ITHACA, NY -- Cornell University junior and current fourth ward alderperson Patrick Mehler will be running against a fellow Cornellian in the Democratic primaries in June. Tiffany Kumar, a sophomore, has announced that she’ll be running for Mehler’s current seat as a member of the Solidarity Slate.

There are two current Solidarity Slate members on council, Phoebe Brown and Jorge Defendini. They were both elected in the November 2021 election, and Defendini is also a student, though he will be finishing up his studies this month.

Mehler joined Council last fall as an appointed replacement of former alderperson Steve Smith after he resigned to move out of town. Since then he has been able to get legislation through that extends the amount of time renters have before landlords can ask them to renew their leases. He is currently finishing his junior year and said he intends to stay in Ithaca after graduation.

“I’ve really enjoyed the work I’ve gotten to do and I think I can get some more done,” he said.

One of his priorities going forward is meeting transportation needs of all kinds in Collegetown.

“Helping make Collegetown a safer, more walkable place is huge on my list,” Mehler said. “And that starts with the extra money for College Ave in last year’s budget.”

He said he has been working with the city’s engineering staff to figure out how to make the area safer for people to walk, bike and drive.

“Currently my focus is local infrastructure and moving those projects along,” he said.

Mehler said he’s also looking to give Collegetown an identity and finding ways to acknowledge the local businesses in the fourth ward.

“We should celebrate the local businesses and find some way to celebrate what it’s like to live in such a phenomenal community,” he said.

Mehler believes one of his strongest attributes is his ability to connect with both the students and permanent residents in the fourth ward. He said connecting with people is his strength, and that he’s willing to show up anywhere to meet with constituents and build those connections.

“The biggest experience I bring are these partnerships and relationships,” he said. “Everything I’ve been able to do has not been me by myself. It’s me and someone in the community, and I just elevate those issues.”

When he went through the initial application and interview process for Smith’s open position, Mehler said his goal was to better bridge the gap between students and city government. He said the fact there’s another student running against him proves he’s been successful.

“It makes me really excited that students are engaged,” he said. “The short of it is if students are engaging with me and if they feel more connected to the city and more able to thrive here, I think my work has succeeded.”

For her part, Kumar said as a queer Asian American woman, she has seen throughout her life that government institutions at every level do not benefit marginalized communities. She said she’s been heavily involved in community organizations in Ithaca since moving here for the fall 2021 semester.

“I’ve realized how much our city council doesn’t reflect our views,” she said.

Though just a sophomore in college, Kumar has a lifelong track record of activism, particularly in labor. She said in high school she was the student representative when teachers went on strike and because of that has an appreciation for collective bargaining. A Manhattan native but a transfer student from American University in Washington, D.C., Kumar said she was involved in many grassroot organizations in D.C. and also worked on the Hill with feminist non-profits.

Her first priority if elected is housing justice.

“I recognize housing justice is racial justice,” she said. “I have witnessed the violence of houselessness firsthand.”

Kumar’s fight for housing justice would include the Right to Renew legislation that stalled out in the Planning and Economic Development Committee, right to repairs, more affordable housing and inclusionary zoning laws.

She also wants to work on a more progressive infrastructure that would repair streets and walkways to make Ithaca more walkable and bikeable. She said she’d also like to address issues with snow removal cause inaccessibility by increasing staff at the Department of Public Works. She also cites adherence to the Ithaca Green New Deal as important to her.

Like Mehler, Kumar hopes to continue to build relationships between college students and the city government and encourage students to be more involved.

“I’ve been involved with getting people involved in local politics with the Cornell Democrats and Cornell Progressives,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of apathy on campus but a lot of progressive sentiment.”

She also mentioned her intent to remain in Ithaca for longer if elected.

“I personally have had issues with students running for government and not representing the community in the long term, so if I were to win I would love to stay in Ithaca and take a little longer to graduate,” she said. “I’d move to a part-time student so I could stay here and dedicate my life to it.”

The Democratic primary is scheduled for June 28.

(2) comments

Nevin Sabet

That's fantastic!!!

Richard Ballantyne

Have these adult children ever even worked in the private sector or paid property or income tax? Housing justice? What does that even mean? Let me guess; wealth confiscation and redistribution, socialized housing, subsidized housing, etc. Yikes! Maybe those students should go live in a socialist nation for awhile. I hope some older people with wisdom, intelligence and life experience run against them.

Welcome to the discussion.

This is a space for civil feedback and conversation. A few guidelines: 1. be kind and courteous. 2. no hate speech or bullying. 3. no promotions or spam. If necessary, we will ban members who do not abide by these standards.

Recommended for you