Four candidates running for local government positions presented their platforms at a candidate forum hosted by the Collegetown Neighborhood Council Tuesday.
Elie Kirshner ’18 defended against questions about whether he is experienced enough to represent the Collegetown and Commons neighborhoods in the Tompkins County Legislature. Kirshner, the Democratically-endorsed candidate, is running against local attorney and independent candidate Rich John ’81.
Although only 19 years old, Kirshner said he has many experiences to bring to his position, if elected. Last year, he interned at City Hall, where he said he organized the Commons reopening celebration and wrote press releases about city hall events. He then became a project coordinator, where his job included working on state and federal grant proposals.
Kirshner said he decided to run out of a “love for my community.”
“Unlike state and federal government, your constituency is not theoretical, and the issues are right in front of you,” Kirshner said. “You walk the streets you fought to pave, and you spend every day representing and spending time with your constituents that are your lifelong neighbors.”
Kirshner said he is also running because he is “passionate about a variety of progressive causes,” including affordability. Other issues he said he hopes to focus on are social justice, environmental sustainability and mental health.
“Government should be about listening, it should be about learning, and it should be about respect,” Kirshner said. Government should be a vehicle and tool for compassion.”
In the question section at the end of the forum, Kirschner responded to a resident’s question of the importance of age and experience in running for a legislature position. He said he believes age should not matter in this case and what should matter is partially experience as well as passion and commitment.
“I believe I have the experience to do this job, and I absolutely have the commitment and passion for it,” Kirshner said.
Following Kirshner, opponent John spoke, giving several examples of challenges he faced as an attorney and member of the Board of Historic Ithaca, which he said he believes will help him solve the city’s problems. Several of these obstacles included dealing with the poor water system of Lansing, stabilizing the Ithaca State Theater’s ceiling and helping investigate a past employee of his who was embezzling $1.6 million dollars from the company where he worked.
“I mention all those things because I suggest to you that there’s a pattern. I start, I finish, I’ve gotten things done. It’s hard to stand up and brag about that, but those four things I think paint a picture,” John said.
John also said he is better fit for the seat than his opponent because of his experience that has come with his age.
“I’d also say, I could not have done those things at 19,” John said. “It takes a lot of experience to be able to push projects through to their completion.”
Svante Myrick ’09, who is running for re-election for Ithaca City Mayor, also spoke at the forum. He faces a write-in, independent candidate — Phoebe Brown — who was not at the meeting.
Myrick spoke on the difference that has been made in the Ithaca community over his term in the past four years.
“Four years ago, we were wrestling with the largest budget deficit the city had ever seen,” Myrick said. “We had no plan at the time to close that deficit. The Commons had 10 percent of the store fronts closed. It was dark and foreboding . . . We had no money to replace the Commons. A lot of people were ready to give up on downtown.”
However, Myrick said many of these issues have been addressed and mostly resolved by now.
“Not only did we close our budget deficit by making some hard choices …,” Myrick said. “Last year we lowered city taxes, and this year my plan is to keep the tax rate at zero for a cumulative four-year tax increase that is smaller than any we’ve seen in 40 years, all while rebuilding our infrastructure.”
Myrick said he tries to focus on several of the most crucial problems that Ithaca residents face.
“You can’t decide if you are going to have headaches,” Myrick said. “You can only decide which headaches you are going to have.”
After Myrick finished his speech and answered questions from the audience, Rob Gearhart took the floor. Gearhart is running unopposed for a position on the Common Council.
Currently the assistant provost for online learning and extended studies at Ithaca College, Gearhart said how committed he is to his campaign and meeting all Ithacans, even though he is running unopposed. He said he is running for the position because he loves Ithaca and hopes to bring new improvements to the city.
“In those [past 20 years of] leadership roles, the success I’ve had has been really connected to my ability to be a clear and effective communicator and also to be a collaborator,” Gearhart said.
He also shared with the audience what he hopes to bring to the city if elected.
“I’ve told [people in the neighborhood] that my stance is to elect me for commitment, to represent community, foster collaboration and communicate effectively . . . I call them my four C’s.”