Longtime New York State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton announced Friday that she will not seek reelection and is retiring from her position representing the 125th District.
"It is with more than a little sadness that I announce today that I won't be seeking a 10th term," Lifton said. "I've had to wrestle with this decision, because critical work remains on the climate, and education, and healthcare, among other issues about which I care deeply. But that will always be the case, I know. Important work remains, but I've come to the decision that it's time for me to put down this work."
Lifton was emotional throughout the announcement, wiping away tears as she made her way through a prepared speech. Current and former staff members were gathered next to her, before a crowd of around 40 citizens, and local political figures, including several Tompkins County Legislature members, former Tompkins County Democratic Committee leader Irene Stein, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, and Dryden Town Supervisor, Jason Leifer.
Lifton delivered an address outlining her work and history in the State Assembly, especially focusing on her decision to first run in 2002, which she says was encouraged by her friends and ultimately a "great opportunity," though she was nervous about the adjustment.
"Despite my initial hesitation, I think it's been a pretty good run," she said, which drew a round of applause.
An Ithaca resident, Lifton has served in the position since 2002, and would have been up for reelection later this year. She made the announcement during a press conference at Dryden Town Hall. The seat, which is up for election in November, is sure to draw significant interest from both parties, although the district has skewed significantly Democratic during Lifton's time in office. The district encompasses all of Tompkins County, as well as the City of Cortland and other smaller parts of Cortland County.
“Needless to say, it takes many faithful supporters to continue this work over 18 years,” Lifton wrote in a statement after her announcement. “I can’t thank you all enough. And deep thanks to all the voters, Democrats, Working Families, Republicans, and Independents who have given me their vote of confidence at the polls in each of my nine elections. I have done my best to listen respectfully to all views and take them into account as I’ve made difficult and complicated decisions over these 18 years and my staff and I have worked hard to fairly serve all of my approximately 135,000 constituents.”
Largely viewed as a relatively progressive Democrat, Lifton's past several elections have been mostly uneventful. She ran unopposed in 2018, and in 2016 and 2014 she easily defeated Republican challenger Herbert Masser, Jr.
Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson followed Lifton, congratulating her on such a productive career in government, and celebrating her work on voting integrity and maintaining a forward-thinking approach to politics. Mayor Brian Tobin, of the City of Cortland, also spoke in appreciation of Lifton.
"She's been everything that an elected official should be," Tobin said, calling her a role model and a friend.
"It's important for me as mayor to say that Barbara Lifton has been a true champion of the City of Ithaca," Mayor Svante Myrick said as he recounted his early work as a volunteer for Lifton. "The impact that Barbara had is shown by the consistency she displayed on two things. One was a bone-deep conviction that our economy was rigged, that our taxation system benefitted the rich, and that harmed all of us. It's a bone deep conviction that she never lost. And second was an optimism that all things could be changed."
Former Tompkins County Democratic Committee Chair Irene Stein, Cortland County Democratic Committee Chair Tim Perfetti and local environmental activist Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting all spoke on Lifton's behalf as well.
At this time, no one from any party has announced an intention to seek the seat, although the chance to take on a newcomer could appeal to Republicans in the district who had seen Lifton soundly defeat all challengers, while there's plenty of Democratic politicians, even just in Tompkins County, who would surely be interested in challenging for the seat.