Ithaca residents will choose between three candidates who are vying to represent the city’s Fifth Ward, which includes portions of North Campus, on Tuesday in a special election.
Melissa Hall, Aryeal Jackson and Laura Lewis all have stressed the need to create affordable housing and improve communication between the city and its residents.
They are running for a seat on Common Council that was vacated by former Alderperson Josephine Martell, who stepped down in August because she moved out of the district. Michael Decatur is currently filling in for Martell’s seat on an interim basis and is not running for the role.
An Ithaca native, Hall says the “deep connections” she has made with people in all walks of life in Ithaca — through combatting homelessness and providing free attorneys to Ithacans — will help her in representing the Fifth Ward if elected.
“I work at the Assigned Counsel Program and see many people that I went to school with or grew up with in and out of the criminal justice system,” she said. Some are selling drugs because they are addicted or because it is “the best option they had to earn a living,” she said.
Jackson, a reporter at WRFI, said her ability to communicate in a way that is “respectful and introspective” and “marry complicated ideas with a simple approach” is what makes her the best candidate for the position.
Jackson said she would incorporate constituents into her decision process, and that after she masters various policy issues she will say to constituents: “This is what the nuts and bolts are, help me make a decision with you.”
Following three decades of living in Fall Creek and actively participating in various levels of Democratic politics, Lewis said she is the most qualified candidate for the position. Martell has endorsed Lewis, telling The Sun by text that Lewis is a “smart, capable and lovely woman.”
Lewis, a board member of Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services, said she is ready for the position after volunteering for local events, such as the Ithaca women’s march, and chairing the democratic committees of both the Fifth Ward and the City of Ithaca
As Hall juggled transitioning to a single-parent household while trying to remain in the Fall Creek Elementary School district, she faced the Ithaca housing crisis first hand, she said, adding that this experience makes her uniquely qualified to represent Fall Creek on matters of housing affordability.
“I don’t believe the people who represent us on Common Council are experiencing these personal struggles,” Hall said in an email. “What better advocate for these issues than someone who is experiencing them? Someone who has seen the perspective of the very poor on a professional capacity to her own perspective as a single mom earning what some would consider a good income.”
Jackson said that in order to get to the root of what many believe is a housing crisis in Ithaca, there needs to be a common understanding of what constitutes affordable housing.
The definition is “not consistent for anybody,” she said.
“Are you talking about single mothers like me, who are well below the poverty line but still have an education? Are you talking about students, are you talking about section 8,” Jackson said.
Jackson said she prefers to use a term she first heard from JoAnn Cornish, director of planning and economic development for the City of Ithaca: “workforce housing.”
“I thought that was much better, because there is a dynamic aspect to that,” she said.
Lewis said her role on the INHS board, where she helped people get affordable housing in Ithaca, will help her thoughtfully approach the issue on Common Council.
On the INHS board, “we want to make sure an affordable home remains an affordable home in perpetuity, so affordable houses don’t get flipped,” she said, adding that they had worked to preserve homeownership in the affordable market.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7.