ITHACA, N.Y.—The race for mayor of Ithaca, left wide open in the wake of former Mayor Svante Myrick’s resignation, has its first candidate.
Laura Lewis, who is currently serving as the Acting Mayor, has announced that she will seek the office in November 2022. Lewis will serve as mayor until then, but whoever wins in November will finish the term—there will be another election for a full term the following year. Lewis took over the office when she was appointed in January by Myrick, who stepped down to become executive director at People for the American Way.
Technically, Lewis is still a member of Common Council, which she has been on since being elected to represent the Fifth Ward in 2017. She is the first person to declare their candidacy for the mayor’s office. You can read our full Q&A with Lewis here.
“I am excited being Acting Mayor right now, it’s a busy time, and it will be a busy time next year as well,” Lewis said. “It’s an unusual set of circumstances because I will be Acting Mayor through that November election, so it is for a longer period of time. But the reason I’ve decided to run is for continuity, for the city and city staff in particular. […] I want to do my part in ensuring continuity and stability during this transition, which I see as through the end of 2023.”
Solidifying the decision for Lewis is the city’s progress on certain issues currently. She has already stated her support for the Ithaca Green New Deal and the Reimagining Public Safety process, and said these efforts (particularly the latter) influenced her decision to stay.
“[Reimagining Public Safety] will take a considerable effort on the part of many people to fully implement, and it will not be a quick implementation,” Lewis said. “These are significant cultural, structural changes, that are really grounded in equity, social justice. We in Ithaca are a model for our willingness to take on this really challenging task.”
There will likely be issues related to Reimagining Public Safety put to referendum in November, along with voters deciding on the possibility of a new city manager position, which would significantly reduce the responsibilities of the mayor if it is approved.
Affordable housing will also be a priority, Lewis said, somewhat obvious considering the prominent struggles the city has had with the rental market and housing stock. Lewis was a long-time renter before becoming a homeowner thanks to a federal mortgage program.
The city needs to find a balance between holding landlords accountable and offering renter protections, Lewis said, but included that she believes many landlords in the city are “wonderful” and have been good to their tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewis has been more vocally supportive of the right-to-counsel legislation that is being mulled by city officials, as opposed to the good-cause eviction legislation that has been touted by the city’s more progressive wing on Common Council and originated among local housing activists.
She additionally spoke of her concern with the city’s homeless population, which continues to fluctuate but has recently been fairly high, judging by the number of people routinely housed in local hotels under the statewide Code Blue program.
“When I talk about housing, it’s very all-encompassing,” Lewis said. “We have a unique opportunity, because of federal funding, from the infrastructure bill, etc., that could be employed to leverage more housing. It may be that non-profits, whether it be Vecino or Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services or another developer who is looking to build more affordable housing, […] and I want to position our city to take full advantage of the funds that are available out there. I want us to have a good chunk of the pie.”