ITHACA, N.Y.—Tiffany Chen Kumar has announced her campaign for Common Council, adding another Cornell University student vying for a seat on the city’s governing body.
Kumar is challenging Alderperson Patrick Mehler, who is running for re-election after being appointed to fill former Alderperson Steve Smith’s seat on the council representing the Fourth Ward. Kumar is running as a Solidarity Slate candidate and has been endorsed by the New York Working Families Party.
She is a second-year student at Cornell University, having transferred from American University in Washington, D.C. after her first year, where she worked on feminist-centric policy-making with politicians on Capitol Hill. Mehler and fellow Fourth Ward representative Jorge DeFendini are Cornell students already on the Common Council.
Since arriving in Ithaca, Kumar has immersed herself in the progressive activism side of the city. She’s worked with the Ithaca Tenants Union, the local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, the Solidarity Slate and more, primarily with a focus on housing justice. In an interview, she makes it clear she wants to maintain that focus if she is elected.
“I believe, as a resident of Ithaca and someone who has been very involved in the local community, that our current city council doesn’t reflect the needs and voices of the people living here,” Kumar said. “I think progressive representation could really change some lives, from what I’ve seen, and I think that it would more accurately represent the beliefs and sentiments of people who live here.”
Housing justice’s relationship to social justice is tight to Kumar, to the point that she says they are “synonymous.” That’s one of the clearest motivators for her to run, as she speaks about the need for good cause eviction legislation and better funding for the city’s Department of Public Works. She also supports “genuine reform” in law enforcement locally, though she acknowledged the controversy around the current reform plan under consideration and stopped short of endorsing any specific proposal for reform.
Ithacans as a whole are a bit hesitant to embrace college students on Common Council, particularly considering the at-times contentious relationship between the city and its prominent Ivy League flagship. Kumar said she grappled with that sentiment before deciding to run, but eventually concluded that since she is already involved with local politics and organizing, she would just lean further into that. Not to mention, her opponent, Mehler, is a Cornell student himself and the constituency of the Fourth Ward is overwhelmingly made up of college students.
“When I was younger, I had a problem with college students running for local public office and not truly representing the needs of the long-term residents there,” Kumar said of her earlier years growing up in New York City. “However, I do plan on, if I were to win, staying here after graduation and even becoming a part-time student so I can dedicate more time to the position. This is something that I really want to see through.”