Candidates for the New York State Assembly, incumbent Democrat Barbara Lifton and Republican James Rohan, face off in today’s elections for a seat representing the 125th Assembly District, which is composed of all of Tompkins County — including Ithaca — and parts of Cortland County.
A former high school English teacher until 1988, Lifton shifted careers to politics by working as the chief of staff for former Assemblyman Marty Luster for 14 years. Lifton has actively been involved in various community projects ranging Coalition for Community Unity to the Ithaca Area Health Care Network. Lifton has also served for two years on the Cornell/Community Waste Management Committee.
James Rohan is a Navy veteran with almost 30 years of service lasting from 1962 until 1991. His experience includes serving as the Republican Committee Chair of Enfield and as an elections officer of Tompkins County. Rohan ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Tompkins County Legislature last year. He currently works as an assistant bursar for Cornell University Bursar Services.
One of Rohan’s first priorities, should he be elected, is a plan to simultaneously increase the development of high tech industries while retaining university graduates in Tompkins County to fill those jobs.
“I’m taking the two things, jobs and the educated people that we produce and offering them to these businesses if they come here. Offering them to help the students get through special grants, scholarships and zero-interest load,” said Rohan in an interview conducted by the Lansing Star.
His plan is analogous to that used by ROTC. In return for grants and scholarships given to students to attend colleges and universities in the area, they would be obligated to remain and work in New York State for a couple of years after graduation. These financial aid packages would go primarily to students with majors in technology-related areas.
Although the details have yet to be worked out, according to a statement released by Rohan in response to questions by the League of Women Voters, he said, “A student receiving a $50,000 grant might be expected to work in the state for ten years, the period for a $25,000 grant could be five years.”
Among Barbara Lifton’s plans is the continuation of her fight to restore funding for education after cuts in support from New York State under Governor George Pataki’s administration. During Lifton’s past years as State Assembly member, she has fought to keep tuition at SUNY schools from rising.
“You know, we had a governor who has been cutting education, not responding to the health care crisis, not creating good jobs in New York in spite of his claims to the contrary. Certainly not in upstate,” she said in an interview with the Lansing Star.
In 2005, Lifton sponsored a bill to return $13 million in SUNY capital funding for the land-grant colleges within Cornell University, of which $9 million was apportioned to renovating Martha Van Rensselaer Hall and $3 million toward the College of Industrial and Labor Relations’ faculty wing. Lifton has also helped secure $1.2 million for the University to maintain the Cornell Theory Center’s supercomputer.
In addition to supporting the aims of the administration, Lifton has also sided with the students, most notably regarding standoff between the University and the Redbud Woods. Lifton urged former interim President Hunter Rawlings to reconsider preserving the woods.
“With all of the many building projects at Cornell, taking us into a futuristic world of nano-science and bio-science and space, perhaps it is, indeed, necessary to say “no” to a parking lot and “yes” to this small, natural preserve,” she wrote in a letter to Rawlings.
Also high among James Rohan’s priorities is legislation toward allowing the death penalty to be given to criminals convicted of the following crimes: serial or multiple killings, terrorism, sniping, killing a police officer in the line of duty or homicide while serving a life sentence. Such legislation would aim to deter crimes against law enforcement officers.
“This law will not mandate the death penalty for these crimes but will allow the juries and judges to render this as a possible punishment for said crime,” Rohan said in a press release.
Another issue that Rohan addresses is health care. He is working towards establishing a “more affordable and efficient health insurance for those who currently cannot purchase any or adequate insurance … without plac[ing] an additional tax burden on the state’s residents or driv[ing] jobs out of state.”
In terms of the campaign fundraising trail, the total amount of donations made from residents in the 14850 zip code came out to be $221,225, compared to $25,106 for the average United States postal zip code, according to The Center for Responsible Politics, which tracks who gives and receives political donations. Neither candidate Lifton nor Rohan received any direct individual contributions.
Of the top ten recipients of campaign contributions in the 2006 election cycle in the 14850 zip code, the top eight recipients were Democratic organizations and politicians, including the Democratic National Committee Services Corp., EMILY’s List, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, MoveOn.org, Democratic Candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Representative from the 22nd District Maurice Hinchey and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Of the campaign contributions made by Cornell professors, a majority were for Democratic candidates or organizations and committees.