(Photo provided by Sarah Klee Hood)

This is Part 1 of a daily series from The Ithaca Voice introducing voters to their potential next U.S. House of Representative member. Sarah Klee Hood is the first in the series of eight total. Others will be published each day through the week.

TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Sarah Klee Hood, a Democrat and Congressional candidate for New York’s 22nd district (which was previously parts of NY23 and NY24), is a Central New York native currently residing in Vernon, New York, with her husband and two young daughters.

Labeled a “non-traditional candidate,” Klee Hood is from generations of blue collar labor workers with out family wealth or political connections.

Describing herself as a “homegrown grassroots candidate,” Klee Hood has been working in environmental policy and economic development as the director of a clean technology firm with the goal of addressing climate change after serving in the United States Air Force for six years.

After growing up in a traditionally conservative household, Klee Hood learned the importance of labor (“a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”) and began to realize that the systems within the U.S. were only “working for a few, not the many.”

Klee Hood never anticipated a political career, but after fighting for changes to better her neighborhood, she decided to run for a seat on the town board. She said that because the word politics has so many connotations, she prefers the term public service, “because what you’re doing is providing yourself as a conduit into the government for the local community.”

Klee Hood’s experience in the military helped shape her leadership style. “I like to lead by example, and I wouldn’t be asking my troops to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself,” she said, adding that she’s a charismatic leader and that an extremely valuable skill set is to be able to evaluate different strengths and weaknesses in any given group of people.

Aside from the environment, which has been at the forefront of Klee Hood’s career for a while as mentioned above, top-priority issues include making college more affordable, healthcare, women’s health, paid family leave and childcare.

Healthcare and women’s health

Supporting single-payer universal healthcare, Klee Hood believes the pandemic exposed where current healthcare systems fail the populations. “No family should go bankrupt because of healthcare costs,” she said, explaining that she supports expanded Medicare and Medicaid brackets as well as public options on the free market.

As a mother of two daughters, Klee Hood also doesn’t want women to grow up with barriers she had to overcome in her personal life as well as in her career. “It would be a real shame if we move backwards in terms of where our rights are, and where women are allowed to operate and maneuver the social constructs that we have in place.”

Klee Hood also said she believes child care needs are often misunderstood and stuck in the eight-hour workday formula that incurs a wraparound care fee if the parent needs care for hours that are different from the traditional 9-to-5. Because of this, she’s proposing a standard 10-hour child care day that takes parents’ commutes into account. “I am proposing a child care opportunity that is based off of income, not a standard rate schedule. I would love to see that rate below 15% of someone’s income. It will be graduated, the more you make, the more you pay up to a certain cap.”

Rebuilding after COVID-19

Though we’ll likely continue to see pandemic case numbers ebb and flow, Klee Hood said that COVID helped expose the broken systems where policies fall short. “We need to look at all of the places where there is significant struggling, failures and caps to reimagine what policy looks like. For example, COVID shut down schools. Public schools are a way for children to get predictable and healthy meals on a regular basis. When schools closed, that opportunity was taken away.”

Healthcare also came into question when businesses closed in March 2020. “There were folks that were both unemployed and uninsured, and we need to remove or separate health care from employment fields,” she said.

Housing, a fundamental aspect of human life, needs to be addressed, and Klee Hood wants to reimagine how to make housing affordable and safe and allow tenants’ protections to allow their voices to be heard if they have concerns.

Other topics

When asked about the Good Cause Eviction bill, which has been of particular interest in Ithaca following the recent hearings following the eviction moratorium that ended Jan. 15, Klee Hood said that providing safety nets for tenants helps ensure they won’t fall into similar predicaments in the future. “By allowing statutes in place that protect tenants’ rights, I absolutely think it’s a fantastic deal.”

Klee Hood also supports the conversations that have occurred during Joe Biden’s presidency thus far. “As a woman running on a platform of single-payer universal health care, affordable child care, paid family medical leave, and access to college and trades, I love that we are having these conversations. We’re talking about the environment, about rebuilding our decaying infrastructure, the bridges, roads, sidewalks. He campaigned on eliminating $10,000 worth of student debt right on the spot. He should do that.”

Klee Hood said that she’s grateful that the conversations happening are legitimizing the voices of everyday citizens that “make up this great nation.”

Campaign funding

Reiterating her desire to fight for issues she’s experienced along with many others, Klee Hood emphasizes the importance of transparency with campaign funding. “I’m only taking donations from people that I know that I’m able to trace back to a name.” She also said that more than 95% of her contributors are from inside the district, and that her campaign staff is local to the district.

In a report from the Federal Elections Commission at the end of March, Klee Hood had $11,493 cash on hand, receipts totaling $68,981 and $57,487 spent. The campaign currently has no debt or loans.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...