Stephen Burke

Ithaca Notes

The 2016 presidential election was notable for many things, but from the start, for both major parties running candidates whom a majority of citizens decidedly disliked. 

In the weeks leading up to the election, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had historically low favorability ratings, around 40 percent.

The 2019 mayoral election in Ithaca looks to be just the opposite, with two candidates so likable you hate to vote against either. 

Svante Myrick is the incumbent, running for a third four-year term, which would make him Ithaca’s longest-serving mayor, a measure of his popularity. He won his last campaign with 89 percent of the vote.  

His opponent now is Adam Levine, a newcomer to electoral politics.

Originally from New York City, Adam has a gregarious personality, perfect for a job he has held as a Downtown Ithaca Alliance business group “ambassador” on the Commons, and maybe well-suited for a longshot challenge needing coverage. He is running on the newly-created We Party line, in a campaign prompted by friends and community members. 

The Siege of Niceness between Svante and Adam (each is generally referred to by first name around town) erupted even before the competition began, with an act of cordiality responsible for a contested election even happening. 

Adam’s campaign, even the thought of it, started late, and he only began collecting signatures to place him on the ballot a few weeks before the May 31 deadline. 

In a statement on deadline day, the mayor said that Adam’s petition fell about 90 short of the required 339 signatures; but that he would decline to challenge the petition, allowing Adam to appear on the ballot. 

“He seems like a nice and earnest guy,” the mayor said. 

Maybe it takes one to know one, at least (especially?) in politics. 

I don’t know Svante personally, but in general he seems to know of what he speaks, and particularly here, about altruism and selflessness. 

I know Adam fairly well, and Svante is right, there aren’t many nicer nor more earnest. 

Adam is a far-leaning, Sanders-style leftist, which does not play poorly in Ithaca. Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton handily here in New York’s 2016 Democratic presidential primary. 

(Fans of Ithaca trivia will note that the city’s mayor from 1989-95, Ben Nichols, like Sanders was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America; and like Adam was a hirsute, XL guy from Staten Island.)

Politically, Svante and Adam are probably more alike than different. 

Stylistically, there are similarities (both are upbeat and energetic), but also contrasts (the incumbent is generally cool and circumspect; the challenger, largely unguarded and ebullient). 

The electoral scene in Ithaca mirrors that of the Democrats in both our nation and state. 

With 20 candidates for president in televised debate in June, generally agreeing philosophically on issues such as health care, climate change, militarism, immigration, and economic relief for the middle and working classes, progressive Democrats had plenty to like and little to reject.

For most Democrats nationwide, as for mayoral voters in Ithaca, each candidate is probably acceptable.

In some ways Adam’s candidacy parallels that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for Congress last year. 

Ocasio-Cortez, a political neophyte who identified as a Democratic Socialist, ran an underdog campaign in her New York City district with little money or mainstream support; but her aggressively progressive stances galvanized voters and she defeated a ten-term incumbent, a presumed impossibility. 

(With an unflinchingly leftist tenure so far, AOC (as she is now widely known) has emerged as a leader of her party; she currently has nearly 4 million Twitter followers, more than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.)

These parallels, such as they are, apparently don’t daunt Ithaca’s mayor. In fact, he stands as the single greatest benefactor of an idealistic dark horse who happens to oppose him, in a candidacy that would already have failed if not for his own active support.

Democracy is alive and well in Ithaca.


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