Three Cornell students are making their mark on local politics this fall. Lindsey Plotnick ’05, Michael Taylor ’05 and Gayraud Townsend ’05 are all running for positions on Ithaca’s Common Council. Throughout the University’s history, only two Cornellians have held seats on the council.
Each of the Cornell candidates is running for a different position on the Common Council. Both Taylor and Townsend are campaigning for seats in the Fourth Ward, which includes most of Collegetown and part of West Campus. Plotnick is aiming for a seat in the Fifth Ward, which comprises Fall Creek and parts of West Campus, North Campus and Cornell Heights.
While members of the Common Council are not full-time politicians, alderpeople are not typically college-age students.
“As students can vote for elected officials, they can certainly stand for election as an elected official,” said John Gutenberger, director of community relations and a former Ithaca politician.
None of the student candidates have previous experience running for public office, but their differing backgrounds have led them to the present race for Common Council.
Lindsey Plotnick ’05
With her longtime interest in politics, Plotnick, an Industrial and Labor Relations student, has been considering the idea of running for Common Council since freshman year. Drawn to local policy issues, she was most recently involved with the Tompkins County Republican Party. On campus, some of her accomplishments include being a member of the executive board of the Republicans of Cornell Coalition, serving as the vice president of promotions on the 2005 Class Council and acting as both a member and president of the ILR Ambassadors.
If elected to the Common Council, her top priority is the budget. She also said she intends to revive the economy by expanding Ithaca’s tax base and bringing more businesses into the community.
“We want to revitalize and improve the area,” Plotnick said, “but we also want to keep the unique character that makes Ithaca a wonderful place to live.” After Cornell, she hopes to pursue a career in public service and politics.
Michael Taylor ’05
Committed to the relations between Ithaca and the University, Taylor has served on the Interfraternity Council as the vice president of University and community relations. Through this role, he acts as one of the only students on the Collegetown Neighborhood Council. Due to his regular contact with city leaders, he has become involved with creating programs that focus on issues such as underage drinking. Taylor is also a member of the Fourth Ward Democratic Committee.
Both Taylor and Townsend say housing will be their number-one priority if they serve on the Common Council.
“A lot of landlords are good people, but some seek to exploit,” Taylor said, “and we need to go after those landlords.”
A government major in the College of Arts and Sciences, Taylor does not plan to pursue a career as a politician, but he does see himself as a future campaign manager.
Gayraud Townsend ’05
From the Washington, D.C. area, Townsend has always been surrounded by politics. However, his involvement in public service first began when he arrived at Cornell. In an attempt to diversify the University’s student government, he started a new campus party called Students for Students. Through campaigning and the introduction of the new party, he helped produce the highest voter turnout in Cornell’s history. He is currently the student-elected president of ILR as well as a member of the Student Assembly Finance Commission and the Minority ILR Student Organization.
Seeing Common Council as a way to explore his political interests, Townsend wants to make sure that students have a voice in politics. Both Townsend and Taylor plan to deal with transportation issues and improving streets as part of their goals on the Common Council.
Unlike running for the Student Assembly, members of the Common Council must deal with campaign finances and interact with a large constituent base. The present campaign tasks currently faced by the candidates are extremely divergent.
Both Taylor and Townsend are running uncontested in a district whose constituency is 85 to 90 percent students. As supporters for local Democratic politics, Taylor and Townsend are currently working to gain student support for mayoral candidate Carolyn Peterson by hosting an event on Oct. 2 to register Cornell students.
Currently, Plotnick’s seat in the Fifth Ward is also being sought after by Democrat Robin Kohrerr, the current confidential assistant to the Tompkins County Sheriff. Her campaign strategy has included going door to door as a way to talk and listen to local residents as well as registering students to vote.
“Campaigning is a challenge,” Plotnick said, “because of the demographics of the district.”
Challenges that all members of the Common Council will have to face this year is the city’s $2 million debt. Other issues that alderpeople will have to regularly deal with include the relationship between police and college students, poor road conditions, parking and public transportation.
“The issues that face the Common Council are perfectly attainable with work,” Taylor said.
Students and Ithaca residents vary in their confidence of students as alderpeople.
“I would feel excited for them,” said Mark Leonard ’97, “but at the same time, they do not have enough life experience, regardless of their educational experience, to represent the community at large.”
All of the candidates have earned endorsement from their respective political parties. On Nov. 4, the race for seats on the Common Council will be decided.
The voting booths closest to Cornell are located at The Nines on College Avenue and in Class of ’22 on West Campus.
Archived article by Dana Rosenberg