November 6, 2012

Smith Captures Fourth Ward Seat on Ithaca Common Council

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Capturing more than 84 percent of the vote, Stephen Smith (D-N.Y.) was elected Fourth Ward representative for the Ithaca Common Council Tuesday night, defeating Republican opponent Misha Checkovich ’13.

Gathered in a packed room at the Holiday Inn in downtown Ithaca, city officials, Ithacans and Cornell Democrats greeted news of Smith’s election with loud applause and cheers.

“My first priority right now is engaging in conversation that will bring the permanent residents and students [in the Fourth Ward] together so that we can work toward some common goals,” Smith told The Sun after his win was announced.

Smith won the seat for one year, serving out the remainder of the position’s term after Alderperson Eddie Rooker ’09 abruptly vacated the seat in September. He will need to run again in November 2014 to secure a full four-year term on the Common Council.

Checkovich, a history major at Cornell, wished Smith luck after the race was called Tuesday night. She received the news after taking her second prelim of the day.

“I wish Steve Smith the best on Common Council and that I hope he can represent the Fourth Ward well and accomplish all that he set out to accomplish,” she told The Sun.

After his victory was announced, Smith pledged to follow through with several initiatives he has said he would support.

In a debate against Checkovich last month, Smith praised Mayor Svante Myrick’s ’09 proposed budget, saying he believes the plan will reduce the city’s deficit. He also threw his support behind Josh Lower’s ’05 Collegetown Crossing project and proposed abating Collegetown’s housing crunch by mandating a two-month waiting period between the start of a lease and the showing of apartments.

“Moving on from there, I am going to look into affordable quality housing in Ithaca and what we can do to increase that,” Smith added.

Multiple city officials celebrated Smith’s victory Tuesday night.

“Our voters had a clear choice between a pragmatic, balanced approach and a more conservative approach. Voters chose the progressive, Democratic way in a landslide,” said Myrick, who endorsed Smith in the race.

Alderperson Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward) echoed Myrick’s sentiments.

­­“I think it was a fairly convincing win,” he said. “I think it is very clear that people have a very strong choice in the ward and that is great.”

Kerslick said he is looking forward to working with Smith to increase student involvement in the Fourth Ward community.

Cornell students comprise 97 percent of constituents in the Fourth Ward, which includes Cascadilla Park, West Campus and most of Collegetown. Although he did not attend Cornell, Smith has said that he “understands a lot of what it is to be a student in a community and [to try] to have a positive relationship with that community.”

Kerslick backed Smith, saying he believes that Smith has proven himself to be an effective communicator.

“I think Stephen did an excellent job of meeting students that was reflected in the very clear decision by the ward,” Kerslick said. “He has talked to students and got involved with the student body of the 4th Ward, which brought him a strong poll from the student constituents of the ward.”

The celebration for Smith’s victory was muted, as Smith quickly turned his attention to the ongoing race of Democrat Nate Shinagawa ’05 M.A. ’09, who is running to represent New York’s 23rd Congressional District. Smith is the finance director for Shinagawa’s campaign.

“I work for Nate Shinagawa full time. After I check in with a couple of people here and then I am going to go upstairs and wait for the numbers to come up for Nate,” Smith said after his win. “Back to work.”

Shinagawa conceded to Reed Tuesday in a speech to supporters at the Holiday Inn in downtown Ithaca.

Smith, a 2009 graduate of the State University of New York at Geneseo, was appointed to serve out the remainder of the position’s term after Rooker cut his term short by a year. Rooker decided to leave the Common Council after he was accepted off the wait list at the New York University School of Law, prompting the Tompkins County Democratic Committee to nominate Smith to run for the seat.

Original Author: Manu Rathore

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