ITHACA, N.Y.— The year 2022 was a bumpy one in Tompkins County. There is not much to argue about that. But, on the bright side, that makes for a far more interesting yearly recap before heading into the new year.
We already published a gallery of the year in pictures and the year’s most significant economic and development stories, compiled by Casey Martin and Brian Crandall respectively.
Thanks for reading the millions of words published in The Ithaca Voice this year. Get into a comfy spot and dive into a shorter recap of all of them below at your leisure. We’ll see you in 2023.
The year’s largest news, which set off an almost incomprehensible number of events that promise to continue to be main storylines in 2023, conveniently happened just six days into the year. Then-Mayor Svante Myrick announced he was leaving the office he had held for a decade to become the executive director of the People for the American Way (he was recently President of the organization as well). Common Council member Laura Lewis was named acting mayor by Myrick.
Despite constant vague speculation that Myrick would leave office at some point for a higher opportunity, the announcement was still a fairly stunning way to start the year and its ramifications can be seen throughout 2022.
An intriguing public art display popped up on the Commons early last year, seeming to depict the plight of homelessness locally. The actual answer was a bit more complicated, explained by artist Andrew Lackland, an IC graduate who then gradually moved the figures throughout the country, ending in Los Angeles.
Also in January, and topically for those reading at the end of 2022, sticker stores began opening in Ithaca around the start of the year, claiming they were finding a legal loophole. The stores would have a fairly bumpy relationship with local law enforcement, in that Ithaca police frequently insisted the locations are illegal, but were never shut down. Now, as of this week, selling cannabis in New York is legal anyway. We’ll see how that unfolds in 2023.
The end of the month saw two heroic deeds by community members too: Ithaca City School District bus driver Keith Whitaker stopped his morning route to extinguish a residential fire on North Meadow Street before firefighters showed up; elsewhere in the district, Ithaca High School teacher Hallie Snowman constructed her own extra precautions against COVID-19 in her classroom.
The first week of Feburary marked the last week of Myrick’s tenure, as he officially left his post after an emotional final Common Council meeting. Lewis then took over and soon declared her candidacy to finish the last year of Myrick’s term.
To remain with the theme of stories that started early and finished with just days left in the year, the Tompkins County Legislature started its process to distribute $6.5 million of relief funds to local businesses and organizations who apply for help for future works. Those awards were officially announced in the legislature’s last meeting of the year.
In other downtown news, Trader K’s second-hand store announced it was closing its doors after 26 years on the Commons—the first in a year teeming with turnover on the main pedestrian thorofare of Ithaca. But an addition also arrived the same month: Lev Kitchen, the Mediterranean-style restaurant that has quickly gained a foothold.
Outside the city, Trumansburg and the Town of Ulysses both agreed to take on responsibility for the maintenance of Camp Barton, a popular local Boy Scout Camp that was slated to be sold due to financial obligations of the local Boy Scouts. The obligations had to do with the massive settlement reached by the Boy Scouts of America regarding tens of thousand of cases of sexual abuse cases that had been brought against it.
The park was taken over to conserve it. New York State has been engaged in a months long process to purchase the property. While it’s unclear when this will be finalized, and when details will be worked out, local municipalities will be operating the park.
In Newfield, the Newfield Central School District’s woes were highlighted by the Office of the State Comptroller. The cracks also began to show in TCAT’s dwindling cadre of drivers.
And, in a way, Ithaca College made a fashion debut at the NFL’s Super Bowl: sunglasses designed by Malik Dupri Morris, a 2017 IC grad, became an iconic part of Cincinnatti Bengals QB Joe Burrow’s starmaking run to the championship game.
March was the first truly busy news month of 2022 for Ithaca, and it did not disappoint—led, of course, by the annual Chili Cook-Off. Additionally, Lisa Holmes took over as County Administrator after several months in the interim role.
The Reimagining Public Safety process, at times controversial and at times promising, took a significant step in March with the introduction of the actual recommendation to restructure the Ithaca Police Department, and generally the law enforcement response apparatus in Ithaca. There were questions about implementation and structure early, and those questions are still being hotly discussed by city officials even as the ongoing ethics investigation (the city’s internal examination closed without finding wrongdoing) has seemed to stifle much enthusiastic progress.
Ithaca saw its first of three 2022 homicides in March, as Teheran Forest was shot on March 20 around 3 a.m. on West State Street and died from his injuries a week later. There has been no more information released by police since the kiling took place. Just weeks before that, there was a major development in another murder case: William Marshall, who was already in custody for separate federal charges, was indicted on separate charges of killing Alan Godfrey in summer 2021. Marshall’s trial has yet to begin, though it could start in January. Few details have been available, but Marshall’s criminal past and college connection to Svante Myrick have made for plenty of unsubstantiated rumor milling.
The tragic invasion of Ukraine by Russia during this time evoked plenty of sentiments from Ithacans as well, as hundreds showed up to protests calling for peace. The situation did give reason for Ithaca to remember its long-lost connection to its Ukrainian sister city of Komsomolsk.
Not to step on our recap of the biggest development story, but March also saw the announcement of maybe the most intriguing new development: a multi-use facility that appears destined for use as a crisis stabilization center, taking up part of the Ithaca Mall purchased by Cayuga Health System, which will also lead operation of the center with several different organizations. And in other development news, albeit slightly smaller, the Hangar Theatre introduced plans for its new outdoor stage, making permanent what had been an answer to COVID-19 indoor gathering restrictions, and Sweet Melissa’s announced its expansion into regional distribution markets. Late in the month, too, the Good Cause Eviction effort met an obstacle it couldn’t overcome, at least not yet: city government, in the form of the Planning and Economic Development Committee.
Plus, La Jerne Terry Cornish took the helm of Ithaca College, ascending from her previous position as provost.
Everyone’s favorite topic took hold in April: politics.
First, there was some interesting jousting between William “Magic Man” Metro and Zachary Winn over a spot on the Republican ticket for Ithaca mayor. While both were vying and setting up a rare GOP primary in deep-blue Ithaca, Winn successfully got Metro thrown off the ballot due to a lack of petition signatures. Winn eventually went on to an unchallenged path for the Republican bid, though he then finished third in the general election.
Two additional political storylines started in April as well. The Ithaca Designated Encampment Sites proposal was starting to make the rounds, which would construct about two dozen small cottages where “the Jungle” homeless encampment is now. The idea is to provide a higher quality of life to those in the Jungle, though city officials acknowledge they would want it to also include stricter enforcement of anti-camping laws elsewhere in the city. Progress has been slow and TIDES’ current prospects look murky.
But center stage for the rest of the year were the calls for an investigation into the Reimagining Public Safety process, lodged by Alderperson Cynthia Brock which then found some footing among those who had been hesitant or resistant towards the reform proposal all along. This has been a lot of bluster from all sides of the matter without much return so far, with one investigation still pending and one concluded, but it’s impossible to tell the story of Ithaca’s 2022 without the ethics pall over city government. This was another example of a far-reaching ripple effect from Myrick’s decision to step away from office.
Otherwise, perhaps the biggest news of the month came when all three local Starbucks locations made history: with their successful unionization votes, Ithaca became the first municipality with a fully unionized Starbucks workforce. That would just be the very beginning of a tumultuous year in Ithaca for the coffee giant, though.
Unfortunately, the local sports community also mourned the death of longtime Cornell lacross legned Richie Moran at the age of 85. Ground was broken at the Namgyal Monastery to build the Dalai Lama Library, signaling again the connection between Ithaca and Buddhist leadership. A proposal to rename the infamous “bridge to nowhere” in Ithaca after beloved local figure Kirby Edmonds, who died in 2020.
April also saw the introduction of new FEMA flood maps, analyzed here by Brian Crandall, which could cause headaches going forward for Ithaca property owners who fall within its wide scope.
The beginning of the summer was a busy time, particularly in terms of local politics. After much back and forth, updated redistricting maps were released, placing Tompkins County in New York’s 19th Congressional District.
Ahead of the school year coming to a close, parents at the Northeast Elementary School voiced frustration with the Ithaca City School District’s (ICSD) lack of transparency in regards to beloved absentee principal Liddy Coyle after she was placed on administrative leave with little fanfare. This came just weeks after the district underwent a bungled school board election as well.
Signs with slogans like “Where’s Liddy?” and “We stand with Liddy” could be seen at schools and homes across ICSD weeks after Coyle’s leave began. Coyle has since returned to work at the district in a different position, but has maintained that she cannot comment on the matter.
The Tompkins County Legislature’s Human Services Committee was called to address the county’s growing fentanyl problem through the creation of an Opioid Task Force, which was made official in October.
Protests and rallies in support of pro-choice legislation broke out after the draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, with local public officials calling for pro-choice legislation to be renewed. In reaction to the overturned decision, the City of Ithaca began its effort to become an abortion sanctuary city.
June began with the return of the Ithaca Festival and the Tompkins County Health Department dropping its mask advisory for the county. The Ithaca Voice also got four summer interns from Ithaca College and Cornell University (thanks Syd, Eva, Jacqueline and Caitlin!), who contributed reporting to the site all summer.
The Starbucks saga continued with the company announcing the impending closure of the Collegetown location after the successful vote to unionize all three Ithaca stores. Protests broke out amid union-busting allegations, and allegedly intentional understaffing and stressful working conditions continued to burden remaining workers. Protests, strikes and boycotts continued throughout the summer after each subsequently fired worker, to little avail despite the Tompkins County Legislature calling on the company to reopen the Collegetown location.
The Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board launched an investigation into concerns regarding third-party financial influence into the Reimagining Public Safety process (RPS) with the help of outside counsel, and the Ithaca Police Department (IPD) debuted a new Community Dashboard. The ethics allegations sparked an investigation process that has progressed very gradually, and with only portions of it in the public eye, without turning up any actual ethics violations to date.
Despite the June heat, advocates for municipal snow removal in the City of Ithaca continued to push the agenda in the hopes to gain funding for the fall’s budget season—an effort they would continue with mounting momentum throughout the year.
Tompkins County discovered that voter turnout had dropped off for the June primary, and a bill declaring Ithaca as a sanctuary city for abortion and reproductive healthcare passed unanimously through Common Council. Similarly, Common Council also voiced support for the Starbucks workers affected by the Collegetown closure, urging the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold the company accountable and reopen the store. They were following suit of their County Legislature colleagues.
Later in July, sticker stores began testing the gray area in New York State’s recent legalization of cannabis, and cease and desist letters from the state’s Office of Cannabis Management continued to confuse the matter, even ensnaring a local wedding venue.
Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) and Cornell University began to negotiate another year’s contract binding the transit provider to servicing the campus without increasing the amount Cornell would be required to pay. As summer activities got underway and the heat kicked into full gear, chlorine shortages temporarily closed a community swimming pool, and three people required rescuing from Cayuga Lake after a sailboat capsized.
Grassroots made its triumphant return for its 30th year, despite pending health department permits required for the event, which would get the festival into some hot water with the health department toward the end of the year.
City of Ithaca mayoral candidates were in full campaigning mode, an odd dichotomy considering the City of Ithaca’s ethics investigation was moving forward into a reform process led by the former mayor. TCEAB officials expressed some frustration with the city, saying it was not cooperating with the RPS investigation and a small war of words followed that has remained present throughout the subsequent months. Indeed, in the middle of summer, the Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board awaited responses for information it had requested from the City of Ithaca, former Mayor Myrick and the Center for Policing Equity (CPE).
As the summer wound down, Gimme! Coffee announced its new co-op model. Interestingly, while the Starbucks unionization effort was evolving, the Gimme union that had risen to prominence in the barista organizing space years prior was crumbling.
As for Ithaca’s culinary scene, Eduardo Acevedo’s Tacos CDMX, a small metal taco stand near the Finger Lakes ReUse Center, quickly became the talk of the town after a word-of-mouth firestorm.
Early in the month, Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ people in Seneca Falls, New York, witnessed the destruction of homes and sacred spaces by the Cayuga Nation Police, setting off weeks of renewed tension between the two sides. For a myriad of reasons, inability to field a full workforce was a consistent theme throughout the year. Toward the end of the summer, TCAT budget negotiations continued with the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County and Cornell University, while TCAT’s difficult year trudged onward with ongoing service reductions heading into the fall, as a result of driver shortages. Speaking of which, as the school year grew closer, ICSD faced significant staffing shortages that have seemed to grow even more cumbersome since school began. On a similar note, the county announced an increase in its living wage from $15.32 to $16.61, later continuing the conversation about living wage requirements and benefits.
Alderperson Jeffrey Barken brought forward allegations that Tompkins County Communications Director Dom Recckio was exercising undue influence over local media’s coverage of Ithaca’s Reimagining Public Safety plan, an unexpected accompaniment to the ethics complaints lodged against the Reimagining process.
The allegation followed the suspension of Tompkins Weekly reporter Deidra Cross, who had written a column largely based on an interview with Trumansburg Mayor Rordan Hart. The column included the sentiment that Ithaca’s RPS plan had caused the current staffing shortages that IPD is struggling with, which Hart explained has caused the need for Trumansburg to lend its emergency response resources to the Ithaca area, leading to strain.
Recckio took issue with the column’s framing since RPS hasn’t actually been implemented yet, and the concerns he posited led to Barken’s allegations. Further, in the wake of the situation, Cross was terminated from Tompkins Weekly in connection to the saga. There’s a lot more nuance to the situation, with stories here and here.
Tompkins County Attorney Bill Troy reviewed Recckio’s exchanges and cleared him of acting inappropriately. A trove of emails between Recckio and local media were released by the county in response to a slew of Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests as well.
September also saw some more ups and downs economically in Ithaca. Perhaps most notably, Waffle Frolic closed its doors after over a decade on the Commons. But openings included Deep Dive Ithaca in the former Dock space, the Cayuga Shoreline event venue and the long-awaited reopening of the Green Street Garage, though the construction of housing and a conference center is still causing some congestion for downtown traffic on Green Street.
In October, the Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board (TCEAB) finished releasing a cache of documents into an investigation into the potential of third party influence or ethical breaches in the City of Ithaca’s Reimagining Public Safety process.
The documents, containing statements made by or on behalf of numerous interested parties in the investigation, such as the Center for Policing Equity (CPE), City Attorney Ari Lavine, and co-leads of the RPS Working Group, reflected an intense pushback against the investigation. Many argued that the TCEAB was beyond its scope in the investigation, like CPE and Lavine.
The board is still working towards coming to its conclusions on the ethics complaint filed by Alderperson Cynthia Brock. Here is the running coverage of the issue published throughout autumn.
Ithaca’s City Hall would see two major departures announced in October. Chief of Staff Faith Vavra, and Luis Aguirre-Torres who served as the City’s Director of Sustainability from March 2021 until the end of October 2022.
Aguirre-Torres revealed to The Ithaca Voice that his resignation would stem from what he described as an increasingly restrictive work environment following the departure of former Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick in February 2022. The Ithaca Green New Deal, the ambitious initiative to achieve carbon neutrality city wide by 2030, was the goal that Aguirre-Torres had been hired on to achieve, but it became a goal that he would be told was “aspirational” and that he wasn’t “expected to achieve” by senior city officials. With internal support disappearing, he said, work became a process of “defending what I was doing, and not explaining what I was doing.”
In a jarring surprise, Jason Fane, a prominent but oft-criticized landlord in Ithaca, saw New York State Attorney General Letitia James announce a lawsuit against him and his business, Ithaca Renting Company, for allegedly discriminating against low income tenants. James’ office stated that Fane had acknowledged that he had established a policy of refusing to accept tenants with Section 8 housing assistance vouchers in violation of source of income protection laws for tenants. The Attorney General said she would be seeking to reverse this practice, as well as compel Fane to set aside 5% of his residential housing units solely for tenants relying on Section 8 vouchers.
Fane faces civil penalties of up to $300,000 if the case is successful.
Facing allegations of anti-labor practices, the corporate coffee chain Starbucks would see the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rule in favor of unionized workers at its Collegetown location in Ithaca. NLRB announced that it would be seeking to force Starbucks to reopen the Collegetown location, which it closed in June 2022. Starbucks workers and their supporters decried the company’s decision as an act of union-busting. In response to complaints filed by workers, the NLRB would scold Starbucks for “failing and refusing to bargain collectively and in good faith.”
A hearing on the case is scheduled for February 2023.
On Election Day, Laura Lewis would handily win a special election to serve a single year term as Ithaca’s Mayor to finish out Myrick’s term. Of note, the City Manager referendum was als approved by city voters, meaning come 2024 Ithaca’s city government will have a structure far more similar to Tompkins County, with a CEO-style leader appointed by Common Council and not elected, than its current mayor-driven form.
Lewis, who notably declined to debate before the election, won office in part by having convinced voters with her past experience on Common Council that she would be a steady hand to guide the city.
Yet the weeks after the election would immediately toss the city into turmoil. Unionized workers from across the City of Ithaca’s public sector departments crowded into a meeting of Common Council in early November to share their concerns over what they said have been over a decade of hardball negotiation tactics that the city has used with its bargaining units.
The result, many workers said, are uncompetetive wages that have contributed to challenges in recruiting and retaining employees, particularly in the city’s Department of Public Works. City Attorney Ari Lavine, who was head of the city’s negotiation team, saw criticisms emerge against him for supposedly being the main force behind the challenging negotiation conditions that workers argued are not being done in mutual interest.
Lavine would later say that some speakers committed “character assassination” against him, and referred to the demonstration as a “mob attack,” while also blasting Common Council members he saw as celebrating the attacks on him. Lavine recommended that he be removed from the city’s negotiation team and replaced by an outside attorney, which the Common Council approved. Now, Ithaca’s Common Council looks likely to establish a labor liaison position in order to get a more direct sense of how negotiations are progressing.
After a student in the Ithaca City School District threatened to shoot up a school bus, and the district administration failed to take any steps to notify law enforcement, concerns have risen that ICSD may not have effective protocols to respond to threats of violence among its student body. The incident and ICSD’s response have spurred an ongoing court case to examine these protocols. District officials have denied Tompkins County District Attorney Matt Van Houten from reviewing the school district’s policies and procedures surrounding incidents of violent threats. According to Van Houten, the district’s legal counsel argued that he does not have jurisdiction over the matter. As a result, district officials have been subpoenaed to appear in court.
Ithaca also bid a fond farewell to local legend Julie Holcomb, who announced her retirement after decades as the city’s clerk and go-to City Hall institutional memory. Sadly, Ithaca lost another icon as well with the passing of downtown favorite Eric Lovett.
The final month of the year did not see a respite from turbulence for Ithaca’s city government. The Ithaca Police Department has been in limbo, waiting for someone to permanently fill the role of Police Chief in duty. And it appears that the city’s residents and police will have to wait a while longer.
Acting Chief John Joly was Mayor Laura Lewis’ pick, but her choice came against the recommendation of the selection committee tasked with reviewing the applicants. When Lewis’ choice of Joly became public, it also became clear that the members of Ithaca’s Common Council would not vote to approve Joly.
While Lewis rescinded the choice, she opted to reopen the search process instead of selecting former IPD Lieutenant Scott Garin, who the selection committee initially recommended, and who seemed to have a large level of support in the community. Lewis has confirmed she will be reopening the search, while Garin has not responded to requests for comment.
Remember the ethics investigations? They’re back, or one of them at least. The City of Ithaca released a report developed from an internal investigation into the potential of third party influence and ethical violations in the process of developing its Reimagining Public Safety plan.
The report, conducted by an outside attorney, revealed a mixed bag. The RPS process recounted in the report revealed a number of missteps that have hurt the image of the RPS plan, a lack of transparency in certain areas, but the RPS initiative by and large did not result in any ethical breaches.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that New York State had already purchased the Camp Barton Property along the western shore of Cayuga Lake. This transaction is still being reviewed.