ITHACA, N.Y. — At the moment, acting Mayor Laura Lewis remains unopposed in a run to fill the one year term that will complete the four years former Ithaca Mayor Myrick was elected to serve.

Lewis held an official campaign announcement on Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Press Bay Alley. In attendance were many familiar faces of Ithaca’s democratic politicos, such as Alderpersons Rob Gearhart, George McGonigal and Robert Cantelmo, and former members of common council, Josephine Martel, Graham Kerslick, and Seph Murtagh who is volunteering on Lewis’ campaign.  

Lewis, who describes herself as “someone who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight,” emphasized her commitment to the Ithaca community as well as many of the hallmark initiatives begun during Myrick’s tenure, such Ithaca Green New Deal, expanding the city’s housing stock and Reimagining Public Safety.

On Saturday, Lewis emphasized her familial connections to law enforcement and emergency services. She said that she has a brother and nephew who have worked as police officers, as well as her father in-law. One of Lewis’ sons is a firefighter.

“Currently I am the acting mayor. It is not a position that I sought, and yet it is a position that I am incredibly honored and privileged to be holding,” said Lewis.

Seph Murtagh introduces Laura Lewis to a small crowd gathered in Press Bay Alley as she prepares to make official campaign announcement for Mayor of Ithaca. (03/05/2022) Credit: Jimmy Jordan / The Ithaca Voice

When asked by The Ithaca Voice if there were any initiatives she sought to distinguish herself from Myrick, Lewis said that she hadn’t expected to be in this position and said that she “wasn’t thinking about serving as mayor,” but that right now, she’s focused on transitioning city staff to being in City Hall more.

Lewis also emphasized that the initiatives she’s continuing were chosen by the Common Council.

“Those are efforts that grew from the Common Council as a whole, and I think that’s an important distinction to make. The Mayor helps to set the agenda, but it is really Common Council that votes on such an agenda,” she said.

During her speech on Saturday, Lewis also said that she supports the move to restructure the City of Ithaca government through the creation of a City Manager role. The position would take on many of the responsibilities of the Mayor of Ithaca, effectively replacing the current mayoral role as the “Chief Executive Officer” of the city, though not as the political leader. 

This change will depend on the results of a referendum that will appear on the November ballot.

“Frankly, I think that the new alignment makes tremendous sense,” Lewis said.

When could another candidate emerge?

Myrick resigning before finishing his term as mayor came as a surprise to many, springing a sudden primary race for a special mayoral term with an awkward year-long length. There will be an election in 2023 to fill a the normal four-year long mayoral term.

For all elected positions in New York State, candidates are required to gather signatures in order to petition for getting on the ballot. March 1 was the first day candidates seeking to run in June’s mayoral primary election could begin collecting signatures in order to appear under an established party on the ballot.

Democrat or Republican candidates that are seeking a slot on the primary ballot will have to gather at least 5% of the active enrolled voters of their political party. That would be at least 410 signatures for a candidate running as a democrat, or 37 for a republican.

April 7 is the last possible day for a candidate to file their petitions with the Tompkins County Board of Elections to appear on the primary ballot.

It seems possible that Lewis could face the Democratic primary unopposed. The window of opportunity for a candidate to run as a democrat in the primary is open, but it is unorthodox for anyone to declare their candidacy past March 1 when petitioning begins. 

Outside of the chance that a Republican candidate steps forward to run as mayor (which would be an unlikely viable contest in the blue bastion of Ithaca), an independent candidate could appear before the primary and compete in the general election. 

Independents are able to gather signatures starting on April 19, and have until May 31 to submit their petitions to the Tompkins County Board of Elections.

An event like this isn’t unprecedented in local politics. Now serving on the New York State Assembly, Anna Kelles defeated Nate Shinagawa for a seat on the Tompkins County Legislature in a special election in 2015. This was a special election caused by a sudden vacancy, which follows some different rules than the election to complete Myrick’s term.

Jimmy Jordan

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