November 6, 2000

Country Judge Race, Fluoridation Dominate Local Ballots

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Despite all of the excitement surrounding the headline-grabbing presidential and senatorial campaigns, local elections and referenda have generated substantial interest in Tompkins County this fall.

Elections are being held tomorrow for the local seats of county judge, 26th U.S. Congressional District in the House of Representatives, 125th District in the New York State Assembly and the 50th District in the New York State Senate. Voters will also cast ballots on a referendum for fluoridation of the City of Ithaca’s water supply.

The two candidates for the Tompkins County Court Judge’s seat are City Court Judge John Rowley, a Democrat, and Tompkins County District Attorney George Dentes ’76, a Republican.

Rowley is best known for the creation of the Ithaca Drug Treatment Court. This program is designed to treat non-violent drug offenders with the goal of preventing future incidences. The idea for this came from a national model, which was brought to Ithaca and modified to fit this community.

Rowley has served as an Ithaca City Judge since his appointment in 1996.

According to Kira Moriah ’03, who has worked with local Democratic figures, Rowley looks to make family court a better process by using mediators to lessen the bitterness.

“It’s important to put someone in who’s not only unbiased and fair, but compassionate,” Moriah said.

Dentes is a native Ithacan who has served as Tompkins County District Attorney since 1990. He is considered a leader in fighting crime and an advocate for rape and abuse victims.

Dentes boasts a 95 percent conviction rate in felony cases in County Court. He is also behind initiatives to make it easier for children and victims of rape to testify in court, according to Amy Gershkoff ’02.

Gershkoff felt that this experience was a large advantage. “When you talk about county judge, you want someone who has actually dealt with murders, rapes and other felonies. We want to keep Ithaca the same.”

Dentes has accused Rowley of accepting campaign contributions from attorneys. Rowley defended himself against this charge: “My list of contributors is not available to me. I have no knowledge of who has donated to my campaign or in what amounts. This is the recommended practice for all New York State judicial campaigns,” he said.

Information on campaign funds is publicly available, and Dentes reportedly disclosed information on the source of Rowley’s funding. Rowley responded by accusing Dentes of inappropriate campaign conduct.

Two referenda are on tomorrow’s ballot that will allow for fluoridation of the City of Ithaca’s water supply. According to local dentist Dr. John Comisi, 62 percent of the United States population currently drinks fluoridated water; 43 of 50 of the largest U.S. cities are supplied with it.

“Most of the Cornell community comes from outside areas with fluoridated water and after a few years in Ithaca, develop cavities, teeth problems, and require a root canal,” Comisi said.

But some in Ithaca still oppose fluoridation, citing it as a pollutant with unknown risks. “When fluoride is induced in the body, it is a potent enzyme that affects most of the biological processes in the body,” said Prof. Emeritus Lennart Krook, veterinary medicine.

According to a study conducted by students in Communications 282: Communication Industry Research Methods, which is taught by Prof. Dietram Scheufele, communication, 48.7 percent of those polled in Tompkins County supported fluoridation, while 43.7 percent opposed it. In the survey, 7.65 percent were undecided.

There are two campaigns for state legislature positions where the candidate is unopposed by the other major party. Marty Luster (D-125th) is running to keep his position in the State Assembly.

Luster has worked to reform Rockefeller Drug Laws by lessening the severity of penalties. He has also worked for farm worker rights, to ensure farmers are safe from pesticides and enjoy a good standard of living.

Mike Moschella ’02 described Luster as “one of the most vocal leaders in the New York State Assembly.” He added that Luster stands up to Pataki on SUNY budget cuts, which affects students of Cornell’s statutory schools.

James C. Seward (R-50th) is running to keep his seat in the State Senate, which he has held since 1986. He serves as the chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Insurance and has previously served as chair of the Senate Majority Taskforce and chair of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee.

Gershkoff described Seward as believing in “giving government back to the people.”

The impact that Cornellians could have on tomorrow’s local elections is substantial. Over 4,000 Cornell students are registered to vote in Ithaca.

Archived article by Michael Kahn