This is the Part 3 of a daily series from The Ithaca Voice introducing voters to their potential next U.S. House of Representatives member. Mike Sigler is the third in the series of eight total. Others will be published each day throughout the week.
TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler, a Republican, has spent over a decade in the county legislature and is now attempting to move up to the federal level, now running for the Republican nomination for the NY-22 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Sigler is a bit of a unicorn, a vocal but moderate voice of conservatism in deep blue Tompkins County, where he is one of three Republican legislators among the 14-member county legislature. And although the redistricting process is still being challenged in the courts, the current NY22 is projected as quite Democratic-friendly, but Sigler has not let that deter him.
The innovation in the district attracts Sigler, part of the reason he is drawn to running to represent it. He specifically pointed out Auburn’s method of converting old, decrepit dams into power generation stations, something he said could be useful for Tompkins County as well.
“I want to represent a district of smart, innovative people, people who are forward thinking and people, frankly, who do cross the aisle and work together,” Sigler said. “It’s more Democrats than Republicans, but a Republican can win. It’s now going to be [even] more Democrat than Republican, but the reason for that is we’re adding Tompkins County. So I’m looking at it thinking, at the very least, I’m known in Tompkins County as someone you can work with, and I’m proud of that.”
Sigler has a journalism background, having come to upstate New York originally to pursue broadcasting opportunities at local and regional news outlets. After several years in that realm, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks pushed Sigler toward public service and politics. A failed bid for New York State Assembly led Sigler to run for Tompkins County Legislature, where he has served for now 12 years (though not consecutively).
Asked for his top priorities if elected, he seizes upon the topic of taxes — a frequent dilemma for residents, perhaps more so in New York State, famous for its high taxes. Sigler said taxes certainly have their place and are necessary, but a stern eye must be applied when considering what exactly to fund via taxes and ensuring that the public sees suitable returns on those tax dollars.
“People understand, you live in a society and you pay taxes, they don’t want to see their taxes wasted,” Sigler said. He mentioned his work on the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency, which approves or denies tax abatements for projects (a constantly controversial process locally) as an example of considered tax dollar spending, weighing good versus bad. “We expect something for [a tax abatement], we expect a certain number of jobs, we expect a certain amount of public space for that. There is a trade-off. […] But we can’t do that with every project, and we shouldn’t do that with every project. That’s where the judgment runs, of being an elected official.”
Sigler said he believes the most significant part of his plan for COVID-19 recovery would be encouraging and fostering small business development.
“We are built on small business,” Sigler said. “States, in particular New York State, is always trying to land the white whale, that big business. There’s a place for that, a place to try to attract Amazon, say. But most people don’t work at Amazon. Most people work at Gorger’s, or Schooley’s Jewelry on the Commons. They work at these small business, those are the backbone of America. […] One of my big takeaways from COVID was the WalMarts were still open, but the mom-and-pops were closed.”
As expected, Sigler thinks President Joe Biden has done a poor job in office so far, most prominently stemming from the messy pull-out from Afghanistan in summer 2021 but also critiquing Biden’s spending habits and the effects that inflation are having on living costs currently and over the last several weeks in particular. Sigler said that he believes under Biden’s leadership the country is “headed toward the rocks,” and said his Congressional bid is an attempt to add a voice in Washington that will join the chorus telling Biden to change course.
In the era of widespread pushback against those considered part of the political establishment, Sigler isn’t worried that his status as a longtime politician will come back to bite him. A common theme during Sigler’s interview with The Ithaca Voice was that his work in politics has been motivated by a desire to be involved in public service, something he views as crucial. So, in essence, Sigler doesn’t believe that the “insider” or “establishment” slight carries much weight when considered logically.
“Just because you’re not involved in your community, doesn’t make you an ‘outsider’ in politics, it just makes you an outsider,” Sigler said. “I’m a firm believer that when you live in a community, it is better for you personally and better for the community if you are involved.”
Sigler’s experience on the legislature is an asset, he believes. While the scale and ramifications in Washington are larger, he thinks the general methodology is similar, but can be improved at the federal level. One of those main improvements, he said, would be cutting down on the length of bills, perhaps ensuring that myriad extra expenditures don’t get added into spending measures that aren’t related to them.
Moreover, the debates he’s had at the legislature level will inform his approach in Washington if he is elected.
“I’m a fierce advocate for Lansing, that is my role,” Sigler said. “I go downtown and I represent the Town of Lansing. I think that’s why I get repeatedly elected, people know I’m a hard worker who represents his constituents. I want to take that to Washington.”