October 27, 2000

Forum Holds Debate on Local, National Issues

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Candidates for federal, state and local elections fielded questions from an audience at the Southside Community Center last night in a forum organized by the Community Services Workshop, a class taught in Cornell’s department of City and Regional Planning (CRP).

The first question at the forum sought to address the drug war, a war many students view as a war on drug users, according to a community member.

Lloyd Goldberg, speaking on behalf of the state-wide Working Families party and the Gore/Lieberman ticket, said that the Working Families party “supports reform and rehabilitation programs to get drug users off drugs.”

He explained that the Working Families party has the potential to turn Hillary Clinton away from her hard-line position on the drug war. “If the Working Party can get 100,000 votes we can move Clinton away from the war on drugs stance that she’s taking,” Goldberg said.

On another topic, Martin Luster (D-125th), the unopposed incumbent New York State Assembly representative, defended the Democrats in Albany who have consistently been “leaders for education rather than incarceration. We have opposed the consistent building of prisons,” Luster said. He claimed that the Republicans view that practice as “economic development.”

In response to a later question raised by Prof. Ken Reardon, policy analysis and management, candidates addressed how the economic prosperity of the past eight years has seemingly bypassed upstate New York.

“A major issue in this election is how to spread economic opportunities to people who have been left behind,” Reardon said, implying that many in the upstate region are analogous to “boats that have been stuck on the bottom of the bay.”

Luster acknowledged the deprecation of the region and cited a study claiming that if upstate New York were treated as a separate state, “it would rank 48th or 49th in the nation for economic growth over the past five years.”

Paul J. Laux, a third-party candidate who is challenging Democratic incumbent Maurice D. Hinchey for the 26th district U.S. Congressional seat, said he agrees with Luster’s grave characterization of the issue, but offered a conservative solution.

“I’m going to mention the c-word: capitalism is the answer. Businesses create jobs. I don’t believe the help should come from the government. It’s got to come from the private sector,” he said.

Paul Glover, founder of Ithaca Hours and spokesperson for Green Party senate candidate Mark Dunau, challenged traditional profit-based measurements of economic growth, arguing that the formal indicators of economic success don’t measure environmental impacts.

“By-products of economic success as conventionally defined mean leaving a legacy of devastation,” Glover said, promoting the Green Party’s approach of meeting “basic needs in a more entrepreneurial and more collaborative manner.”

In the race for Tompkins County Court Judge, candidate George Dentes, the district attorney, and Linda Falkson, a prosecutor speaking on behalf of candidate John Rowley, city court judge, responded to a community member asking what the candidates plan to bring to the court.

“The court system shouldn’t change, it has operated for several hundred years,” Dentes said, venerating a judicial process rooted in English law.

However, he believes that the county court can make technical changes in the interest of serving justice. He cited the use of DNA in criminal prosecutions and the potential for using the Internet to publicize court decisions.

Falkson promoted Rowley’s “compassionate nature” in handling domestic abuse cases. “What happens in the city court more directly affects the community, and to the extent the community is thriving, students are better off,” Falkson said, striving to show the relevancy of the judgeship race to Ithaca’s transient student population.

Luster, in his closing statement, also stressed the importance of encouraging the student vote. “Fewer than 30 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds intend to vote nationally,” he said, quoting a study.

The Community Services Workshop began in response to members of the Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County who were “concerned with low and uneven voter turnouts across [Ithaca] neighborhoods,” according to Reardon, who teaches the workshop in CRP.

Reardon discussed the extensive voter outreach efforts conducted by students in the class. “We did door-to-door canvassing in the Ithaca Flats area, Fall Creek, South Side and lower west end areas,” he said. Their efforts yielded 200 new registered voters.

“Many voiced their desire to learn more about the candidates and the issues,” Reardon said, explaining the rationale behind last night’s forum.

Students in the workshop are also interviewing leaders of local civic organizations to create a “Citizen’s Guide to Citizen Action and Social Change Organizations.”

Gary Wilson ’02, a participant in the workshop, found the canvassing process informative. “It was good to know that a lot of people in poorer communities were already registered to vote. It wasn’t what I was expecting,” he said.

Elizabeth Chimienti ’02 expressed her enthusiasm for the workshop and Reardon’s teaching ability. “I think this class is a really exciting opportunity and one you rarely get at Cornell because you’re receiving credit to work in the community. Reardon is what makes the course really special because he has a ton of community organization experience,” she said.

Archived article by Ken Meyer