Henrik Dullea ’61, former vice president of university relations at Cornell, and Common Council member Pamela Mackesey (D-1st Ward) declared their intentions to run for the Tompkins County Legislature last Thursday. Their decisions followed an announcement by the current first district legislator, Barbara Blanchard ’66 (D-1st District), that she would not seek reelection in November.
Dullea retired from his vice presidency in 2003 when President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 restructured the public relations department. He said that between his job as the university’s relations official and his other governmental positions, “I’ve been in public service and government for basically my entire career.”
“I felt that now that I’m retired from Cornell … I could make a major contribution” to the legislature, Dullea said.
He added that Cornell has a special role in Tompkins County, citing not only the effect students have in the area, but the fact that Cornell “is the largest single employer” in the county.
Mackesey’s governmental experience includes her position on Ithaca’s Common Council, where she is currently serving her second term. Although she will not seek reelection to that position, Mackesey said cited several issues in which the city and county’s interactions are important. Among these are the TCAT bus system, which both the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County help fund, and the county’s sheriff, which Ithaca funds even though it has its own police department.
Mackesey said that since Ithaca residents pay both city and county taxes, they bear a greater portion of the cost than other municipalities.
“There’s got to be a way to reduce the intense load” paid by Ithacan tax payers, Mackesey said, adding that she believes in governments working as efficiently as possible.
Dullea emphasized social services, noting the strain that fiscal pressures put on such programs. He said that the county influences Ithaca on several issues, such as Medicaid and the TCAT system, which Dullea said gets the largest part of its revenue from the county.
Dullea added that his experience would help him with the TCAT issue. He is the chair of the budget and personnel committees for the bus organization and is currently on the negotiation team for consolidating TCAT. The bus system is now run as a joint venture between Cornell, the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County, but is in in the process of consolidating the three under a nonprofit organization.
Looking beyond the county level, Mackesey said that on certain issues, New York State has forced itself on the county.
“We have to be able to set our own priorities,” Mackesey said. “The county has to be able to decide its own destiny.”
One of these issues is the county jail, which the state ordered the county to enlarge in order to meet capacity requirements. The county has not done so, but Mackesey said she expects the subject to rise again. One way to alleviate pressure from the state, she said, would be to shore up projects like Drug Court, which provide alternatives to incarceration for certain non-violent offenders.
Both candidates described the first district as “diverse.” The district is on the south and west potions of Ithaca and extends north past Cayuga Lake. Dullea and Mackesey both mentioned that its constituents include students, single-family homes and low-income homes, and Dullea added that there is a commercial presence there as well.
“It’s an interesting mix of people,” Mackesey said.
After 12 years serving on the legislature, Blanchard said she has decided she cannot commit to another term.
“I have a number of personal and professional responsibilities now that are taking me out of Tompkins County,” she said.
She added that she has already missed several legislature meetings and feels bad about this. Blanchard has not officially endorsed either of the candidates for the Democratic primaries, and she said she does not expect to.
Mackesey and Dullea are both seeking the Democratic nomination.
The primaries will be held on Sept. 13, and the general legislature elections are in November.
Archived article by Yuval Shavit
Sun City Editor