Ithaca Times

Year In Review: A look back at the newsworthy items of 2012

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Posted: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:21 am, Tue Jan 8, 2013.

It’s that time of year again, when we look back at what has happened as we prepare to start anew in 2013. Here is a look at some of the stories that shaped us and our city in 2012.

January

The yea started with the swearing in of Svante Myrick as the mayor of the City of Ithaca. Myrick, 24 at the time of his swearing in (though he turned 25 during his first year in office), is the youngest mayor in the city’s history, as well as the first person of color to hold the office.

Myrick replaced former Mayor Carolyn Peterson, who chose not to run for re-election after two four-year terms in the mayor’s chair.

With Myrick’s move from Common Council to the mayor’s seat and the four members of Council — George McGonigal, Eric Rosario, Joel Zumoff and Dan Cogan — leaving their posts, it meant the swearing in of five new alderpersons. Joining the Common Council in 2012 were Cynthia Brock, Seph Murtagh, Donna Fleming, Graham Kerslick and Chris Proulx. The first of the year also saw the welcoming of a new city attorney, Ari Lavine, replacing longtime city attorney Dan Hoffman.

Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson was chosen to reprise her role as the chairperson of the Legislature, but not without numerous votes on the matter. At the Legislature’s first meeting of the year, the legislators couldn’t come to a decision with the votes split, 7-7, between Robertson and Legislator Mike Lane. The only thing the majority could decide was to wait until the next meeting to select a leader.

That leader wound up being Robertson again, as the tenth vote — undertaken halfway through the first month of the year — on the choice produced a 9-5 margin in favor of keeping her in the role for another year.

January also saw the first meeting of the Common Council’s Government Performance and Accountability Committee, created by Myrick to help develop and implement performance measurement standards, as well as find ways to streamline government operations to be more efficient and effective.

February

Leadership issues for the Tompkins County Legislature were back in February, after legislators could not agree upon a vice chair in January. Legislator Nathan Shinagawa was eventually chosen for the post on the fifth vote of the first February meeting of the Legislature.

The Commons played host to the 14th annual Great Downtown Ithaca Chili Cook-off, with more than 35 competitors taking part in the chili competition.

Local First Ithaca put together its first “Guide To Being Local,” a 128-page guide filled with coupons, as well as stories about local businesses, information about keeping money in the community and a food map detailing locations of local CSA’s and U-pick options.

Ithaca City School District Superintendent Luvelle Brown made the announcement he would be reorganizing the district’s executive team. The assistant superintendent positions that had been in place were eliminated under his plan, and the positions of chief human resources officer, chief information officer, chief operations officer, chief secondary schools officer, chief elementary schools officer and a chief excellence officer were created in their place.

March

The proposed Collegetown Crossing project drew plenty of discussion in March — and is continuing — as developers requested a parking variance. The request for relief from constructing parking for the project — 57 spots are required under current zoning regulations for the scope of the proposal — was met with concern from city officials about what it would mean for the already-parking strapped Collegetown. The proposed six-story, 50-unit, 103-bedroom project — plans also include a GreenStar store and a TCAT bus stop — received public support from a large contingent.

Sidewalks continue to be an issue in Ithaca, and a report released in March indicated the state of the city’s was in dire shape.

The report estimated that of the 4,200 properties in the city, 3,400 — 80 percent — of them have some condemnable sidewalk condition. Calculating that the typical lifespan of a sidewalk falls at 20 years, along with up-to-date repair, 210 sidewalks could be replaced every year. To replace the sidewalks in condemnable conditions immediately, it was calculated the city would be facing a $13 million capital project.

The local Irish music session celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, the milestone noted with a cover story about it in our March 17 issue. Mark Bickford started it in 1987 at the Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg, but it quickly moved into Ithaca where it has been at one bar or another continuously for a quarter of a century.

April

Ithaca High School graduate, Cpl. Christopher Bordoni, passed away on April 3 from injuries he sustained Jan. 18, 2012 during an attack by a suicide bomber while on patrol in the Kajaki region of Afghanistan. It was his second tour of duty in Afghanistan; he was deployed in April 2011 and expected to come home in the beginning of February 2012. Bordoni was honored in a service at Immaculate Conception Church in Ithaca, with people lining the streets to watch the local hero.

The City of Ithaca began charging for collection of yard waste in April, requiring people who bagged it and put it out on the curb for collection to purchase tags. The decision to charge for bagged yard waste was made in November 2011 when it became clear that the city could no longer swallow the cost of picking up yard waste in the city’s budget.

Technically the spotlight started in March, but the Tompkins County Public Library shed more light on the homeless and indigent population in Tompkins County with a panel discussion about the issue in April. The forum, including Mayor Svante Myrick, John Ward of the Red Cross and Jennifer Pacanowski of the Veteran’s Sanctuary, offered dialogue about homelessness and being indigent, as well as possible causes, effects and solutions. In addition to the forum, local artist Benn Nadelman curated an exhibit at the library that ran from March 10-May 24.

The Old Library got spruced up a bit in April when Jay Stooks, an Ithaca artist and GIAC employee who runs the Urban Art Program, started creating a mural on its curved wall. Stooks and his students adorned the wall with vibrant colors in an homage to the Ithaca area. The mural was the latest in an effort by the city’s Public Art Commission to beautify public spaces with local artwork.

The city Planning Board decided to require Collegetown Crossing developers to hire an independent consultant to study the percentage of tenants that would bring a car dependant on certain variables such as price points. The developers had conducted their own such study, but the board was interested in seeing more data before moving forward in passing the project along to the next step in the approval process.

Concern about the number of headshops, as well as what that meant for downtown Ithaca, had the Downtown Ithaca Alliance looking into the potential for limited the number doing business on the Commons. In April, DIA Executive Director Gary Ferguson said the board was still in research mode, trying to find other communities that have implemented measures to restrict or regulate head shops.

The City of Ithaca received $13 million from New York state for dredging the flood control channel. Mayor Svante Myrick said that the city would be meeting with the county, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and Cornell University to discuss how to possibly combine the dredging process and the treatment of hydrilla in the Cayuga Lake inlet.

May

In its first meeting in May, the Tompkins County Legislature passed a resolution urging the state to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.39 per hour. Legislators voted 10-5 to pass its recommendation along to state leaders, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state senators.

At its May meeting, Common Council voted to convey the city-owned parcel located at 213-215 W. Spencer Street to the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency to facilitate its sale through a bidding process. The property was one of several city-owned parcels being considered for sale, as there is a revenue designation of $120,000 in the city’s 2012 budget for the sale of surplus city property. Council unanimously approved the motion for the conveyance of the Spencer Street properties, but a motion to authorize the sale of the city’s 321 Elmira Road property was defeated 7-3, with members of Council citing concerns about storm water management as one of the reasons for retaining the property.

Ithaca City School District voters went to the polls and re-elected three school board members — Sean Eversley Bradwell, Eldred Harris and Jay True — for another term in office.

Dr. Sue Romanczuk-Smelcer was appointed as Tompkins County’s new mental health commissioner.

Congo Square Market at the Southside Community Center opened up its fourth season of good food, music, and range of craft vendors. The market is a collaboration between Southside, the Ithaca Youth Bureau Paul Scheurs Memorial Program, and the Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Whole Community Project.

May also saw two milestones reached: the Family Reading Partnership marked its 15th anniversary, while the Ithaca Festival counted its 35th year of celebrating the city.

June

The Greater Ithaca Activities Center, founded in 1972, celebrated 40 years of serving youth, teens, adults, seniors and families in the greater Ithaca community through its programming and maintaining its motto that GIAC is “a place to be me.”

Common Council authorized the subdivision and transfer to the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency of a city-owned parcel at the south end of Cherry Street. The motion passed 8-2; both the Natural Areas Commission and the Conservation Advisory Council gave feedback to Council advising that further exploration of the value of the property for future uses take place prior to transferring it to the IURA for sale.

The city prepared to demolish the Clinton Street bridge, only to find stiff opposition from Pyramid Sound Studios owner Alex Perialas — and a large number of area residents — who were concerned the work would damage the studio beyond repair. A rally took place outside of City Hall, and ultimately the studio was temporarily condemned as the project moved forward despite the protest. The bridge work was completed later in the year.

The Tompkins County Legislature was set to approve a redistricting plan recommended by an independent commission, but was held up from doing so due to the Common Council’s reluctance to redraw its boundaries to fit with the county map. The county’s redistricting plan called for a reduction of Ithaca’s wards from five to four, while the Common Council would have been reduced from 10 alderpersons to eight. Ultimately, the county approved the new districts that did result in the reduction of one representative for the city, while the Common Council opted not to reduce the number of alderpersons on the city’s governing board.

The Ithaca Public Education Initiative launched a $600,000 capital campaign, aimed at helping keep up with the demand for which its grants and programs are currently seeing from local educators. IPEI’s campaign goal was later surpassed as it continues to provide opportunity for students in the Ithaca City School District.

The Cayuga Lake inlet received its second application of the herbicide Endothall, also called Aquathol K, to fight invasive hydrilla growing there; the first application took place in the fall of 2011.

The Martin Luther King Freedom Walkway Committee unveiled the first statue — a piece by sculptor Rob Licht that includes a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. —on its planned walkway, on the Commons.

While area schools conducted their annual graduation festivities, New Roots Charter School marked its first-ever commencement.

July

Fireworks came back to the City of Ithaca in July, as Mayor Svante Myrick spearheaded a fund-raising effort to fund the Fourth of July tradition. The campaign was successful, and the city sky was lit up from the Stewart Park, where the celebration took place.

Common Council unanimously approved the City Employee Retirement Incentive for 2013; up to 80 city employees, including those in the police and fire departments, were eligible for receiving the retirement incentive.

The Ithaca City School District and Ithaca Teachers Association announced the close of negotiations, with a teacher’s contract ratified by both the union's membership and the Ithaca school board. The three-year contract gave teachers a 2-percent salary increase each year; it contains no automatic step increases.

Concerns about the future of the Ithaca Community Garden beyond 2013 were raised when Common Council considered whether to renew the lease or sell the land for development at the request of developers that have a purchase option for the property. Posturing and plans came forth, with plenty of criticisms lobbed at the garden group, the developers and the city.

August

Alderperson Eddie Rooker announced he would be leaving Common Council in September to pursue his law degree at NYU, leaving the Council more than a year before his term was set to expire in December 2013.

Ithaca High School graduate Alex Meyer competed in the open water competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. He ultimately finished 10th in the event, but less than a minute behind the gold medalist.

The City of Ithaca decided to move forward with the development of a new comprehensive plan without consultants hired in September 2011 to assist with the plan’s creation. The work will continue in-house.

Sonali Samarasinghe was introduced as the latest writer in residence with Ithaca City of Asylum, an organization which hosts endangered writers from all over the world. Since 2001, Ithaca City of Asylum has hosted four previous writers: A dissident poet from China, a dramatist who was imprisoned in Iran, a novelist whose life was threatened for criticizing the monarchy in Swaziland and an activist poet under threat for writing about politics in his native Georgia.

September

The Tompkins County Legislature finalized its new county election district lines, shrinking the county districts from 15 to 14, with the city of Ithaca’s districts reduced from 5 to 4.

Six Mile Creek Vineyard celebrated its 25th anniversary, with its Harvest Fest in September being the biggest celebratory evernt.

Ben Feldman, a 2002 graduate of Ithaca College, was nominated for an Emmy Award in the guest actor in a drama series category for his work on the TV show Mad Men; the award ultimately went to Jeremy Davies for his work on the show Justified.

An amendment to the city’s municipal code to create a new chapter titled “Bridges” was approved, aimed to “protect the integrity of the city bridges and the safety of those who use those bridges, and more particularly to ensure that no one interferes with the efficacy of the safety mesh under the city bridges.” The safety mesh has been installed as a measure of means restriction.

Actor and activist Danny Glover visited the Cornell Industrial Labor Relations (IRL) School. Glover was there to promote his concerns on the post-World War II decline of the labor movement and its plight in today's dynamic international economy.

The city’s Public Art Commission unveiled its 21 Boxes project, sprucing up the plain, drab gray electrical boxes that can be found on many of downtown Ithaca’s street corners. The electrical boxes owned by the City of Ithaca — 21 of them, hence the title of the PAC project “21 Boxes” — were transformed into colorful, meaningful and artistic expressions for all to see.

Stephen Smith was appointed to fill the vacant Common Council seat left after the resignation of Eddie Rooker.

The Common Council approved a resolution directing Mayor Svante Myrick and City Attorney Ari Lavine to enter into lease negotiations with Project Growing Hope, the non-profit responsible for the Ithaca Community Garden, in order to renew the lease that expires December 31, 2013.

October

Thursday, Oct. 11, was a very busy day for Ithaca police and fire personnel — not to mention public safety personnel from throughout the county — as two high profile incidents took place within 12 hours of each other. The first, a bomb scare on the Commons, took place about 3 p.m., with the downtown pedestrian mall closed off, and businesses and apartments evacuated as a bomb squad was called in to investigate what turned out to be nothing more than a book in a box. That evening saw IPD Officer Anthony Augustine shot in the line of duty, as he pursued a suspect believed to have stolen a vehicle. Augustine underwent emergency surgery and was released from the hospital a week later.

The State Diner, located at 436 W. State/MLK Jr. St., caught fire in early October, as the result of an electrical malfunction. The longtime and popular diner sustained extensive damage and is still under repair as we close out 2012.

St. James AME Zion Church hosted a re-enactment of the speech given by noted abolitionist movement leader Frederick Douglass — 160 years prior, also at St. James, which is approaching its 180th birthday.

The Town of Ithaca approved its budget for 2013; the spending plan called for an increase in expenditures of 10.4 percent, but the tax rate was a much smaller 2.05 percent.

Tompkins County and Ithaca Dispatch Inc. partnered to purchase a MV-1 taxi — built by Vehicle Production Group Inc. and which can carry one person in a wheelchair and three seated passengers — for operating in the county and allowing those who use wheelchairs to be able to call a cab.

Longtime public works superintendent Bill Gray announced his plans to retire at the end of 2012.

Ithaca town board member Nahmin Horwitz passed away at the age of 84. Horwitz, in his third year as a member of the Ithaca town board, was active in government affairs up to the time of his passing, having attended a meeting less than a week before his death.

November

Tompkins County Legislator Nathan Shinagawa was unsuccessful in his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Tom Reed for the 23rd District seat, coming in about 10,000 votes shy. Alderperson Steve Smith, appointed in September to finish out 2012 on Council as a replacement for Rooker, earned election to a one-year term ending in December 2013, defeating Misha Checkovich.

G. Peter LePage, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University, was appointed to the National Science Board.

The Greater Ithaca Activities Center elected its first-ever youth cabinet, with 70 kids voting from a group of 12 candidates to elect a treasurer, secretary of defense, vice president and president to represent them through the rest of the school year.

The first shovels for the Seneca Way project, a five-story, mixed-use building with 38 apartments and two offices, broke ground at the site of the former Challenge Industries.

The Tompkins County Legislature adopted its 2013 budget, increasing taxes by 3.69 percent to $6.79 per $1,000 of assessed value, up from this current year’s rate of $6.67. For the average Tompkins County taxpayer with a $160,000 home, the 2013 tax bill will be $1,086, up $19 from the 2012 bill of $1,067.

December

After the City Administration Committee gave the OK for the city to fund 25 percent of a salary for a school resource officer in late November, discussions continued throughout December with no final resolution to the position settled by the end of the year. While the Common Council also gave its OK, the Ithaca school board remained skeptical of the efficacy of the position and raised concerns about what it would really mean for students to have a police officer at Ithaca High School.

The Neighborhood Pride grocery store, providing easy access to groceries for the Fall Creek and Northside neighborhoods, continued work on the building in anticipation of opening its doors sometime in January.

The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission recommended the designation of the Henry St. John area as a local historic district.

Dr. Rob Mackenzie, chief executive officer and president of Cayuga Medical Center since 2003 (and filling other administrative posts at CMC for a decade before that), was honored for his years of service as he prepared to retire at the end of 2012.

Ithaca High School had a bomb scare, but it was determined that the "suspicious looking electronic device" discovered in an abandoned hallway next to a row of lockers in the school's K building was not an explosive device.

Aurora Street was closed down for about six hours when a fire broke out at the building housing Blue Stone Bar & Grill. An electrical malfunction was determined to be the cause of the fire, which was determined to be accidental. Blue Stone, as well as Mercato, remain closed; residents living in the apartments above the restaurants also were affected and remain displaced.

Allen Green, executive director of the Ithaca Youth Bureau, retired after 36 years with the department.

Cornell Cooperative Extension celebrated its 100th anniversary.

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