My office has offered a literal door directly into the Mayor’s Office for eight years this January. Through that door, I have seen Svante Myrick at work as few others have. As I now share some of what I’ve seen, and I believe objectively so, let me nonetheless place an important disclaimer right up front: as City Attorney, I not only work closely with the Mayor, but was appointed by the Mayor and serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.
The Svante Myrick I’ve seen dreams big, and then executes in the real world — in practical steps that make policy aspirations reality. And those policy aspirations aren’t just his own; time and again I’ve watched him deliberatively incorporate public preferences into public policy, just as public officials should.
Sidewalks—mundane though they seem—make a perfect example. When Svante and I first went knocking in his 2011 campaign for Mayor, sidewalks were consistently among the top three concerns that we heard, and Svante made them his mission.
The public’s concerns around sidewalks were threefold: we needed more sidewalks, in better condition, and funded fairly. In 2011, the City was delivering on none of those needs. As many of us have perhaps forgotten, Ithaca’s longtime funding mechanism for sidewalk repair and construction was rightly despised by nearly everyone. It would charge the entire cost of a sidewalk job to the adjoining property owner, whether they wanted the work done or not. This meant property owners could receive, seemingly out of the blue, orders to build or pay for thousands of dollars of sidewalk work. It also meant that not much sidewalk work got done in the City, leaving us with miles of cracked sidewalks and virtually no new sidewalk construction for decades.
Soon after taking office in 2012, Svante sought input from the Board of Public Works on a new system, and then formed a task force for the purpose of designing a new system. Imbued in that system were important policy values, including accessibility, affordability, predictability, participatory decision making, and ultimately a recognition that sidewalks are a classic public good as to which the costs and benefits should be broadly shared. He wanted a system that encouraged, not deterred, sidewalk work. Ultimately, he delivered Ithaca’s Sidewalk Improvement Districts, which charge most homeowners a flat $70 per year in sidewalk fees, hold annual public meetings to learn where the public wants sidewalk work focused, and ushered in a radical acceleration in the rate of sidewalk construction and repair Citywide, which continues to this day.
Svante’s deft public speaking skills can of course assist in achieving consensus around policy objectives of this sort. But I can also attest that those skills, and indeed his public persona more broadly, are genuine. Svante is as personable, and downright kind, in private as in public. No matter the situation—and we have navigated many together—Svante remains exceptionally calm under pressure. He has a near-encyclopedic knowledge of Ithaca and its goings-on, both past and present. He has a knack for delegating, and yet leading, even on the broader topics that he has delegated. This allows him the best of both worlds—setting clear policy direction while accessing the particular technical skills and broader team efforts of a wide array of people—staff, elected officials, and public. And amongst all of these constituencies and their often differing viewpoints, Svante has proved himself expert at building bridges in our fair City of gorges and strongly held opinions.
In sum, Svante is that rare leader who combines liberal innovation and public bridge-building with a penchant for delivering good government day in and day out. I am confident that, if re-elected, he will continue to prove an exceptional asset to the Ithaca of today and of tomorrow.
Ari Lavine, Ithaca’s City Attorney since 2012.