There are a lot of eyes turned towards 2020 already. It’s the start of a new decade, a valuable chance at a mulligan for those who believe the last few years of the 2010s went a bit sideways, for one reason or another. Related to that, many of those eyes are already fixated on the 2020 presidential election, even with more than a year left before Wolf Blitzer starts doodling on expensive digital maps once again.
But before that, there are local elections to be decided. The Ithaca Times has already covered that participation is down this year compared to the last off-year election, when almost all the incumbent Common Council members who were eligible for re-election were challenged, although some have said that’s simply a return to the norm. Regardless, local elections are important, and a critique holds much more weight down the road if the subject of that critique knows they’re dealing with someone who was engaged when it counted, and isn’t just hopping on at the end. With that said, here is as much rundown as we could fit into this issue, with more coverage coming online as we near the date. Early voting has already begun (full details here) and official polling locations open on Nov. 5, from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m.
The City of Ithaca
The most interesting development in the city’s elections is the 11th hour insurrection campaigns being staged by young environmental activists. So far, three candidates have declared their candidacies as write-in competitors during the last week: Ellie Pfeffer, Thea Kozakis and Cheyenne Carter are all now running for Common Council seats, in the third, fourth and fifth wards respectively.
All three are being spurred by generally the same motivation: the environment. All of them are members of the local Sunrise Movement chapter, which has gained momentum over the last several months, peaking with the climate change marches last month that attracted thousands of young people, most of them high school and college students, to the Commons to call for energy policy reform.
In interviews, it’s clear that despite their late starts, the trio aren’t just trying to stir the pot by entering the race. Though they were too late to get on the actual ballot, each one legitimately believes that while experienced voices are valuable and necessary, it’s time that youth voices were not only welcomed to the table, but started pulling up a chair and forcing their way in if need be.
“Voices of the community need to be empowered more,” Carter wrote in an email. “Our government works for us, but yet we have to try so hard to not be left in the dark about information. Information needs to be easily accessible. Each election is to keep democracy in check. Whether I’m a politician, activist, server, or farmer I will actively be reminding people that their voices are important, and their actions can be powerful.”
Pfeffer expressed similar views. They enter the race as the lone challengers to the Common Council incumbents, as they’ll face Rob Gearhart in the Third Ward, Steve Smith in the Fourth Ward and Laura Lewis in the Fifth Ward. The unchallenged candidates for Common Council are George McGonigal in the First Ward and Ducson Nguyen in the Second Ward.
At the start of the mayoral race, it seemed as though incumbent Mayor Svante Myrick was going to run unopposed. However, new-to-politics candidate Adam Levine swooped in with a late, grassroots campaign effort to challenge the mayor. Levine decided to take on the challenge to make Ithaca a better place after feeling like changes in the city were working against the interests of residents. Campaigning under the self-created WE Party, much of Levine’s platform has been based on the theme of governing by the people and for the people. One central thing he wants to work on is the development of an economy that corrects long-established socio-economic struggles.
“We are, as a country and as Ithaca, running on trickle-down economics which was injected into this country en masse about 40 years ago,” Levine said. “It’s had some bubbles but it’s been a bad thing for the middle class, the working class, and the poor in this country. Wages have basically been flat for 40 years and super-wealthy people are getting more wealthy. The wealth is there but it’s just getting redistributed to the wealthy folks. I want to, in Ithaca, not have primarily trickle-down economics. I want to have an economy that’s built from the ground up; a ground-up economy with good jobs where people can make a living, have health benefits and retirement and feel good about their work.”
He also wants to focus on making Ithaca a leader in eldercare instead of allowing private nursing homes to continue making money while providing what he claims is substandard care for their residents. Levine emphasized that, if elected, he would prioritize trying to make Ithaca a greener city, through the Green New Deal and establishing a green economy as well.
Levine has found the current administration has not paid much attention to the numerous unionizing efforts that have been occurring throughout the City of Ithaca. Other issues he wants to work on are affordable housing in the City of Ithaca, and find ways to increase wages for teachers, nurses and other career fields he feels have been neglected by the City of Ithaca.
Reflecting back on his eight years in office, Myrick has accomplished quite a bit. Since the early days of his time as mayor, battling what was the largest budget deficit in the City of Ithaca’s history to establishing a Green New Deal earlier this year, there’s certainly a resume to back up the mayor’s talk, which at times can sound idealistic. Myrick said there are three priorities he’d like to focus on should he be elected to another term in office.
“First is lowering the cost of housing in Ithaca by building more affordable housing and giving people more options on where to live, and lowering taxes,” Myrick said. “That’s my first priority. My second priority is delivering a Green New Deal in Ithaca. A plan that will lower our net emissions to zero by 2030 while making sure that historical inequities are addressed. Like giving traditionally marginalized groups the opportunity to benefit from a Green New Deal. The third priority is building more human scale infrastructure such as sidewalks, bike lanes, trails and street paving to improve the quality of life in Ithaca.”
He also emphasized a concentration on lowering the cost of living in the City of Ithaca, mentioning one initiative that he would like to work on with the state as the retail vacancy tax, which would penalize landlords for leaving storefronts empty.
Elsewhere, the races have been somewhat quiet, surely a symptom of so many races being uncontested this year.
Only two Town Supervisor races are contested (Caroline and Lansing), with Beth McGee in Enfield, Michael Allinger in Newfield and Jason Leifer in Dryden running unopposed. There are several town council position up for grabs throughout the county, all of which can be viewed before hand on Tompkins County’s Board of Elections website.
The lone exception is the Lansing Town Supervisor race, though most of the noise from that raise has come from something unrelated to any campaign. Incumbent supervisor Ed LaVigne, a Republican, has come under fire recently after a $8400 donation to the Lansing Republican Committee came to light, made by the Lucente family just before a Lucente development project was up for a postponement approval (the measure passed, allowing the project more time to formulate a plan that will let it increase its size). The issue came to a head after an Ithaca Journal report on the matter, which led to a contentious Town Board meeting in which the public traded barbs among each other, either criticizing or supporting LaVigne. LaVigne declined to address the matter during the meeting, and his opponent, former Tompkins County Legislator Michael Koplinka-Loehr, a Democrat, did not use his public comment time to attack his opponent on it either.
There is one newly created county judge spot open, with Ithaca City Court Judge Scott Miller the lone competitor for the spot. It looked as if he, too, would face competition, but Lansing’s Maura Kennedy-Smith decided to drop out of the race early on.
As an Ithaca City Court judge for the last seven years, Miller said he is ready to take on the position of Tompkins County Court Judge.
“I look forward to bringing the same judicial temperament, work ethic, and sense of humor that I bring to the bench at City Court,” Miller said. “I’m excited to bring that to County Court. Colleagues know me, I’ve been on the bench for seven years. I don’t plan on changing my personality. The local bar that’s been appearing in front of me for seven years knows the type of judge I am. I plan on making sure that everyone who appears before me, whether it’s represented by an attorney or not, is heard in a professional, civil and polite fashion.”
Miller knows court can often be an unpleasant experience for the litigants but knows the judge does not have to express that same unpleasantness. He has been heavily involved in the effort to bring a mental health court to the City of Ithaca, and said that he’d be interested in expanding the court to accept people countywide.
New York State
For the first time in several years, there actually aren’t any referenda that need to be discussed here; in the last few years, there have been votes regarding the potential Constitutional Convention, and even a local City of Ithaca measure up for decision that rearranged the city’s governing committees and boards. This year, though, the lone election with statewide implications that Tompkins County residents need to pay attention to is the race for Supreme Court judge.
The race features five candidates vying for three spots: Democrats Claudette Newman and Peter Charnetsky, and Republicans Chris Baker, Oliver N. Blaise and Mark Masler. Judicial candidate races can be difficult to monitor, since candidates are generally reluctant to make many sweeping political statements because of their obligations to the bench.