestors and in that sense many politicians have failed them.

You’re one of the most senior members of the Tompkins County Legislature (I believe), especially with the departing members this year. What’s your largest source of frustration since entering the legislature? Is there a topic or issue that you feel has gone either ignored or there’s been a failure to address?

MS: It’s the focus on national issues instead of local issues. It tends to happen more when there’s a Republican in the White House. When there is, we debate national issues for hours, but when we face those same issues and a Democrat is President, somehow, they are less important. The politicization of everything has come at an enormous cost. We have folks from outside the town of Lansing and even outside the county and state advocating against certain business in Lansing or trying to determine what happens in Tompkins or Lansing. Why? I represent thousands of people and will do what I think they want, not what someone in Albany or New York City wants. I answer to them. It’s frustrating to me to find we concern ourselves more with what an advocacy group thinks as opposed to our neighbors.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing, or what approach would you take?

MS: We invest a lot in social services. It’s our biggest department and I’m thankful we have someone so capable running it. We were lucky Kit Kephart applied for the position. I can speak from experience with Early Intervention. There’s no doubt my family would have been lost without the services there, but instead, because that investment was made, society will have the gift of another active, involved citizen. A mistake some in my party make is looking as these social issues as problems to be solved. We must accept there are problems like poverty that won’t be solved. We must constantly address them and will have to forever. There will always
be people in need and we will always need to help them. That’s what being a society is. That’s the contract. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have expectations of people or let some grift off a generous system. We must keep basic fairness in mind, but we also must acknowledge there will be a lot of failure involved in reaching a success with one family and that while that family may have found its footing, another will come along that’s lost its.

Though I’m less versed in the market in Lansing than in Ithaca, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

MS: You need basic infrastructure if you want affordable housing. We don’t have natural gas in Lansing and much of the town does not have sewer so you’ll be limited in where you can build housing. An example on a barrier. Without natural gas, a builder with a more than four-unit complex may consider heat pumps, but the electric grid can’t handle that. Right now, the builder will have to pay for the utility upgrade. Should they? Or sewer. Without it, you’re limited in density. Another limiting factor for Lansing, is oversight. Milton Meadows has become a magnet for police calls. The town was promised by the developers that there would be a manager on site, that tenants who caused problems would be removed. We’ve now arrived at a point where folks who you would welcome to your community are choosing not to live in a complex because of a select few people who management seems unable to deal with.

Looking beyond Lansing, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

MS: Since you asked about those three issues, I’ll answer those.

As for climate change, the only solution is nuclear power. We can switch everything to electric, but the main generation source is fossil fuels. I’ve proposed hydro locally with a refitting of the 13-foot dam, but that and solar and wind won’t bring you enough to fill our current use, let alone power all our vehicles and heat our homes. Nuclear has come a long way since the 1970s and rejecting it shows a lack of seriousness about the problem.

When it comes to childcare, perhaps we have not acknowledged how much childcare really costs. The state continues to add regulations to childcare pushing out someone who may have been able to watch two or three children. We certainly need to see a change in how we work, but while that may help with white-collar jobs, there are simply some jobs that you must show up for. We need a government and private business approach to this. If you’re taking a government approach, it will require subsidies and elimination of some regulations to make it cheaper to provide that service. It will be up to us to decide how much and what regulations can be cut.

Broadband is essential, but Dryden’s plan takes a hammer to a problem that needs a scalpel. The county is now doing a physical accounting of who does not have broadband. It should not take that long to do that, I’m thinking the end of the year. Then we can ask the question in a request for proposal, how much to hook those folks up and then we pay for it. Other counties have already done this and are already hooking those people up. Why start what amounts to a new “company” with customer service, service trucks, line employees, billing, marketing, to hook up the several hundred homes that don’t have broadband and then offer new untested
service to those who already do? Why overbuild an area with broadband that already has it? It would be easier to turn a broadband service provider into a government, than a government into a broadband provider.

Is transportation the largest challenge facing the residents of your district? Is public
transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT?

MS: High taxes and increasing living costs are the number one challenge facing the residents of my district. With inflation now on the rise, their costs are still going up. Everything we just talked about, childcare, electricity, natural gas, heating oil, gas, all up in cost. If you want more bus service, the three partners will have to boost funding. To run routes to more sparsely populated areas costs more than it makes
from ridership in those areas. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, but a gallon of gas or an electric charge costs a certain amount and it takes more of it to run from Lansing than downtown. Unless a new form of transport like the hyper loop disrupts current systems, the bus is the best option we have and if the partners want to keep it, it will need more funding.

District 7

Dan Klein (D, WF) – incumbent since 2014, running unopposed

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected? 

DK:

  • Broadband access for all County residents.
  • Improve cell phone reception in the County.
  • Continue to be a voice for keeping our taxes low while still providing services.
  • Look for opportunities to assist with land preservation and trail development.

What do you view as District 7’s role in Tompkins County?

DK: District 7 has a lot of open space and scenery which all County residents enjoy. The price for our topography though is poor internet and cell phone reception.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

DK: I mostly agree with the Reimagining Public Safety reforms at the County level. I’m not sure if they will be successful—no one is—so it’s important to think of them as an experiment. I also recognize that these reforms are going on at the same time as crime seems to be increasing. I support the police and reject the wholesale demonization of them.

Do you think the legislature has failed at any particular issue during your time as a member? If so, what do you think are/were the biggest roadblocks?

DK: The only time in my 8 years on the legislature when I feel like the legislature “failed” was last month when we voted 9 to 5 to discontinue the original broadband study. We replaced it with a different study. I advocated for doing both studies, and the price tag would have only been $20,000 – a tiny amount in relation to our overall budget. There was no compelling reason to abandon the first study.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

DK: Sometimes the need seems bottomless. It also feels like there are people for which no amount of government help is likely to improve their situation. In general, I feel like Tompkins County does enough.

Though I assume it’s less prominent in the town than in the city of Ithaca, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

DK: I may be in the minority on the County Legislature who thinks that we don’t have much of a role to play in the affordable housing crisis. Since affordable housing seems to be a problem almost everywhere, it’s clearly not an easily solvable problem. I think there is an extra factor at play in Tompkins County in that we are such a popular place to live that there is just no way for the housing supply to catch up with the demand.

Looking beyond your district, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

DK: I think the most pressing issues facing our county are things that go way beyond our borders: the housing crisis, lack of affordable healthcare, climate change, inflation, the lack of home health aides, the threat to democracy to name a few. In this county, we can nibble at the edges of these problems, but we can’t solve them. What we can do is to have a strong safety net, and also make the quality of life as good as we can for as many as we can.

Is transportation the largest challenge facing District 7 residents? Is public transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT (as Board president I understand if you perhaps can’t answer this)?

DK: Transportation is a problem in all the rural areas of the county. West Danby has no public transportation at all. TCAT is an excellent community asset, and more money would spawn more service. But the amount of money we are talking about is large. Transportation is expensive, and there is no way around that.

District 8

Randy Brown (R) – newcomer

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected? 

RB: The number one priority for me is our children and young adults. This has been my focus for twenty years and I will stay focused on this issue when elected. The County needs to understand how few healthy opportunities exist in our rural towns and help identify, organize and fund the current organizations in place at the Town level. We have many good people volunteering and operating youth programs in Enfield and Newfield but they are poorly funded by our County.

Right behind my first priority is our senior citizens. Most are on fixed incomes and all costs are on the rise. Add rising taxes and health care costs and seniors are forced to make difficult choices. We need to proactively identify all seniors that need assistance by category and provide custom solutions for the area they live in. This would be helpful to the many caregivers helping their families through the inevitable housing choices. The OAR put together a nice document that details many available services and we can start from there.

Number three is food and farming. I will focus on supporting current family farms, micro-farming and family gardens to take a step towards sustainable farming. It is much more efficient and healthy to create as much food as we can locally first. Both Enfield and Newfield are considered Food Deserts and no attention has been given to this. Food Pantries should continue to be funded and receive more support and praise. 

Almost all shopping for food and basic needs is done outside of our towns, as very few stores exist close by. I believe there are logical solutions that could improve food quality and availability closer to where we live. The County should create a task force that looks at farming as a solution to some food needs and determine what capabilities exist or can be realistically created in our rural communities.

Other areas of concern and attention are the rising cost of energy and the solid waste we generate. I have a background in facility efficiency and zero waste systems that I will help the County improve on.

What do you view as Enfield/Newfield’s (your district, essentially) role in Tompkins County?

RB: My focus is on improving the lives of people that need help or assistance in Enfield and Newfield. I believe we can be a model for how our problems are discussed, identified and solved. Our role in Tompkins County has been limited for many years and I will help change that by working with and empowering people. We’ll develop action items and work more closely with the County. 

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

RB: I support our Sheriff Department and do not want it merged with the City Police. Our rural character is much different than Ithaca and we need unique service and support. There were some four areas I agreed with and they are on my website at www.randybbrown.com. I think the rural towns should work closely with our Sheriff and work to make improvements in service and interactions with the public.

This is the most crowded race for county legislature. What do you think makes you the best choice between yourself, Vanessa Greenlee and Bob Lynch?

RB: I am the most qualified of the three candidates. One, I am a product of this community and have spent most of my life here. I know the challengesour rural communities face as I have lived them and have been educated by dozens of relatives that lived here their entire lives. I have lived in mobile homes more than once in my life and understand the challenges of our disadvantaged families. 

My commitment to the town I grew up in, Newfield, over the last two decades is unmatched by Vanessa and Bob. I have been a steadfast volunteer and financial supporter of youth programs at our schools and recreation programs. The nine years on our School Board and eight years on the Planning Board give me insight my competitors do not have.

In addition, my work experience has depth. From a landscaper and custodian to the President of two companies I have been able to build trust and respect at all levels. Building teams and working together to solve problems has always been a strength and it will serve our District 8 well.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

RB: We should help everyone that needs help, but I believe there are more than enough people living here now that need and deserve our help. It appears to me that the County does not clearly understand the challenges we currently have and ignoring them causes the continued deterioration of our communities. I have visited over 1,250 homes in Enfield and Newfield to date and it has been an education and privilege to be welcomed by so many people. The serious discussions made me much more aware of how concerned people are about their communities. 

Though I assume it’s less prominent in Newfield/Enfield than in Ithaca, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns in the county? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

RB: Enfield and Newfield are not immune to rising home prices and rent. We are seeing people leave Ithaca and move to our towns because of the high cost in Ithaca and we welcome them with open arms. There has not been an affordable housing project in our District for thirty years and this is due to many factors. Both Enfield and Newfield do have some trailer parks and generally this is a type of affordable housing. The concrete initiative I would drive is making trailers and other homes with high energy consumption/cost much more efficient. We must comprehend this issue and work to fix it. It will be good for lower-income families and the environment. 

Looking beyond Dryden, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

RB: Broadband is a necessity and I applaud Dryden’s efforts. David McKenna has been focused on this for many years and progress is being made. The County is also working on a plan and I hope to be a part of it. I believe the County is on the right path, but big companies like Spectrum are not making an effort unless their payback is less than five years. The County should play hardball with the larger companies and work to improve service and reduce cost for residents.

I think we need to be realistic about Climate Change. We should focus more on reducing the need for carbon-based fuels by making all homes more energy-efficient and start with lower-income families’ homes. We must also understand natural gas is important; if we lose a power grid, and it happens, natural gas is our backup for many public and personal buildings. I am against fracking as water is a much more important resource. I do believe Nuclear power could be a solution in the future but this is above my pay grade.

My wife, Debi, provided daycare for many years and she was very good at it. The laws changed and it made it very difficult and more expensive to run. I think there is an opportunity utilize current public buildings that are already code compliant and that would reduce cost in our rural areas.

Is transportation the largest challenge facing your district’s residents? Is public transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT?

RB: Transportation is extremely important to people that can not afford vehicles or can not drive. All essentials are in Ithaca, Watkins Glen or Elmira and very few people are going to walk or ride their bike there. First, I think Cornell should provide a large increase in funding to TCAT. Their increases over the years are low and the current budget limits routes in rural areas. 

I believe in efficiency and utilization of assets. We should look at all entities providing transportation services, including schools and work towards better service through efficiency and coordination. Let’s not forget the many people that drive daily alone and offer incentives for ride-sharing. Consolidation can mean as few as two people.

Vanessa Greenlee (D, WF) – newcomer

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected?

VG: My top legislative priorities are green energy, food systems, childcare, public transportation, and broadband.

What do you view as District 8’s role in Tompkins County?

VG: Enfield and Newfield have more affordable housing than many other places in the county. Because of this we absorb some of the population overflow from county areas with relatively higher housing costs. Our district offers wide open spaces and scenic beauty to enjoy. Rural areas such as Enfield and Newfield have a role to play in producing renewable energy via solar installations and other sources, not just for Tompkins County but statewide. We need more support for essential services such as broadband, transportation, and childcare/eldercare to maximize our participation in the county economy.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

VG: From the conversations I’m having, perception in our district to the Reimaging Public Safety initiative tends toward the defensive. The posture is that public safety officials are not intending to cause harm, and that therefore claims of adverse outcomes cannot be legitimate. But I think there’s room to work in the space between these two ideas. Public safety officials can have very good intentions, outcomes can be negative, and these two realities can co-exist at the same time.

One of the topics of dialogue on the Reimagining Public Safety website is a community healing plan to recognize trauma held by the community, specifically generational trauma experienced by marginalized communities and communities of color, and trauma experienced by law enforcement officers. What I don’t see yet are organized conversations with communities in the periphery—work to process what is being observed. I think it would only add value to the reforms being attempted if the work is seen as more legitimate. So I think there is work still to be done among those who may have been in more of a bystander role.

We need to see the beginnings of the real-time public safety community dashboard soon. We are limited in our ability as residents to assess if reform plans go too far, or not far enough, until we can monitor for changes in conditions.

This is the most crowded race for county legislature. What do you think makes you the best choice between yourself, Randy Brown and Bob Lynch?

VG: County legislators who are actively raising a family and participating in the workforce are a minority. I represent those views.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

VG: Tompkins County passes resolutions to advocate for broader supports from the state such as for single-payer health care. Models of childcare that are dependent on parent-funding alone are financially unsustainable at scale. The county should use its voice to advocate for expanded state support for childcare to stabilize access throughout the region.

Though I assume it’s less prominent in Newfield/Enfield than in Ithaca, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

VG: I hear from our residents that costs related to housing—such as energy, broadband, and property taxes—are of higher concern. Therefore, I anticipate focusing my energies there first.

Looking beyond your district, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

VG: The most pressing long-term issue is adapting to climate change in a way that is equitable and just. Knowledge has become so highly specialized in science, technology, and medicine that many people have become disenfranchised and distrustful. The changes that we are seeing in our environment and in our social norms are happening so quickly that it’s become hard to adjust. The work is to reverse course on environmental degradation, and accelerate climate adaptation strategies, while keeping social justice at the helm. I am proud to live in Tompkins County where we’ve had strong leaders from history in the fight to abolish slavery, the struggle for women’s right to vote, the movement for LGBTQIA+ equality, and more. Social justice in the time of climate change is our fight.

We must overcome our dependency on fossil fuels. The county’s Green Facilities Net Zero Carbon Emission initiative is viable and one that I will strongly support. We need stronger local food systems to offset potential future disruption to supply chains. The Tompkins Food Future initiative is setting targets for viable solutions such as increasing connections between local producers and food outlets to local large purchasers of food. And with known and unknown climate changes headed our way and the ensuing clashes of opinion we can anticipate about how to respond, we need public servants who appreciate how complex our respective views can be in the work to activate our shared humanity. I’m running for office because perhaps I can be a viable part of the work.

Is transportation the largest challenge facing District 8 residents? Is public transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT?

VG: Transportation is a top challenge in District 8. I spoke with a resident this week who does not have access to a car—she lives on a county road with no sidewalks and no lighting—and pays $25 one-way to commute 2 miles to a job that starts before daylight. We need better transportation options than that. 

A functional change that would improve public transit in our rural areas is the addition of first mile / last mile service, so we can connect riders to main TCAT lines. Two districts have begun pilots and it’d be great for Newfield / Enfield to be next.

But the second—bigger—change needed is that we have to get unstuck from a perpetual loop of low ridership / low route availability. What I mean is that people don’t ride TCAT because there is not availability, and then there is not availability because people don’t ride TCAT. I don’t see it as either a resource increase issue or as a matter of efficiency reform. It’s about organizational modeling. We need to fundamentally challenge the assumption of public transit as social welfare, and advance public transit as a viable option for people who can afford to drive. What would it take to double, or quadruple, the current ridership? What resources would that then attract? I want to drive hard toward answers to questions like these. 

Robert Lynch (Southwest-Tompkins) – newcomer

Note: Though Lynch announced he would no longer actively campaign when he lost the primary vote in June, he remains on the ballot because “people deserve the opportunity to vote for me if they wish,” he said.

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected?

RL: Priority one, for any candidate; for any office; in any election; local, state or national, is to get COVID-19 behind us. We’ve lived far too long with this deadly monkey on our back. We must do all that we can, at every level of government, to fight this invasive virus and to pull together as a society to accomplish our mission.

I do not just talk about fighting COVID. I act. The record will show that as far back as August 2020 I took the floor before the County Legislature and advocated for universal COVID-19 surveillance testing at County (and later, federally-reimbursed) expense. It happened. Last winter, when my Enfield constituents were clamoring for a vaccine registry, I authored a Town Board Resolution asking both Tompkins County and New York State to make that registry a reality. Again, it happened. And most recently, I moved for our Enfield Town Board to put in place a vaccine-or-test mandate for its employees. No, that didn’t happen; but only because a Town Board majority opposed me. But I tried. I will try again. I’m willing to “take the arrows” when I know I have right on my side.

Priority two for me is governmental transparency. For two years, our County Legislature and its administrative arm kept a big secret from the rest of us. They negotiated the purchase of $2.8 Million in pricey real estate next to our Courthouse as their now-preferred site for a $30 Million office building. The purchase only became public this summer when legislators quickly approved the deal. They invited little public discussion.

I think legislative secrecy is wrong. We who pay the taxes and elect our leaders have the right to know how those we elevate to power exercise their precious franchise. Here in Enfield, our Supervisor recently decided to close our Advisory Committee meetings to public attendance. She’s said having “uninformed” residents attend “is not appropriate as it is more disruptive than productive.” She could not be more wrong. Democracy is meant to be messy. It’s autocracy that is easy. Then all you need is a 20-pound sledgehammer and a few willing accomplices. We must demand Open Government. As County Legislator, I will insist upon it.

Priority three for me must be safety. I see with increased frequency on this website’s pages stock footage of a police car accompanied by a report of “shots fired,” or “victim stabbed,” or “man assaulted during home invasion.” The Interim County Administrator recently warned a legislative committee that her staff at the Human Services Building no longer feels safe. While we strive to achieve racial justice, we must also realize that no one can freely exercise her rights while living her life in fear. Violent crime, I suspect, is invading our community from places far away. We must recognize it and address it with intelligence, reason, and courage.

What do you view as District 8’s role in Tompkins County?

RL: District Eight—I prefer to call it the Great Tompkins-Southwest—is a rural district, comprised of Newfield and much of Enfield. It’s been my home for 52 years. I feel its pulse. I cherish its uniqueness. I vow to protect its interests.

Too often, outsiders, and even many local residents, equate Tompkins County with urbanized Ithaca. They think Cornell, the Downtown Commons, Moosewood. But as an Enfield lawmaker, I see a different Tompkins County. I see the aging woman living in a rundown mobile home; proud, a salt-of-the-earth citizen, who makes ends meet by journeying weekly to the Enfield Food Pantry in the same tattered attire, and whose yard may sprout junk only because her budget fails to carry a line for solid waste fees. I talk to constituents who can’t understand how our County Government has need to spend $30 Million on new offices or creates fancy administrative jobs with titles hard to comprehend. I see a County swimming in cash, while we in Enfield struggle to bring our Town Clerk up to a respectable wage.

We in the Great Tompkins-Southwest deserve a person who gives our rural values a voice. Three people compete this fall for your vote to provide that voice. Think wisely as you make your choice. The person you elect must have the reasoning—and the seasoning—to counter the urbanized and more affluent influences that often have our County Legislature spend too much cash and wander off in uncharted directions. There’s something about this aging country boy. He can peer through an elitist fog to find the path of common sense. 

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

RL: Let me start this way. One afternoon during this spring’s Primary campaign, I shared some time with a leader within our district, well-known to some. She said she’d participated in one of those focus groups that contributed to the Reimagining Report. She said she’d felt out of place; as though her thoughtful, tempered, police-supportive responses were not welcomed by the facilitators. That told me all I needed to know as to the Reimagining Report’s objectivity.

To repeat how I answered a similar question for this news site back in June, I believe the City/County Reimagining Public Safety Report was an “opportunity lost.” We could have accomplished more had we taken a different approach; advanced tougher measures to combat police violence, while according those who provide colorblind law enforcement greater credit for keeping us safe.

Let us truly understand that the “Reimagining Report” was authored in response to a politically-inspired gubernatorial mandate; another instance of Andrew Cuomo spotting a parade, seeing where it was headed, and then jumping to its front. At a County Legislature meeting last summer, someone asked what Albany had done with the turgid, 98-page document we so methodically prepared at taxpayer expense. “Oh, they just thanked us for it,” some administrative hired hand replied. Nothing more. So much for mandates. Any benefit the Reimagining Report provides it provides for us alone.

Our County Administrator should never have taken upon his department the authority to forge a “collaborative” with the City of Ithaca in writing this document. Not only are the City’s needs different. Ithaca’s urban citizenry often looks more askance upon tough policing than do we in our county’s rural reaches. More often we view the police as a friend, not an adversary. A “community solutions” social worker may at times provide valuable assistance to uniformed officers, providing a softer side to law enforcement. But this teamworker should only supplement, not supplant, those who must enter dangerous situations and employ deadly force when force is truly needed.

The City of Ithaca now finds itself in open verbal warfare with its police union. We should never follow Ithaca politicians’ dangerous path of currying favor with the national press while ignoring the hard-working men and women who staff our Public Safety Building. Mind you, we must never tolerate racist excesses. Toward that end, I’ve called for a “zero-tolerance policy.” It would demand unapologetic, heightened discipline, including the power to terminate any officer for inappropriate racial misconduct.

But I also support our Sheriff, Derek Osborne. I believe he strikes a fair balance. I worry that the Community Justice Center, now being formed, could suck us into the City of Ithaca’s preferred policing agenda; not our own. We each have separate needs. We each should strive toward individualized solutions.

This is the most crowded race for county legislature. What do you think makes you the best choice between yourself, Vanessa Greenlee and Randy Brown?

RL: From the start of my campaign, I’ve promised myself never to “go negative.” It’s too common elsewhere. Voters don’t like it. Neither do I. But since I’ve been asked to compare and contrast, let me hold true to the facts:

I do not believe one wins an election without hard work, preparation and sacrifice. Some 50 years ago, when the County Legislature was known as the Board of Representatives, I began covering Tompkins County Government as a broadcast reporter. I knew and reported on the titans of that era. Through my reporting, I acquired the unspoken spirit of the place; the gravitas inherent in this county’s governance; the solemn, awesome duty one assumes with the office to which he’s elected; the obligation to represent constituents’ best interests and to place each constituent’s needs above partisan politics or the limited perspectives of those who may carry the largest megaphones. I respect the Legislature’s Tradition of Transparency, an attribute I fear has been lost in recent years in the drive toward efficiency and expediency. Knowing an organization’s true cultural heritage is not learned overnight. I am no newcomer. I’ve learned it.

But knowledge requires review classes to keep one relevant and fresh. And just as I did a “deep dive” into Enfield governance before I took my seat on its Town Board—I attended almost every Town Board meeting for nearly a year—I adopted the same tutorial discipline in seeking this seat on the County Legislature.

Please allow me this one moment to criticize. And yes, for me, it touches a nerve. While my competing candidates may have basked in the Good Life evenings last summer, I sacrificed my time to attend each of the County Legislature’s long, twice-monthly meetings. I was often the only aspiring candidate from any district in Chambers. But not only did I listen and learn; I also, as any good reporter should, recorded key discussions with pen and paper. I then went home and labored into the night, chronicling legislative business through stories posted on my website, bob-lynch-tompkins.com. Yes, it’s work. But no one seeking office should expect to be handed authority on a silver platter. I do not. 

More than once, I brought urgent matters to legislators’ attention in my Privilege of the Floor statements. I studied the issues that confronted our County’s lawmakers. I formed opinions. And I acted on those opinions as conscience dictated I should. In voice and in writing, I expressed my concerns about COVID-19 and about the Legislature’s $2.8 Million downtown real estate purchase. I kept informed. I kept others informed.

My work did not end there. More often than others—way more often—I attended meetings of the Newfield Town Board. By doing so, I learned of the issues and the players of a new town I sought to represent. And, of course, I’ve regularly attended and actively participated in our Enfield Town Board, where I sit as Councilperson.

I am ready. I believe I’m ready more than others. I’ve done my homework. I’ve paid my dues. And I’m prepared to serve.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

RL: Social Services, at least as a County department, remains one of which I’m not most familiar. Choosing to lean upon family, not institutions, I have never visited what used to be known as “the welfare office” as a client, and only rarely as a reporter. However, anecdotally, I’ve heard people describe New York’s Social Services, including our own department, as impersonal, regimented, and downright heartless. It may be changing. But change takes time.

Let me relate another constituent story. I came upon a couple who were parents of a problem teen. This 18-year old would spirit himself (or herself) away from the family. Mom and Dad were truly worried that their child would either harm himself or harm others. They contacted the Mental Health Department. “Sorry,” was the response, “we’re powerless to act; the person’s an adult.”

That story tells volumes about the failures of “the system;” one social worker either unable or unwilling to stretch the rules a bit, perhaps to save a life, maybe many lives. Time after time we read the national stories about how government agents have failed, how one lost soul fell through the cracks to society’s peril. We need a social services network where members’ bravery outpaces conformity. We need those willing to break the rules to spare society.

Though I assume it’s less prominent in Newfield/Enfield than in Ithaca, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

RL: I had occasion to address the affordable housing issue earlier in the campaign. What I said then still holds true. And I’ll be blunt. Most of the Ithaca-centric initiatives toward increasing the local housing stock have produced nothing more than a misguided mess. They rest their central argument upon a flawed premise; namely that local residents want to rent forever. New housing stock, those new, tile-faced high-rises that pop up in Ithaca like dandelions—and become just as ugly—fail to serve the true needs of young families who seek to put down roots and build owner equity. Rentals are for college kids, they say. “It’s how I lived when I was just starting out,” people tell me. Yet that’s what this community keeps building. Why? Because that’s where the big money lies.

The Tompkins County Legislature holds at least three seats on the Industrial Development Agency (IDA). Were I a legislative member, I would encourage the IDA to favor owner-occupied multiple-family housing, not just rentals. And outside of our urban core, I would discourage overly aggressive regulation on new home construction. Let’s not raise the price of a new home beyond the point of affordability. 

“I’m tired of renting. Do you know of any houses for sale?” one young woman recently asked me as I traveled door-to-door, canvassing in Newfield. It stands as a tragic irony that many of our community’s strongest advocates for affordable housing—rentals, all—would never, themselves, live in such places, but instead already enjoy the fruits of home ownership. Let’s work to help give our community the kind of housing that they, the people, truly want. Let’s not just placate the developers.

Looking beyond Newfield/Enfield, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

RL: This question first hit me as a tough one to answer. What’s “the most pressing issue?” There are so many. And then it hit me. And it happens to be one I had the courage to address in a Privilege of the Floor remark before the County Legislature July 20.

The Federal Government has assigned Tompkins County Government nearly $19.9 Million under the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). In an objective sense, we probably don’t deserve the money. The fed’s “counterfactual” (yes, that’s really a word) calculation claims the County treasury lost $27 Million during the pandemic. Actually, our fund balance grew. It doesn’t matter. It’s free money, and we must find the best way to spend it.

Contrary to my advice in late July, the County Legislature directed all the ARPA funds into “government operations,” with three-quarters of that total reserved as “Cash for Capital,” liquidity that reduces future bonding needs for projects like a new office building.

I told the Legislature that to spend the cash on bricks-and-mortar betrayed ARPA’s intent. The funds should be “Purposed for People,” as I termed it. As for earmarking it toward a building, I warned my potential colleagues, “That’s not a rescue plan. That’s a want. And you should know the difference between wants and needs.”

I’d like to think my admonition hit home. Two months later, the County Legislature carved out a back-door path toward spending at least part of Uncle Sam’s money as it should. The Legislature now plans to tap up to $7 Million, maybe more, from its massive Fund Balance to assist a variety of human service programs that would truly purpose that big relief check toward people needs.

My first priority for the people-purposed money? How about helping our Enfield Food Pantry get out of its cramped quarters and build itself a new home? And you know what? I went before the County Legislature Sept. 7 and told them just that. It’s how I lead. It’s how I serve. Whether on the Enfield Town Board or maybe someday in Legislative Chambers, I govern this way: I spot a problem. I see an opportunity. I seize the moment, and I speak out. Win or lose this election, I won’t stop doing so. 

Is transportation the largest challenge facing District 8 residents? Is public transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT?

RL: District Eight is rural. Unlike in urbanized Ithaca, a TCAT bus can’t travel every road or stop near every residence. For the foreseeable future, we must look beyond a bus line to address our transportation needs. Downtown progressives may not want to hear those words. But rural realists like me know the common-sense truth. For us, the car is here to stay.

That doesn’t mean TCAT serves no purpose. Once residents drive to park-and-ride hubs, TCAT can take them to their final destination. It saves gas. It saves the planet. And it saves hassle. To borrow Broadband Internet slang, TCAT serves the “middle mile” quite well. It’s that “last mile” to the home that defies a simple solution.

I live perhaps five miles from my nearest park-and-ride lot outside the Enfield Highway Garage. So if my car breaks down, I can’t ride the bus either. And ever increasingly, persons of modest means find themselves priced out of the new car market. To improve the financially-challenged person’s access to better personal transportation, governmental leaders must do what they can to improve vehicle affordability.

That’s a heavy lift. Don’t expect one county legislator to solve the problem. But at least he or she must recognize that the problem exists. And to ensure those “last miles” of travel are safe and snow-free, let’s invest sufficiently in County and Town Highway Departments. Return to those departments sufficient staff, like, coincidentally, I voted to do just this month on the Enfield Town Board.

District 9

Lee Shurtleff (R) – newcomer, running unopposed

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected? 

LS: Safety is the key word for me: safe roads, safe bridges, safe homes, safe neighborhoods, safe communities. As a mostly rural area, District 9’s needs at times differ from those of other county areas. Infrastructure, law enforcement, and support for our aging population are my key priorities. Many of our residents live on fixed and limited incomes, and I will continually weigh the tax and fiscal implications of our legislative decisions.

What do you view as District 9’s role in Tompkins County? 

LS: Historically, District 9 (the Town and Village of Groton, northeastern Lansing, and the McLean area stretching into Dryden) has strong roots in commerce, manufacturing and agriculture: most of those who lived in the district traditionally worked within it as well, and supported a wide array of merchants, businesses and local services. Over the last 35 years, the economic changes here have been staggering. The majority of our residents now work outside the greater community, and, for many, it’s a home to where we return at the end of the shift. People live in the district because of its affordable costs, relative safety and the strong sense of community we’ve been able to maintain here. I think District 9 provides a balance and diversity to the central areas of the county whose recent growth is significant and heavily influenced by the economics that come with the colleges.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

LS: Personally, I haven’t seen a lot of outcomes yet, per se, maybe a few good starts toward addressing a wide array of issues. The County is investing organizationally and financially in a long-term effort, and I welcome the attention toward mental health response, training for our officers and the overall review of procedures. Much of the work was already in motion locally before the previous Governor mandated the effort. Many positive components have been overshadowed by the late inclusion of the City’s police reorganization proposal, and given the strong reactions and attention to that single proposal, it may be a challenge for legislators to focus on so many other objectives.

The timeline for completing the study could not have been more problematic. How could we have possibly ensured more widespread, diverse and meaningful input from all the environs of the county during a pandemic? Zoom sessions and focus groups were a necessity, but they didn’t reach out much into areas like District 9. Our public safety agencies do some incredible work and outreach into our communities, and I don’t think the report reflected the many things we do right in Tompkins County. I’d like to see that balance moving forward.

You would be a newcomer to the county legislature. What do you think you bring to the body that isn’t there now? What topic do you think you could be particularly impactful on?

LS: While a newcomer to that body, I am not a newcomer to Tompkins County or to the other local governments. I enjoyed a 30+ year career with Tompkins County, and as Director of Emergency Response (17 years), I was charged with two key initiatives: the large-scale consolidation of emergency dispatching operations and project management for the county’s $20 million+ radio communications replacement. I enjoyed three decades of close involvement and coordination with every other level of government that interacts with the county organization: federal, state, town, village, school, and special districts. Now, as a small business owner working and interacting daily within my district, I expect to contribute a rural “person on the street” perspective to many of the discussions. 

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

LS: In my experience, Tompkins County’s investment and commitment to social services is unmatched, especially by counties of similar or lesser size. That said, I’ve been a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, running with our ambulance service for over 35 years. I was Chief of the Groton Fire Department for many of those years. The COVID situation has exacerbated many of our vulnerabilities- in recent years, I have witnessed increased problems locally with substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence, and suicide. We need to look closely at our outreach and support services, and, as the Reimaging Public Safety Reports testifies, develop alternatives for current responders. Much of the time, public safety is the only mechanism we have to respond to these crises, and their ability to resolve deeper issues is limited.

Though I assume it’s less prominent in the town than in the city of Ithaca, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim? 

LS: Here’s the rural perspective: affordable housing is in fact a county-wide issue. It is driving vulnerable and economically disadvantaged residents out of the City and into the rural areas where many of support services such as child care, health care, and mental health & substance abuse support are limited or non-existent. We no longer have the basics in District 9, such as a full-fledged grocery store or pharmacy, and there are limited social and recreational opportunities for those who can’t drive themselves into the commercial areas. In the shorter term, I’d like to explore the means to address these needs in our area. Clearly, there isn’t a lot of incentive for the private sector in key areas of the county to support and develop affordable housing when there remains such a demand for upper-income occupancies. It’s great to see the steady increase in tax base, but it is coming at the expense of lower-income workers and residents. Local governments need to strive for more balance.

Looking beyond your district, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

LS: I am watching the Town of Dryden’s broadband access plan closely, and hope that, just maybe, a viable model for other communities will develop. The state and federal definitions of “access” have largely driven the grant monies and subsidies, and while simple access and speeds may have improved in some areas, affordability remains as much of a challenge. 

The most pressing issue to me isn’t seeming to get much attention at present, and that’s public safety. Just three weeks ago, there was a shooting in the Village of Groton- 200 feet from where I was sleeping on a Sunday morning. That’s unheard of, but sadly, it’s an indication of much broader countywide problems. Law enforcement is over-stressed and under-equipped, personnel-wise, for the environment that exists today. There are many fewer people looking to enter this necessary field and we’re witnessing an exodus of many of our dedicated officers. This situation does not bode well for our residents, and our local governments need to take notice.

Is transportation the largest challenge facing District 9 residents? Is public transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT?

LS: See above as to challenges. (No, not the largest challenge here)… Public transportation in Tompkins County is well-funded and available through TCAT. Frankly, by my own observations, it appears under-utilized especially given the investment and routes running though this district. On many days, the buses pass through the community either empty or with few riders. The challenges our district residents have lie in the local availability of very basic goods and services that require them to travel distances to obtain. Gadabout has a great presence here for our seniors and provides service we may need to build upon. 

District 10

Deborah Dawson (D) – incumbent since 2018, running unopposed

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected? 

DD: Sometimes, when we’re focused on trying to solve local problems, it’s easy to forget that Tompkins County is part of larger regional, national, and global communities. I try to remember that our county’s future is wedded to those communities’ futures. We face the same challenges: irrational and inflated financial and real estate markets, income and wealth inequality, a shortage of employees, supply chain woes, accelerated climate change, outdated power grids, and a scarcity of key natural resources, to name but a few. Our Legislature cannot control or predict the course of these challenges, but we must plan for them.

My legislative priorities all relate to planning for the sustainability and resilience that our county and our community will need as we move into an unpredictable future. Specifically: 

  • I will legislate to keep the county on healthy and sustainable fiscal footing. We must be prepared to continue operating in another crisis like the pandemic. (Remember: it took Congress a year to provide stimulus funds to states and local governments.) We must conduct a compensation study and be prepared to bear the cost of implementing the results, so that the county can compete in a tight labor market and hire/retain the staff we need to provide the services our residents expect. We must be able to finance the maintenance upgrades and capital improvements that will be necessary to transition county facilities and operations away from fossil fuels.
  • I will continue to advocate for, and support initiatives related to, transitioning county facilities and operations to net zero as quickly as is fiscally responsible. In my first term, I advocated for the internal focus of the county’s current Energy Strategy, and I was instrumental in creating the Climate and Sustainable Energy Advisory Board and the position of Chief Sustainability Officer for the county. The county is now better positioned to move forward with a proactive transition to net zero, rather than waiting until it is forced to comply with future state or Federal greenhouse gas emissions reduction standards.
  • I will continue to legislate for, advocate, and support creating a more diverse and robust workforce in Tompkins County. Our current economy, driven by education, medicine, and tourism/hospitality, is a recipe for continued wealth and income inequality. Moreover, the pandemic has taught us that education and tourism are uniquely susceptible to the vagaries of crises which we cannot control or predict. In the aftermath of the pandemic, we’ve learned that our community has a severe shortage of skilled workers in construction and infrastructure maintenance fields like electricians and plumbers. We need coordinated workforce development efforts that meet the needs of a broader base of businesses, as well as the needs of our residents. 
  • I will legislate, advocate, and support efforts to protect the health of Cayuga Lake and its watershed. A healthy, sustainable watershed and lake are essential to our public health and our economic well-being.

What do you view as District 10’s role in Tompkins County?

DD: District 10 is a traditional close-in suburban part of the larger county community. The district is privileged to enjoy many of the amenities of city living, without many of the problems that plague “inner city” communities.

The Village of Lansing is more economically and demographically diverse than the Village of Cayuga Heights and the Renwick Heights neighborhood. The Village of Lansing has a substantial percentage of residents who rent. This situation has tended to create some NIMBY tension and backlash against “transient renters” at times. I urge my neighbors to remember that many of our residents are stable, long-term renters whose monthly rent payments support our property tax base and revenues.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

DD: In general, I support the county’s RPS initiatives.

Although I appreciated the benefits of the county/city collaboration in responding to Executive Order 203, there were also drawbacks to the joint approach. The controversial and widely misunderstood recommendation to “reimagine” the IPD tended to focus community debate almost exclusively on that one topic. I’m never comfortable with discussions that lump our Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office staff together with the IPD. The TCSO and the IPD must cooperate and support each other, but it’s my perception that they have vastly different organizational cultures. (This was one of the reasons that I so strongly opposed the past proposal that the two departments “co-locate.”) The relationship between the county and the TCSO is much more cooperative than the relationship between the IPD and the City of Ithaca. When we consider law enforcement reform, we must tailor our debate and recommendations to the different cultures and circumstances of the two departments.

I think the TCSO is badly understaffed. On some shifts, we only have three patrol vehicles, with only one deputy in each one, to serve the entire county! If someone is sick or out on disability, there’s not much of a bench from which to fill the gaps. Consequently, our deputies are working a LOT of overtime, and they’re always tired and stressed. A stressed deputy is not a deputy who is functioning at his or her best. If we want better quality law enforcement, we need high-functioning law enforcement personnel. To that end, we should be addressing staffing levels and working conditions, as well as deputy training and counseling.

What topic have you been most frustrated by during your time on the legislature? If it’s an unsolved issue, what has been the biggest roadblock to making progress on it?

DD: Unfunded mandates are the worst!! Sixty cents or more of every property tax dollar the county receives is spent on mandated services over which the county has no choice or control. Medicaid and social services are the largest of these, but NYS adds new ones every year – Raise the Age, expanded eligibility for indigent legal services, and early voting, to name a few. They’re worthy initiatives, but they impose obligations that the county has to pay for. 

Medicaid is a pet peeve for many of us on the Legislature. New York is the only state that pushes a share of its Medicaid costs down to its counties. In 2021, Tompkins County paid NYS over $10 million in weekly payments for Medicaid benefits paid to or on behalf of our residents. At the end of the year, Albany is supposed to reconcile what we paid against the ACA-enhanced Federal payments it receives and then send us a “reconciliation” payment. To add insult to injury, Albany is years behind in sending out reconciliation payments. According to a Freedom of Information Law response we received earlier this year, New York State owes Tompkins County about $3.5 million in reconciliation payments, and we have no idea when we’ll get that money!

The biggest roadblock to solving this problem is New York State government. We continue to lobby and press for funding from Albany for the services it mandates. We certainly could use citizens’ grassroots support.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

DD: Providing social services requires a delicate balancing of needs against the resources available to meet those needs. Overall, I believe Tompkins County commits the maximum number of resources it can afford to meet the needs of its residents.

That said, it has been enormously difficult to address the need for good-quality, low-income housing. Rental allowances set under various state and Federal programs are ridiculously low as compared to the cost of housing in Tompkins County; many landlords find ways to avoid accepting Housing Choice Voucher tenants; others take the payments but allow their properties to fall into disrepair and dilapidation. It’s a very tough nut to crack, and it’s likely to get worse after the rent moratorium expires.

Governor Hochul has announced that New York’s state-enhanced Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds are running out and has asked for more Federal support, but there’s no guarantee it will be forthcoming. If landlords aren’t reimbursed for back rent, the availability of low-income housing is bound to contract. Evictions and homelessness will become bigger problems. The county has committed additional 2022 funding to an early intervention homelessness prevention program, as well as various targeted supported housing initiatives, and we should be prepared to do more as new needs emerge.

Though I assume it’s less prominent in Cayuga Heights than in Ithaca, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

DD: Affordable housing is Tompkins County’s perennial curse. No matter when or where we are, there always seems to be a reason why it’s impossible to provide good quality affordable housing to our residents. Student demand has been an issue, but even as the supply of on-campus and purpose-built off-campus student housing has increased, the cost of housing has not decreased. Supply and demand are major drivers, but supply always seems to increase at the higher end of market rate (even with generous IDA incentives) and the “trickle-down” effects are minimal. Demand for houses and apartments in the City of Ithaca and in walkable areas of our suburbs remains high and, accordingly, so do the prices.

Certainly, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. It’s always been expensive to build here in our centrally isolated part of the world. Tompkins County lacks a good supply of local contractors, skilled construction workers, and specialty subcontractors and workers. It costs a lot to “import” building materials. Labor shortages and supply chain problems have only grown worse, even as the cost of existing homes has skyrocketed. I’ve been told that it’s simply not economically feasible to build single-family homes for $200,000 or less.

Honestly, I don’t have any answers. I would like to explore the possibility that public-private partnerships could make it possible to develop good-quality workforce housing in walkable areas of our suburban villages.

And, by the way, affordable housing IS a problem in the Village of Lansing.

Looking beyond your district, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

DD: In my opinion, THE existential issue that we all face is climate change. At the county level, we are dealing with this by upgrading our facilities to be more energy-efficient, electrifying our facilities, fleet, and operations, working to improve our ability to address more frequent and intense weather events, and leading our constituent municipalities in planning for emergency response and resilience. I will legislate and advocate for programs that develop workforce capacity for green jobs to support our transition to a fossil-free future.

Our childcare shortage is acute, and it will stymie any efforts we make to “build back better” economically. I look forward to seeing at least one robust childcare-related proposal for our Community Recovery Plan fund next year.

The pandemic taught us that broadband is an essential service. Although the cost of county-wide universal broadband is likely beyond our county resources, I believe that the current efforts to identify which houses lack broadband will assist us in working with ISPs to put together systems to provide service to those who need it.

Is transportation the largest challenge facing Village of Lansing/Cayuga Heights residents? Is public transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT?

DD: As a member of TCAT’s Board of Directors, I can say with confidence that the organization functions as efficiently as it possibly can to serve the needs of the city, county, and university communities. “First mile, last mile” service is a perennial problem, but the organization has initiated an on-demand service pilot program, “T-Connect,” to address the needs of rural riders in need. TCAT has also retained consultant services to produce a Transit Development Plan to guide it through the next decade. 

TCAT survived an 80%+ decrease in ridership during the pandemic through the judicious use of PPP loan proceeds, CARES Act funding, and state transportation operating assistance that Albany retained at pre-pandemic levels. I’m happy to say that TCAT still has some Federal stimulus funds to get through the next stage of its recovery, and the return of Cornell and IC students has helped to increase ridership, although it’s not back to 2019 levels.

TCAT is facing and will continue to face challenges to a full recovery. Staffing is difficult: bus operators and mechanics are difficult to recruit. Supply chain problems create parts shortages that make it difficult to sustain routine maintenance schedules and keep all buses operating. The current TCAT facility is inadequate to the needs of the organization’s staff and fleet, and the pandemic put plans to relocate on indefinite hold. Meanwhile, the facility needs a new roof, which will be a major expense. Finally, TCAT is in the process of transitioning its fleet to new and more expensive electric buses. So yes, more financial support from our underwriters (the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County, and Cornell University) will be necessary in the near future.

District 11

Shawna Black (D, WF) – incumbent since 2018, running unopposed

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if re-elected? 

SB: The most important issue right now is making sure that our community stays safe and healthy during the pandemic. It’s been of great value to our community to have free testing for Tompkins County residents. The vaccination clinics have also been successful and helped Tompkins be a leader in the state.

Childcare in our community is also a priority for me. Having three children, all school-aged, I have personally struggled finding quality childcare. Families need more quality and affordable options.

The pandemic has really magnified mental health and substance use disorders in our county. We continue to recruit mental health providers and discuss ways to approach these issues. Having received settlement funding from the pharmaceutical companies—we will be able to invest in the upcoming year on harm reduction, detox, and rehab for those that would like to participate. 

What do you view as District 11’s role in Tompkins County?

SB: District 11 encompasses Northeast neighborhood, Forest Home, Eastern Heights and parts of South Hill. We have a diverse population of homeowners and renters, students and working professionals.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

SB: I believe that the idea of providing equity in policing is essential when we discuss Reimagining Public Safety. We continue to work in small groups to work through the process. I believe better communication and involvement of Ithaca Police and the Sheriff’s Department would have helped this process. There is a partnership and collaboration that need to take place in order for this change to be successful.

What’s a regret that you have from your time on legislature so far? Something you think the legislature did poorly or has been unable to address effectively?

SB: We continue to struggle with ways to help with affordable housing. The housing market continues to be a seller’s market. We contribute to the Community Housing Fund which helps those obtain permanent housing.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

SB: I believe we can always do more. We have a large homeless population – some of them choose to live on the streets, some do not. We are trying to meet everyone’s needs where they are. Code Blue is in effect now through St. John’s Shelter to provide sheltering for those that need it. We continue to offer services to those that need them and partner with agencies in our community that have strong connections with the different populations.

Though I assume it’s less prominent in certain spots other than in Ithaca, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

SB: I believe the Community Housing Fund has been very effective and it allows a group of community partners to contribute and then decide which projects are worth the investment. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing has some really good projects in the works too that we will see in the upcoming years.

Looking beyond your district, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

SB: The county is doing an amazing job with it’s Green Initiatives and has been seen as a leader in the state. We will be investing funding over the next 4 years so that we are free of using fossil fuels by 2025. We currently use solar and hydro and the majority of our fleet are electric cars.

Is transportation the largest challenge facing District 11 residents? Is public transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT?

SB: Transportation is a challenge everywhere. However, my district typically has reliable access Monday-Friday through TCAT services. TCAT’s fleet will continue to see electrification in the next 5 years. They could also receive additional funding in the upcoming infrastructure and transportation bill that will be voted on in the upcoming weeks.

District 12

Amanda Champion (D, WF) – incumbent since 2018, running unopposed

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected? 

AC: Climate change remains the top priority for me, which includes things within County operations such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, cutting our usage of plastics, and developing and promoting our environmentally preferred product procurement plan. Our County Covid-19 response continues to be a large operation that demands much of the Legislature’s time and energy, and will be a key issue in the months and years to come. I also hope to remain the Chair of the Government Operations Committee to help keep our government operating smoothly. The committee focuses on topics like convening our local independent redistricting commission, updating the Rules of the Legislature, and supporting the work of departments such as Assessment and agencies such as the Tompkins County Public Library.

What do you view as the Town of Ithaca’s role in Tompkins County?

AC: I think the Town of Ithaca should be and is a partner to Tompkins County. We work together on many things, because what happens in one district impacts what happens in another.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

AC: The Reimagining Public Safety initiative has been a good process undertaken by dedicated people who brought forth numerous excellent recommendations. I support these recommendations and only wish we could move faster toward change. What I would like to see happen is the public engage even more fully. There is an extensive, new, interactive website where folks can add ideas, comments, and recommendations of their own. This process is and will be an evolving, ongoing one that will only work if many voices are heard. 

Since you entered the legislature, has there been a particular issue that you’ve found most frustrating to deal with? Either because the solutions seem futile or the efforts have led nowhere?

AC: What surprised me when entering the Legislature was how slowly government moves. We may have great projects and great staff working on them, but inevitably, things will go more slowly than one would like. I realize now that this is because people in Tompkins County government put a lot of good thought into everything they do. Nothing is done rashly or without consulting the stakeholders. That kind of good government takes time. 

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

AC: County government is fully responsible for social services for the people of this County. We have excellent social service departments working hard every day, and yet, there is always more that can be done. With limited funding in each yearly budget, the Legislature must always weigh the variety of demands placed upon our government. I am always glad to hear from departments that they have received grants or state funding!

Though I assume it’s a tad less severe than in the city of Ithaca (though I am unsure). what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

AC: This is a huge question, that I don’t have the answer to. There are so many factors that go into issues of housing, from employers offering a living wage to the ongoing pandemic, none of which can be easily or quickly solved. One response that I support is the County’s Community Housing Development Fund, which subsidizes the building of affordable housing. Having more municipalities and organizations participating in this would certainly help. Other things can be done, such as lowering property taxes through more exemptions. We recently discussed a possible exemption for property owners, for those who put a conservation easement on their property. Lowering the burden of residents’ taxes can always help. 

Looking beyond your district, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

AC: Your question hits the nail on the head. Issues of climate change, childcare, broadband access, and of course the ongoing pandemic are all very pressing. Every day, County staff and Legislators are looking at these issues and working to make things better for our residents. Our recent 2022 budget process looked at how we can innovate and find new ways to attack these issues. Initiatives like our plan to be a net-zero operation by 2030 and supporting the Child Development Council’s Building Access to childcare position, are steps in the right direction. 

Is transportation the largest challenge facing Town of Ithaca residents, or because of its proximity to downtown is that mitigated? Is public transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT?

AC: Transportation is definitely a challenge for Town of Ithaca residents. Certainly, some areas are walkable to downtown, but the west hill in particular, which I represent, has a dearth of services. While I know TCAT could use more resources, I think re-envisioning their current operations is also a good idea. I’m not one to suggest a magic bullet for any problem. We need to come at all these issues Tompkins County residents face open to many ideas, plans, and suggestions. Let’s try one thing; if that doesn’t work, try the next. There will always be problems people face, let’s work as thoughtfully and energetically as we can to move forward together. 

District 13

There’s a quirk with this race. Technically, two candidates are listed on the ballot: Greg Mezey, the Democratic primary winner, and Samantha Lushtak, on the Working Families ticket. However, Lushtak lost to Mezey in the June primary and said at that time she would honor the results and not challenge him in the general (plus she has since moved out of the district), and confirmed as much to the Ithaca Voice when contacted with our questionnaire.

Greg Mezey (D) – newcomer

What would you deem your 3-5 top priorities if you are elected? 

GM: Recovery Fund – Ensure the successful implementation of the almost 7-million-dollar Tompkins County Recovery Fund to support initiatives and organizations that can make a meaningful impact in our community.

Housing – Increase our local housing stock with a variety of housing types that respect our local community character, focusing on affordable housing options so that everyone can afford to live in Tompkins County.

Health and Family Services – Improve the capacity of and accessibility to affordable childcare options. Ensure residents in Tompkins County have greater access to nutritious food while supporting local agriculture.

Government Efficiency – Work to have a county government that is stronger and more efficient post-pandemic. Ensure effective government operations and programs that deliver fiscally responsible, best-in-class services to all.

What do you view as Dryden’s role in Tompkins County?

GM: One of the best parts about campaigning is getting to know so many new people and developing a solid understanding of the community you seek to represent. Dryden has so much to offer Tompkins Count as a community with great neighborhoods and local business, but also with tremendous potential for smart growth. Dryden has the potential to create enough workforce and affordable housing to have a meaningful impact on the county’s housing shortage. We have an incredible alternative transportation and multi-use recreation trail with the Dryden Rail Trail. As the town continues to build the trail, this will connect Dryden to other parts of the county and contribute to a vibrant tourism economy. The trail is an incredible resource for our community and the county.

Dryden is also taking bold steps to attract and support businesses and economic growth through its Community Development Business Loan Program. Finally, on internet access, Dryden is showing the direction forward building a new municipally-run system that will offer cheaper, faster, more reliable service. This project should be an example to other municipalities and the county for how to solve this critical infrastructure need within our community. I’m proud to live in Dryden.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this
point? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still
happen?

GM: I support the work the City and County are doing to reimagine public safety. This has been and needs to continue to be a collaborative process among community members, law enforcement, and elected officials. The launch of the community feedback tool on the County’s reimagining website is a significant step in keeping this type of collaboration at the forefront of this process. The plan’s implementation is going to take time, and it’s going to take trial and adjustment to get the best possible solutions for our community. I would like to see the plan continue to be implemented in a timeframe that will support long-lasting change.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is
the County doing enough to support people who come here for help from the
government? What more or less should they be doing?

GM: We have some incredible nonprofit organizations and public programs in Tompkins County working hard to support people in need. As a Legislature, we need to support and encourage those organizations and program staff to think boldly and suggest solutions to challenges we face as a community and ultimately find a way to fund those solutions. We must meet people where they are and support them when they need it. We need to continue to develop new programs and strategies to address the areas where change is the hardest and reach out to people in every corner of the county. Some areas where more needs to be done are housing, childcare, access to
health care services, transportation, and workforce development.

Though I assume it’s less prominent in Dryden than in Ithaca, what concrete
initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why
do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the
interim?

GM: Affordable housing is not just an Ithaca issue; it is a Tompkins County issue that impacts all our communities. It’s a challenging issue to solve but one I look forward to working on. It’s taken years to address because it’s primarily a supply shortage, and it takes time to build any new housing units. The county doesn’t have land-use control. That is up to the local municipalities, and it will take a coordinated effort between the county and local municipalities to solidify a strategy that respects the character of our local communities but adds a variety of housing stock to meet the needs of all in Tompkins County. Our local municipalities must look critically at
their zoning and develop strategies to invite the right type of housing development for their communities to solve our housing issue in the county. Additionally, at the local and county levels, we need to continue to improve our infrastructure, water and sewer, broadband, and transportation to support housing growth of all types across the county.

Looking beyond Dryden, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the County as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

GM: Yes, I believe there are viable solutions to many of these issues that the county can champion. I look forward to working with the other Legislators, members of our community, and our county staff to develop and implement solutions to as many of these issues as possible. I think we have an incredible opportunity with the almost $7-million Tompkins County Recovery Fund to support initiatives and organizations that can make a meaningful impact. We also need to look critically at our fund balance and see if we can do more to fund many of these initiatives. We could be doing more to fund the capacity growth of our local childcare facilities to increase access for families. We also can support the development of our workforce through job and skills training programs. By doing this, we can attract more employers and emerging industries to the county, creating new jobs and opportunities for advancement within our workforce. Dryden Broadband, as mentioned before, is a great example, and the county should take note of that forward-looking system and look to expand it.

District 14

Thomas Corey (R, I) – newcomer

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected? 

TC:

  • Tompkins County prepared a damning “Reimaging Public Safety” report. The ultimate effect of this plan will be to place extra burdens on the understaffed Sheriff’s Department and potentially reduce law enforcement in rural areas. I would push back on any attempt to demonize policing or co-opt the authority of the ELECTED Sheriff.
  • Property taxes in NY are oppressive. They drive away business and discourage family formation. Tompkins County is maintaining a gargantuan $54Million surplus; Surpluses are your tax dollars. They should be returned to the people.
  • Business Development. Tompkins hosts one of the largest collections of tax exempt property in NYS. Tax exempt entities consume public services, but pay nothing towards their upkeep. Tompkins should hire a full time business development professional to attract new business. Economic diversity is critical to the future of Tompkins.

What do you view as District 14’s role in Tompkins County?

TC: Eastern Dryden is a rural community with an economic cross section of agriculture, education and small business. Culturally and socially it is distinct from its urban neighbor, Ithaca. We are a modern and progressive community striving to maintain its unique home-town character and ethos. Dryden has the opportunity to become a new hub of industry and commerce. Located on the Rte 13 corridor, it is the natural location for warehousing, research, small industry, including dairy and food products. We have abundant water and the possibility to expand waste treatment from the Village. Growing green is the wave of the future, and we already have extensive solar and a new community owned broadband service. With TC3 as a valuable resource for training and innovation, we can be new and still retain the best of the old.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to
this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and
what would you like to see still happen?

TC: The Reimagining Public Safety process was conceptually flawed and scientifically inept.

It began with a questionable premise that Tompkins County was a racist community that needed to be completely overhauled to rid itself of white supremacism and preference. To do so, it hired an outside consultant who held these views and then proceeded to create a report and plan of self-justification. Completed during the Covid pandemic, it attempted to glean input from the community in several ways, but ended up interviewing and receiving input from the same small group of activists (admitted in the report by the consultants). Inputs from professional public safety groups were treated as suspect and the solutions preferred by the sitting Mayor of Ithaca were adopted.

The report demonizes police and does not provide evidence that current training and policies were not already being reviewed, improved and enforced by the Sheriff and Ithaca Police. It is now being implemented by a Justice Center, poorly integrated into the existing system. The entire plan and the current pressures from City Hall to ignore crime are making Ithaca, and the surrounding region more dangerous, unlivable and unattractive to new and established residents. It does not serve the minority community well, and may in fact ultimately make conditions worse. Not a fan.

You would be a newcomer to the county legislature. What do you think you
bring to the body that isn’t there now? What topic do you think you could be
particularly impactful on?

TC: I’m new, but I wasn’t born yesterday. I have years of experience in the business community and would be somewhat unique in that perspective on the Board. My work with the Tompkins Chamber allowed me to build Town/Gown coalitions to address problems. I am by nature a contrarian and would question old and new program justification. I would oppose any increase in taxes while the county maintains excessive reserves. I have extensive knowledge of benefits and could assist in formulating affordable and attractive programs for our employees. And I would be in the minority, and as such would not be bound by group-think and party loyalty.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the
region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help
from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

TC: Tompkins is a regional center for certain unique health care, and social services. Some people who seek these resources are poorly housed, or derelict. We should be proud that we can offer help to those in need, but we should not become a wasteland of forgotten souls. Can we make a home for those who have no home? Integration after treatment is always a tricky business, as some fail treatment. There are no simple solutions, but that does not mean we should ignore the problems. Do more, do less? Caring for those who cannot care for themselves is the very definition of humanity.

Though I assume it’s less prominent in the town than in the city of Ithaca, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

TC: Tompkins is an attractive employment market. Tompkins County employs more people than it houses. Every day thousands commute to Ithaca to work and return home outside our borders.

When housing prices moderate, commuters move in and prices rise again. 35,000 students have few housing choices and fewer commute. It’s plain economics. Government-designed affordable housing solutions have limited impacts, provide very few affordable units, and may actually create more market-priced units. Encouraging the building of family and student housing outside Ithaca, with efficient transportation options will serve to moderate the strain, but absent the creation of more public housing, prices will rise. Tompkins needs to aggressively attract new business, providing better wages, and advancement; and thereby solving the affordability crisis organically.

Looking beyond your district, though you will be representing those
constituents,
what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

TC: Not unlike most upstate communities, Tompkins lacks economic diversity. The primary industry, education, needs to be buffered by other industries and business models. We are a factory town, with worldwide sourcing of raw materials, modern manufacturing techniques and a product that is distributed outside our region. This industry also pays no taxes to support the established government and although we all benefit from the industry, we are not all suited to its workspaces. Disparities in income abound, and the integration of other businesses would make Tompkins more attractive for our children, and family formation. It would help address affordability, drive sustainability, and affordable childcare could arise organically. The idea that government needs to solve every problem, means that the system is broken. The lack of economic diversity is the County’s most pressing problem.

Is transportation the largest challenge facing District 14 residents? Is public
transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest
efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT
?

TC: TCAT is a wonderful resource for Dryden. I cannot address the budget constraints, but would encourage maintaining the same level of service to our community. Transportation is a factor in making Dryden livable and affordable, as well as helping to reduce the pressures of affordability in the Ithaca area. Dryden does serve as a bedroom community for Cornell, and as such any budget shortfalls should be considered in that light. TCAT is a critical resource for Cornell, whose operating budget is equally supported by the County and City. Perhaps that formula is dated.

Mike Lane (D, Protecting Dryden) – incumbent for six terms

What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected (re-elected, obviously)?

ML: Recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic. The County Health Department and medical services have done a remarkable job but we must hold down virus transmissions to get people back to work and to reopen, and keep open, schools and businesses.  

Maintenance of quality public safety.  The Sheriff’s Road Patrol must have reasonable funding for personnel, equipment, and most of all for adequate training to help deputies and corrections officers learn to defuse stressful and dangerous situations.   The idea of “defunding police” is unacceptable and won’t be supported.

With Tompkins County growing, our transportation system needs upgrading, from highways and airport to electric buses. Attention must be paid to the Route 13 corridor in Dryden. We need to advocate for safety improvements to that highway such as those proposed by the county’s Route 13 corridor study. 

It is expensive to live in Tompkins County.  We need common sense, affordable solutions to keep taxes down, while working across party lines to provide excellent services for residents.  

We must help TC3 recover from an enrollment decline triggered by the pandemic, while reinventing course offerings and micro-credentials to better fit students with the needs of employers.

With the reality of climate change, we must support green initiatives such as Tompkin’s first green airport in the country, and working to have county buildings carbon neutral by 2030.

What do you view as District 14’s role in Tompkins County?

ML: District 14 encompasses most of the eastern part of the Town of Dryden including the Villages of Dryden and Freeville. It is an important farming area, but that is coupled with a lot more, including homes and businesses, and manufacturing. It is the entryway into Tompkins County from the northeast, along NYS Route 13. Since the county does not have a direct connection to the interstate highway system, Route 13 is the county’s lifeline for goods and services. It is the access for regional commuters, many living in Cortland County, to jobs located here.  The people of the district are educated and active. They are often on the leading edge of new initiatives such as opposition to hydraulic fracking. It is a great place to live and to raise a family. The district has fine schools and is the home of the TC3 campus. It is open to economic development, housing and growing businesses.

Do you agree with the outcome of the Reimagining Public Safety reforms to this point at the county level? What would you have done differently, and what would you like to see still happen?

ML: To the extent that the reforms give our Sheriff’s deputies necessary tools to work with, to make their work better and even more professional, the answer is yes. Better protection and communication equipment, vehicles, etc. are a must. Better training in all aspects of law enforcement, especially for highly emotional and potentially dangerous domestic violence events, can lessen the need for the use of force in confrontations. I do not support the concept of defunding police and the county has not done that. Intermunicipal cooperation with police from the City of Ithaca and other municipalities is a good thing. It is not new; it has been a part of law enforcement for many years. The idea of crises intervention professionals or teams is also not new. It is a good thing and has been used, for example, in very difficult situations involving persons with mental health issues. 

Do you think the legislature has failed at any particular issue during your time as a member, at least recently? If so, what do you think are/were the biggest roadblocks?

ML: I strongly support efforts that make it easier for people to vote, and to make sure that their votes have equal weight. To accomplish the latter, we must redistrict the legislature after each national census. During 2020, on a divided vote (7 to 7) the legislature failed to pass a proposal that I supported, to ask the voters to approve a one-time change of legislators’ terms to two years (reverting to four years after that). The proposal was to give the county’s Independent Redistricting Commission time to reapportion legislature districts and to have candidates run in the new equalized districts sooner. Because of the failed vote, legislators will not be serving in equalized districts until 2026. Since population has grown county-wide, but most strongly in the City and Town of Ithaca, voters in those municipalities will be underrepresented until then. That is not good government. Sad to say, but I believe the biggest roadblock here was that half of the current legislators voted against the proposal for their personal self-interest because they did want to have to run for election twice in four years—a sad commentary.

Tompkins County is often thought of as a center of social services in the region. Is the county doing enough to support people who come here for help from the government? What more or less should they be doing?

ML: All New York counties are centers of social services. It is their role. Counties are the mechanism by which the state mandates services to those in need without providing for recipients through state offices. Tompkins County also provides other human needs services like mental health, public health, public safety, and emergency preparedness. If people arrive here in need of assistance, our agencies like the Department of Social Services stand ready to help. The largest number of county employees in any department work at DSS. Services have to be in accordance with state mandates, but they are delivered without discrimination to those in need. When times are hard, applications for assistance increase. If they do, the county must marshal the resources to support the delivery of services.

Though I assume it’s less prominent in Dryden than in the city of Ithaca, what concrete initiatives would you introduce to help alleviate affordable housing concerns? Why do you think this problem has taken so long to address, and gotten worse in the interim?

ML: Actually, affordable housing has been a chronic problem in the county’s urbanized area for decades. While housing costs are a little lower in my rural district, there are many people who cannot afford to live here as well. Because of that, we see more people living in surrounding counties where housing is cheaper, and commuting to jobs here. As the City of Ithaca has welcomed many more high rent properties, workers have found fewer affordable places to live. What Tompkins County can do is to participate in the Housing Fund with the City of Ithaca, Towns of Dryden and Ithaca, and Cornell University to provide financial incentives for developers to build or refurbish affordable living units. The county has been focused on this for a long time. Things have gotten worse with the increase of high rent units. The rents in older properties have risen in conjunction. It is profit that drives most housing development. High rent units are more profitable than affordable units, so the interest of developers in affordable housing has to be continually sought out and encouraged

Looking beyond your district, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)? 

ML: As a county legislator I continually weigh the needs of my constituents and the needs of the residents of the county as a whole. Recovering from the pandemic, keeping Covid transmissions low, and encouraging schools and businesses to reopen safely has to be our primary focus. The county has set up a $7 million recovery fund from county reserves that were made available with federal funding. We will be taking applications for funding to help agencies and programs with covid related recovery. 

The county needs to encourage the creation of more daycare slots for families that need them, and it needs to continue to look at broadband access. We recently provided funds for the Town of Newfield to help more than a hundred properties receive high-speed broadband. There is no single, affordable, solution to all of the broadband needs. We have to study them and work on solutions with the towns.  

County electric needs supplied with water power and solar panels; geothermal heating and cooling at the Airport; electric vehicles (the county has over 20) and electric buses (TCAT has six now); and a capital project to make county facilities carbon-free by 2035 are good steps in showing the county’s commitment to doing its part to slow global warming. It is something we are serious about.   

Is transportation the largest challenge facing District 14 residents? Is public transportation fixable through pure resource increases or would you suggest efficiency reforms to operate within the current budget of TCAT?

ML: Transportation safety improvements to NYS Route 13 are vital as traffic in Dryden continues to increase. Capacity issues must also be addressed. I support public transportation and the availability of TCAT bus service for Freeville and Dryden. TCAT is focused on expanding ridership. I hope residents will take advantage of the recent TCAT initiative to transport residents to and from their homes for access to the bus routes. We will never see everyone using the bus system, but the more we can encourage, the fewer the number of vehicles on Route 13, and the stronger our public bus system will be. As with any business, TCAT must always look for operation efficiencies to save costs.  

Matt Butler

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