New York State Senate Candidate Lea Webb. (Image curtesy of Lea Webb campaign)

This is a three-part series on the candidates for New York State Senate in what is currently the 53rd New York State Senate District. These races continue to be impacted by the volatile state redistricting process.

TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Current Democratic candidate for New York State Senate District 53 Lea Webb is running what she calls a “people-powered” campaign behind her.

Growing up in the Southern Tier in a large, blue collar family, Webb got a taste of unions at a young age with her parents’ involvement, as well as the importance of looking out for and being involved in her community.

At 15, Webb began doing community organizing in regard to food access, specifically during the holidays, through her church, and during college while she pursued a degree in neuroscience, she directed even more time toward civic engagement and community service.

An internship-turned-job during her senior year of college at a local nonprofit, Mothers and Babies Perinatal Network, assisting in connecting young mothers to resources available throughout the community. Working in the nonprofit sector led to a healthcare organizer position with Citizen Action of New York, and that’s where Webb sunk her teeth into policy.

“I spent years doing work across New York State and healthcare reform, and did a lot of advocacy for the successful passage of the Affordable Care Act, then worked on other social justice issues like education reform, environmental and racial justice,” she said, laughing as she explained that running for office hadn’t been in her 10-year-plan when she wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon.

After graduating from college, Webb didn’t have much of an example in terms of women of color in elected office. “I knew that it takes a lot of money to run for office, and I don’t come from a big financial network, so I was like maybe later on.” But Webb was highly encouraged and supported, and ran for Binghamton City Council, against the council’s president. “It was a nice, easy transition into politics as a candidate,” she joked.

Her experience running for City Council is one that Webb said she remembers fondly as a pivotal moment of her career: She remembers looking around the room the night of the general election and seeing diversity of all kinds — age, gender, race ethnicity, socioeconomic status — that reminded her why it’s so important to genuinely commit to making the community a better place by bringing involving everyone.

“It was that moment for me that reminded me of why,” she said. “And that’s also the reason why I’m running for office now is that there’s such a disconnect between some of our elected leadership to issues that people are dealing with everyday.”

Keeping in line with her previous health care work, Webb focused on issues with aging infrastructure regarding the support of lead abatement in homes in the community and a program called Restore New York that focused on creating equitable housing investments.

During her work with nonprofits local to Binghamton that specialized in housing development, Webb was able to address more than 40 properties for residents who had blighted housing experiences and help open the path for homeownership.

Striving to create leadership that recognizes and intentionally creates opportunities for everyone, Webb now works as an educator at Binghamton University in the Division of Diversity Equity Inclusion, providing trainings for faculty, staff and students as well as community partners.

Rebuilding from COVID-19

Webb believes that COVID laid bare the problems with currently available health care options. “The pandemic has exacerbated disparities that exist within all of our institutions. I’ve witnessed and experienced directly the impacts of this, whether it’s losing loved ones to COVID or helping folks navigate the healthcare system trying to get care.”

Supporting the New York Health Act is one of the things Webb believes can help create a system for healthcare that works for as many people as possible “It’s not just in the context of access, it’s also in the context of affordability, and that’s a big priority,” she said.

The third rebuilding topic of priority for Webb is the environment. “Implementing the comprehensive reforms that we’ve made here in New York, what does that look like in real time? Looking for alternative measures for energy is going to be very important, transitioning away from gas, all these things especially have an impact when you think about climate change.”

Right to Renew/Good Cause Eviction laws

Unsurprisingly, Webb is in favor of Good Cause Eviction laws and bills that protect affordable housing for tenants. Webb was clear to note that the bills are not designed to punish landlords, but rather to stabilize and create additional access for those seeking housing.

“It’s really important, especially in this climate, that we have and utilize resources to really ensure that our families and community members have access to quality, affordable housing,” she said.

Police reform

Webb believes that while reform is necessary, investments and resources, like mental health services, are an important aspect to include. “When you look at safety, what are some of the causes of issues around public safety? It’s intersectional, and there’s a lot of issues when it pertains to having access.”

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...