Pam Mackesey ’89 Enters Mayoral Race

March 29, 2011 12:00 am0 comments
Jeff Stein

Correction appended

Kicking off the 2011 campaign for mayor of Ithaca, Tompkins County Legislator Pam Mackesey ’89 (D-1st District) announced Sunday that she will run to replace Mayor Carolyn Peterson, who will not seek reelection after her term expires Dec. 31.

Although Mackesey was the only candidate to declare her candidacy as of Monday night, Ithaca City Councilmember Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward) has filed with the New York State Board of Elections to disclose campaign committee finances for the mayor of Ithaca election.

John Conklin, spokesperson for the state board of elections, said that while this filing does not necessarily mean Myrick is running for mayor, candidates who are planning to raise more than $1,000 for a campaign “are required to file disclosure statements with us.”

Additionally, Myrick’s Facebook page states that the councilmember “will be making a major political announcement this week,” although Myrick declined additional comment Monday night.

If Myrick does run, he now knows he will face Mackesey — an Ithaca resident of 35 years who has served as a city council member, a member of Ithaca’s planning board and a six-year veteran of the Tompkins County Legislature — among other potential candidates. In November, Mackesey ran unsuccessfully for the New York State Senate’s 53rd District, losing to State Senator Thomas O’Mara (R).

Mackesey, who studied at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, has had a long, although not always amicable, relationship with the University and its students.

A gardener in the Cornell Plantations for eight years, Mackesey led a movement to organize the University’s service and maintenance workers in the 1980s. As chair of the workers’ bargaining committee, Mackesey led the employees — custodians, dining workers and field workers — in a strike against the University.

“It was an adjustment for the University to have to sit across the table from their employees, particularly the people who mop their floors and cook their meals,” she said. “Look at how much Cornell values education: These are the people who, in terms of how valuable they are, would not be at the top of their list.”

Although Mackesey called Cornell “just an amazing place, an amazing University,” she said that it sometimes views its workers as “those at the bottom of the pile.”

Mackesey said that, as mayor, she may look to increase the amount paid by the University to the city through Ithaca’s Memorandum of Understanding. Since Cornell’s land — and therefore much of Ithaca — is exempt from property taxes, the University allocates approximately $1 million to the city annually.

Still, “there’s more to be done,” she said. “It would be great if Cornell could understand how important their support is and step up to the plate a little more.” 

While the mayoral candidate may look to Cornell to increase its MOU allocation, the University is seeking city approval of barrier designs for the seven bridges on and around campus. Mackesey said that, while she has not met with the University to review its barrier plans, “my personal feeling is that this is not going to solve the problem.”

“I think the problem runs deeper than the fact that we have these gorges running through our community,” Mackesey said. “I guess I’m not convinced that they are going to prevent suicides.”

In February, Myrick, who serves on the joint Cornell-City of Ithaca bridge barrier committee, told The Sun that he had been “disabused [of] the notion I had that these fences were going to be more works of art than barriers.”

“They are what they are,” Myrick said of the barriers. “Some of the solutions are extremely creative, but they’re barriers first.”

Councilmember Ellen McCollister (D – 3rd Ward), who is not running for mayor, said several issues would be important in the campaign for mayor of Ithaca, including upcoming contract negotiations with the city’s union workers, budget constraints caused by state funding reductions and town-gown relations. 

“I definitely think accessibility, transparency and equity in the governmental process is a huge issue,” said Councilmember Jennifer Dotson (G-1st Ward), who is also not planning a campaign for mayor. “It takes a lot of experience and a lot of relationships to make any progress in that area, school district or police or anything.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Jennifer Dotson is a Democrat. In fact, she is a member of the Green Party.