September 3, 2003

Mayoral Candidates Square Off

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Democratic nominees entering in the Ithaca mayoral primary met last night to debate a number of the community’s most pressing issues.

Nominees, Beau Saul ’97, Ithaca City Police Lieutenant, Eric Lerner, Ph.D. ’75, a local community and organizational development consultant and trainer and Carolyn Peterson, current Ithaca Common Council Alderwoman from the 4th ward, converged at the First Unitarian Church of Ithaca to address roughly sixty attendees from the city community as well as a local radio audience in an hour-and-a-half-long debate.

During this time, the democratic hopefuls tackled numerous public policy issues, ranging from traffic-flow control to Ithaca’s involvement in the local provision of affordable housing.

Nominees seemed to agree on a number of issues and were especially explicit in their disdain for many of Mayor Alan Cohen’s ’81 administrative decisions during his back-to-back terms. All three expressed their concerns that Cohen had exceeded the boundaries of his authority as mayor on numerous occasions and all promised, if elected mayor, to honor the administrative authority held by standing committees of the Ithaca Common Council.

“The mayor does not belong on the Common Council as a voting member,” Peterson said. “It’s not a good separation of the executive and legislative branches of government.”

In addition, all three democratic nominees agreed that the city is currently financially over-committed to too many projects and, in response, suggested that the process of creating a city budget be defined by locally-specific priorities beginning months earlier than it has been.

On the issue of creating budgetary priorities, Saul suggested gathering input from a number of sources.

“We need to go to you, our friends and neighbors, to find out what is needed and wanted,” he said. “We also need [to consult with] city employees … and with department heads. [It is important] that they know not only their own budgets but their peers’ budgets. [From here] we can educate the Common Council on what needs to be done.”

While candidates certainly agreed on a number of policy issues, each seemed to bring their own agenda to the forum.

Saul, who grew up in Ithaca, emphasized his commitment to city development and the preservation of neighborhood integrity, and expressed his severe disdain for the city’s sky-rocketing real estate market that has rendered home ownership increasingly difficult as of late.

“We need to effectively lobby … to get tax credits and funding to provide affordable housing,” he stated.

Lerner emphasized his vision of long-term sustainable economic development, especially through the utilization of technological capabilities such as the Internet to foster new avenues of economic transaction. Lerner proposed an online marketplace for Ithaca vendors in which small businesses could not only sell their products and services but also partner with one another in common endeavors.

Emphasizing his commitment to small business, he said, “When locally-owned business makes a profit, that gets recycled back into the local economy.”

Peterson, who has served a number of years on Ithaca’s Common Council, emphasized her commitment to preserving the integrity of the council’s authority and its legislative effectiveness, often achieved through partnerships with local agencies.

In her promotional literature, Peterson states, “Envision politics of inclusion, civility and good listening … It can be accomplished through … regular city-sponsored forums whereby residents can have an opportunity to speak on a regular basis to city officials.”

The nominees also seemed interested in continuing to develop benevolent relationships with Cornell University and Ithaca College, and were especially eager to maximize university contributions to the city.

Saul, eager to mimic, if not share, Cornell’s community-maintenance capabilities, suggested cooperating with the university on snow maintenance policies as well as on the creation of a pedestrian-friendly culture.

Peterson underscored her work on the Common Council to forge a friendly, clean and minimally disruptive Collegetown environment for students and Ithacans.

Lerner expressed his interest in utilizing Cornell’s expertise to formulate and implement effective public policy.

Noting his interest in the intellectual resources available at the university, he said “Cornell is an international research institution … [I hope to] strengthen channels of expertise between the city and the university.”

All three candidates seemed eager to work with new President, Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77, on the creation of a symbiotic relationship between the university and the city.

The Democratic primary will be held next Tuesday, Sept. 9.

Archived article by Ellen Miller