This is Part 8, the last in a daily series from The Ithaca Voice introducing voters to their potential next U.S. House of Representatives member.
ITHACA, N.Y. — Vanessa Fajans-Turner says she never expected to run for office. But she feels she has to.
“When we talk about a different kind of leadership in Washington, it’s leadership by people who didn’t plan to be leaders, but emerge as leaders because they’ve done the work, they know how to get things done. And because they know what’s at stake,” said Fajans-Turner.
By and large, Fajans-Turner has made addressing climate change her issue more than any other candidate, flexing a pedigreed career focused on addressing the global issue. She said she doesn’t feel like she can just keep pushing from the outside for the federal government to pursue “holistic” action on climate change.
“So my decision to run for Congress stems from a short time window,” said Fajans-Turner. “Why now? Because we have two to three years to make big changes.”
Fajans-Turner is a born and raised Ithacan. She grew up in Collegetown on Eddy Street, went through the Ithaca City School system from elementary to high school. Her parents were Cornell professors, and she went on to earn degrees from Harvard and Johns Hopkins.
The expertise she touts is at the intersection of international relations, finance, and climate policy. Fajans-Turner is currently the executive director of the non-profit BankFWD, which has the stated mission of convincing and pressuring major financial institutions to phase out financing for the fossil fuel industry. She has worked for the United Nations Development Program, and served as a term member for the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.
Outside of climate change, Fajans-Turner is building her platform on many issues popular with progressives: free community college, increased funding for state higher education, and improved workforce development.
She said that she is a strong supporter of Medicare for All, the single payer national health insurance program that has been tagged to the progressive left’s policy goals for almost twenty years. Fajans-Turner said she wants to see childcare and elder care improved through some federal assurance that workers in these roles will have “liveable wages” and adequate training are available.
As many proponents of tackling climate change say, Fajans-Turner believes that the plan for the U.S.’ economic development needs to be a green one. The work of decarbonizing and electrifying the economy she believes can and should happen in the U.S. in areas formerly known for their manufacturing capacity.
In line with her position at BankFWD, Fajans-Turner is also calling for big banks to be held accountable.
She said the U.S. needs to be “really working to hold Wall Street and large financial actors accountable for undermining progress and protections against workers, against the climate, against working families trying to buy homes. They need to be held accountable when they break the law, and they need to be held accountable when they undermine the interests of the country.”
Fajans-Turner said that she defines herself as a progressive, and looks to major politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). She also admires and aligns with more moderate Democratic figures like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
Fajans-Turner supports President Joe Biden. When asked to consider his presidency thus far, she said “I recognize that there are aspects of his legislation I would love to see further ahead, build back better being chief among them,” but she added, “We elected him. He is the leader we have, and as a representative in Congress, I would see it as my job every day to wake up and fight to get his ambitious policies passed.”
The cornerstone of Fajans-Turner’s bid for support is her expertise. She is telling voters that it is her highly nuanced understanding of climate policy that separates her from the pack, and why she should be sent to the floor of The Capitol Building.
“I have great respect for my fellow candidates,” said Fajans-Turner, “but I only trust myself among our group to walk in and fight hard for details I know will make or break whether our actions are impactful in the long run.”