Tomorrow night, Carolyn Peterson and her campaign team will gather at the United Auto Workers Union in downtown Ithaca to await the outcome of the democratic primary for the upcoming Ithaca mayoral election.
There are two other candidates for the democratic primary: Lt. John Beau Saul ’97, an officer in the Ithaca Police Department, and Eric Lerner Ph.D. ’75. The general election will be held on Nov. 4.
Peterson, who is currently the alderperson representing the 4th ward on the Ithaca Common Council, has 10 years of experience in local government. She served from 1984 to 1992 as the representative of the 5th ward, and was chosen for the acting mayor position by her fellow Common Council members from 1990 to 1991.
The time she has devoted to Ithaca government is one of the strengths of her campaign, Peterson said. “The experience that I have in city hall seems to be resonating with a lot of the voters.”
Peterson has used her experience in City government to build a campaign platform on several major issues affecting the Ithaca community.
Peterson first addressed the state of the City budget. Ithaca is coming off “its most difficult budget year,” Peterson said, “and it will be a long process to turn the budget around.”
Last year, due to some national fiscal issues and a very late start to the budget process, the Ithaca budget culminated in a two million dollar shortfall, which led to layoffs, city positions that had to be eliminated and the highest tax hike in Ithaca history. “I am in the city council now, so I’m right in the middle of things, and I’m looking for ways to control spending [and] manage the budget so we don’t have this problem again,” Peterson said.
The fiscal issues facing the city are at the root of other parts of Peterson’s campaign platform. In particular, the economic development of Ithaca in the coming years will be crucial to the direction the city takes with a new mayor.
During the tenure of current Ithaca mayor Alan Cohen ’81, economic development concentrated on big box stores in the south-west area of Ithaca. Peterson believes that in doing so, the city put “all its fiscal eggs in one basket.” Since the revenue did not increase as was hoped, Peterson believes it is time to diversify.
With the opening of Home Depot near Buttermilk Falls by the end of the year, there will be a need to keep “the downtown area a strong and vital part of our city,” Peterson said. One idea Peterson has is to pursue “national historic designation, which can help preserve the downtown area.” It is also important to “have good signage off route 13 to draw people into the downtown, since that road kind of skirts outside it,” Peterson added.
Mayor Cohen’s attempts to bring big box stores to Ithaca also spurred many of the current road projects in the area. These road projects connect the economic development issues to the budget issues. “the widening of route 13 and the additional lane bridge project, for example, was estimated to cost 1.7 million dollars, but is currently at $5.5 million, and it isn’t finished,” explained Peterson.
As mayor, Peterson would like to concentrate on returning downtown Ithaca to a similar area as it was in the 1970s when she first moved to Ithaca. “What I like about living here is the ability to walk anywhere, or ride a bike, and not have to get in a car,” she said about her residence on E. Buffalo St. “The problem is that there aren’t any daily general goods stores in the downtown area any more,” added Peterson.
Another issue Peterson addresses in her campaign is the accessibility of the Ithaca government to the citizens. Peterson believes she has a “reputation of good constituent service.” In her 10 years as the Fall Creek representative to the Common Council in the 1980s, she established herself as one who “responds to problems and issues” in the community.
Her experience representing different wards in the Common Council has helped Peterson recognize that the “strengths of neighborhoods are a key to Ithaca.” Keeping neighborhoods strong can help the relationship between the Ithaca government and the citizens. As an alderperson, Peterson tried an “informal community forum, where there was a lot of give and take, so that issues could be addressed in a timely manner.” Such an idea could be continued on a wider scale in the future.
Peterson emphasized her experience in city government as her commitment to the citizens of Ithaca. This commitment has garnered endorsements form the Midstate Central Labor Council, the Working Families Party and the United Auto Workers. “I am very pleased to have these endorsements, and I believe they are a reflection of my concern for working people and unions,” Peterson said.
Peterson also claims to have a good track record with environmentalists. She began her career in elected office after working on a ban of nuclear waste that was being transported through Ithaca. That ban came after the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island. “That’s when I first got interested in environmental work and lobbying at the city council level,” remembered Peterson. Her environmental work went on to include work to preserve the Six Mile Creek area in Ithaca and a place on a conservation advisory council.
These environmental concerns overlap Peterson’s campaign with the Green Party platform. “I have an excellent track record with the Greens, and even had their endorsement two years ago,” Peterson said about her successful run for the Common Council.
Peterson believes greatest strength lies in her experience in Ithaca government. “I am the only candidate who has city elected experience, and I am finishing my tenth year of city elected office. I also served on the planning board, which is a judicial board that deals with land usage. My experience with neighborhood constituent service is extensive,” she said.
When it comes time for the voters to go to the polls, Peterson hopes they will keep in mind her proactive stance on city government as an elected official. “While my opponents are talking about what they will do and what they can do, I ran two years ago for city council because I was already seeing the need for some different viewpoints in city government, and so I have been working, already, on City Council to try to bring those viewpoints forward.”
Archived article by Tony Apuzzo