TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Over the past year, The Ithaca Voice has been closely following the races for representatives of New York State Senate District 52 and Congressional District 19, as well as Mayor for the City of Ithaca.

With Senate Candidate Lea Webb and Congressional Candidate Josh Riley winning the Democratic primary back in August, the two faced off against Republican opponents Rich David and Marc Molinaro in yesterday’s election.

Though results aren’t yet official, Webb declared victory with 49.82% overall and 71.54% in Tompkins County. Molinaro declared victory over Riley at midnight on Nov. 9, with the overall vote at 50.25%, though only 26.69% in Tompkins County, which largely favored Riley. Both David and Riley have now conceded their respective races.

Mayor Laura Lewis won the race for Ithaca mayor with 65% of the vote over her two challengers, third party progressive candidate Katie Sims and Republican Zachary Winn, both of whom secured relatively higher vote shares than conventional thought would have predicted. Lewis, having emerged victorious, will subsequently be finishing out the final year of former Mayor Svante Myrick’s term.

The two proposals on the ballot were approved, as the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022 passed with 60.28% overall, and the proposal to create a City Manager position in Ithaca passed with 78.96%.

When asked about priorities driving them to the polls, voters around the county cited civic duty, fighting to reverse the changes to women’s reproductive rights with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Bond Act, and gun rights, among other things.

Below are reactions from different polling places gathered by The Ithaca Voice. Some voters quoted below wished to only be identified by first name or remain anonymous.

Cornell University’s Alice Cook House

Cornell Votes, a nonpartisan organization works to increase voter registration, turnout and civic engagement, though numbers have not yet been released on this year’s on-campus voting turnout.

Across campus, many students vote just for the sake of serving a civic duty: “I just need to vote. I think it’s just good to vote,” said Gabby, a Cornell University student.

Students Sam Ray Van and Sarah also both said that they were serving their civic duty by voting.

Others had more specific agenda items of interest.

One student who wished to remain anonymous said that they wanted to support New York’s first female governor and “keep as many Democrats in the seats as possible.”

Southside Community Center

Tsedale and T, two Southside Community Center voters using just their first names, said both had different motivating factors driving them to the polls, where they voted around 6 p.m. Tuesday night. 

“I’m originally from New York City, and New York City is obviously very much blue, but that’s not the case for the rest of New York,” Tsedale said. “Now, being a permanent resident of Ithaca, I felt it was my civic duty to get out there and do my part. It might not have mattered as much in the city, but I know for a fact that it’ll matter up here.”

“The Congressional seat being up for grabs is very important,” T said, speaking of the seat that appears to have been won by Molinaro, the Republican candidate. “I was here and voting when Tom Reed was in office, which was upsetting. So that matters to me, and the mayoral race.”

Both voters said they had discussed the mayoral race on the way to the polls, with both having landed on Sims, an environmental and housing activist, as their choice to lead Ithaca. Representation and priorities seemed to be the leading factor to those two. Tsedale said T likes Lewis, who eventually won.

“I felt like [Lewis and Sims] felt a similar way on a lot of issues,” T said. “So to me, it was about what they were focusing on and what their priorities were. Katie was putting a huge emphasis on tenants rights, and as a tenant in Ithaca, that matters enormously.”

Tsedale said it would be nice to have more people who are part of the LGBTQ community, as Sims is, in a position of leadership in the city, and that Sims’ young age actually encouraged them to vote for her. 

“It just feels like this is our time,” Tsedale said of their preference for a younger candidate in the race. 

Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC)

Candidate experience seems to be where many voters swayed between Lewis or Sims in the Mayoral election.

Sarafina Payne said Ithaca’s mayoral race was the most difficult race for her to make her decision on. Despite appreciating Sims’ platform, she questioned how successful Sims would be in the current government.“It really just came down to Laura Lewis having more experience.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by Caitlin Schikel outside the polls on Tuesday. She characterized herself as someone who almost always votes along the Democratic line. The last time that Andrew Cuomo was up for election in 2018 was the last time she said she broke with her party. “I knew he would win. It was more a principle thing.”

Looking at Ithaca’s Mayoral race, the choice was easy for her: Lewis all the way. “For the same reason that I want the [city manager] referendum, local government should be about running good cities, keeping the wheels on the bus spinning, and I think Laura Lewis is the person to do that.”

Sims didn’t have the experience that would make Schikel feel confident voting for her, and she also noted an appreciation for Lewis’ temperament compared to Ithaca’s former mayor. 

“I think that [Svante Myrick] was a great cheerleader for the city […] but I think that there was a tendency with Svante to overpromise and underdeliver — not that I think that Laura has had much time to deliver on things, but I’d rather have her see through this next year, then have an election where there’s more time for candidates to run and position themselves going forward.”

Coming out to the polls on Tuesday, Thomas Nelson said he was also a bit conflicted about his vote for Ithaca Mayor. He said he agreed with Sim’s platform, but Lewis was also a strong candidate and he wanted to feel assured he was putting someone in office with a track record of “just getting stuff done.”

Sims won his vote though. “Nobody has shown me that she cannot get stuff done,” Nelson said, adding that Sims’ her work as an activist, and her strong campaigning showed him that she could be productive if she made it to the Mayor’s Office. 

He also added his comments on the New York Governor’s Race. Hochul, Nelson said, had demonstrated a vision he could agree with, but he found Zeldin’s messaging difficult to palate, particularly around crime. “Even if there are valid points, I think that the rhetoric we’ve heard, and the timing of the rhetoric is about scaring people and getting folks to the polls.”

Skylar Davenport said her top issue this election cycle was protecting access to reproductive healthcare, which motivated her to vote for Josh Riley in the NY-19 congressional race. And for her, his endorsement by the Working Families Party was added assurance. 

“I generally vote down the Working Families Party line,” said Skylar Davenport. The reason being is that she feels the two major parties have lost sight of the working class, and needs of regular people. “I think that Democrats and Republicans are just playing a giant pissing contest and nothing’s getting done,” said Davenport.

Brooktondale Fire Station

In the Town of Caroline, the distribution of registered voters has a larger Republican share, about 21% of its 2,743 registered voters.

Heidi Cochran said this year was the first time she’d ever successfully voted. She’s just over 40, and her call to action came from concern over New York’s bail reform laws. 

“The bail reform law — I don’t care for that. I think that needs to go.” As a result, she voted Lee Zeldin for Governor, and all down the Republican line. Zeldin campaigned heavily on a tough on crime message, and a vow to repeal New York’s 2019 bail reform laws, which eliminated the use of cash bail for people who’ve are facing charges for certain nonviolent felonies, and most misdemeanors.

The narrative that Zeldin has hammered away at is that these reform laws are putting dangerous criminals back on the street. Supporters of New York’s bail reform laws stand by them as a long overdue step towards equity in the state’s justice system, and argue that the rate of recidivism is greatly exaggerated by the opponents of bail reform. There are some studies that support the narrative Democrats have stuck by.

Cochran said that a friend’s personal experience of being a victim to a crime, and then seeing the perpetrator be released on their own recognizance, was a large part of what motivated her to make 2022 the first year she ever voted. As a result, that friend is in danger, said Cochran.

Rod Griffiths, another Republican voter, said he considers himself a single issue voter for the most part. Hochul, he felt, “basically overwrote the [2nd] amendment” when she further strengthened gun safety laws earlier in the year. “The whole Democratic Party is just running wild,” he added.

Some Democratic voters The Ithaca Voice spoke with said they were getting out to vote, in part, out of a fear that Republicans are not interested in protecting American democracy. In fact, it’s the opposite they feel, but that doesn’t mean all of them are putting Democrats on a pedestal. One such voter, Katherine Baker, said she thinks the “temptation” to limit people’s power in government is “across the aisle.”

“I believe that we see it more strongly in the right wing,” she said. “Not by Republicans necessarily, but by the people that have been put forward by the Republican Party […] That’s not to say that it’s not there on both sides.”

A common sticking point that emerged at the polls was dissatisfaction with the major political parties.

Marcus May, who said he generally votes along the Democratic line, called Republicans “self-serving.”

“I don’t think that when they talk about the economy they’re worried about American workers or common everyday American civilians. They’re concerned about the stock market and corporate interest. I think that Democrats are almost equally guilty of that. […] I don’t have huge faith in either party, but [Democrats] are kind of a lesser of two evils.”

He said that Senator Chuck Schumer doesn’t really “inspire” him, and is hand-in-hand with corporate interests, “but he’s still a better choice than otherwise.”  

Ellis Hollow Apartments

“I always vote,” said Kathleen, a voter using her first name. “I wanted to make sure that the Democrats hold onto their seats, the Clean Water act is also really important to me.”

“I vote every time there’s something to vote on. I support the present governor, Hochul, and I wanted to make sure she stays in office,” voter Richard Lovelise said, his wife agreeing.

“I had to vote because of the state of our country. I don’t like the Republicans. I don’t like their agenda — it can’t happen. It’s very scary to me, I’m a wreck,” an anonymous Democratic voter said.

Tino, another voter, expressed what was the perhaps the most common issue driving people to the polls in the Ithaca area. “Roe v. Wade, getting that signed into law.”

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at jjordan@ithacavoice.com Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com

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...