Candidates for both the New York State Assembly’s 125th district seat and Tompkins County Sheriff fielded questions from about a fifty-person audience at the League of Women Voters of Tompkins County last night in the Ithaca Town Hall.
“We put it on to educate the public,” said Katherine Durant, a member of the League of Women Voters.
Another member of the League of Women Voters, Nancy Istock, explained that it was important a non-partisan group hold the forum.
There are two candidates for the New York State Assembly 125th district seat — incumbent Barbara Lifton and James Rohan, assistant bursar at Cornell.
Rohan’s main plan, if he is elected, is to keep college students in Tompkins County. He plans to bring jobs in high tech industries — namely biotechnology — to the Tompkins County area. This, he believes, will re-distribute the tax burden.
Rohan also wants to establish scholarships for students in biotechnology and related fields — that comes with the proviso that after graduation, they have to remain in New York State, hopefully, he adds, Tompkins County.
“It’s like what we did in the military,” Rohan said. “Once you train in the military, you spend time serving the military.”
Lifton said that the Essential New York Program includes similar ideas about keeping college students in Tompkins County. The program is based off the hope that good jobs will arrive through a close connection between universities and the private sector.
Lifton supports a raise in minimum wage; Rohan does not.
“I don’t want an increase in minimum wage to drive good jobs out of New York,” Rohan said.
According to Lifton, New York will raise the minimum wage to $7.15 per hour in January 2007. She also pointed out that with every increase in minimum wage, the economy improved.
The audience raised the issue of healthcare to the Assembly candidates.
“Teddy Roosevelt said that a business should not exist if it doesn’t pay the minimum wage to its employees,” Lifton said.
She supports universal healthcare for New York State residents; she sees universal healthcare as ultimately the federal government’s job, but believes states have to step in if the federal government takes no action.
“There are 2.7 million New Yorkers without healthcare,” Lifton said.
Tompkins County Sheriff has three candidates this year: eight-year incumbent Peter Meskill, Timothy Little, a county deputy sheriff, and Brian Robison, a retired Ithaca Police Department officer. Robison said that he has had a lot of experience in investigation; Little has seven years experience working as a deputy and court officer.
The candidates discussed the issue of domestic violence.
“It’s one of the fastest growing issues,” Meskill said. “But there aren’t any specific criminal charges for domestic violence.”
Robison talked about how the police take a pro-arrest policy if they are called to handle a domestic violence incident.
All three candidates are in support of alternative-to-incarceration programs, especially in light of the over-crowding at the Tompkins County Jail.
Little expressed his support of Drug Court, a program that instead of incarcerating those charged with drug crimes, puts them through intensive treatment, while Meskill cited the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program (SWAP) as another option instead of incarceration.
“It was a great opportunity to get more information than what’s in the newspaper letter to the editors,” said Kathy Camilli, a long-time resident of Ithaca. “I was on the fence about who I was going to vote about, but now I’m finally decided.”
The forum also helped Steve William, who works for the town and is registered independent, decide on who should be elected Sheriff.
“I was going to vote for Timothy Little, but instead I’m voting for Brian Robison,” William said.
Incumbent Aurora Valenti is running unopposed for Tompkins County Clerk and did not participate in the question and answer session.
The election will be held on Nov. 7.