September 13, 2005

Cornellians Face-Off In Democratic Primary

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For three Cornellians who have their eyes on the position of county legislator, today’s primary elections may prove to be crucial. Matt Bishop grad, Nate Shinagawa ’05 and Joan Spielholz ’73 are all running for the Democratic Party’s nomination to Tompkin County’s 4th District seat, squaring off in what could be a close race between three very different platforms.

Bishop, with a focus on economic development and the creation of internships, emphasizes the legislature’s ties with Cornell. Shinagawa approaches student issues from a more municipal angle, placing high priority on issues such as the police’s interactions with students. Spielholz, an 18-year resident of the district who has served on Ithaca’s Common Council, has emphasized her experience, including one term on Ithaca’s Common Council, saying that this will bring greater credibility to the post.

The 4th District encompasses most of Collegetown as well as West Campus.

Although Bishop and Shinagawa have focused on student issues – both are quick to mention their plan to extend bar closing hours until 2 a.m. – Spielholz said this is not the legislature’s usual focus.

“The students have a very important part of what’s happening here, but the management of the county and what makes the county tick really takes a lot of experience,” she said. “There’s no glory to local politics. It’s grunt work.”

With the legislature focused on county-wide rather than district-specific issues, Spielholz said, the other legislators may have enough on their plates with the usual, infrastructure problems – roads, budgets, taxes and the like – to take issues such as bar hours very seriously. She added, however, that any issue important to a constituency will find its way to the legislature.

The eldest of the three candidates and the only one with Common Council experience, Spielholz said that she will be better received by other legislators.

“The perspective is that they [the 4th District] are just a bunch of students, and I do want the students and the Fourth Ward [District] to be taken seriously,” she said.

Within the district, however, Shinagawa seems to have the most backing among leaders and organizations. With the official endorsements including the Cornell Democrats, Common Council members Michael Taylor ’05 and Gayraud Townsend ’05 and non-student groups such as the LGBT Democratic Club of Tompkins County and the Working Families Party of New York, Shinagawa said his campaign has reached out to students and non-students alike.

Indeed, although student-specific issues are important to him, Shinagawa said his first priority would be property taxes, an issue Spielholz also singled out as one of the most important. With property value assessments on the rise, both said, county residents will end up paying more in taxes unless the rate is lowered.

“For people in Tompkins County, especially works, especially renters and especially students, it means the cost is starting to go up,” Shinagawa said.

Of the three, Bishop seems to be the candidate who most emphasizes Cornell’s role in the county. With an emphasis on working with the University to ensure economic development, Bishop said he would like to see more business opportunities for students and professors and especially a growth in local internships for students.

“We need to encourage Cornell professors and students to use their ideas,” Bishop said. “We also need to make venture capital available to students and professors who want to make businesses in Ithaca … I want to market Tompkins County as a great place to start a business,” he added.

Despite Spielholz’s concerns about a younger, less experienced person being less than well received on the legislature, Bishop and Shinagawa both said other legislators have been positive about their potential as future peers.

“In fact, a number of legislators have said they think I’d make a great legislator,” Bishop said.

“Ultimately, the perception of me is not so much based on that I’m a student, but that I’ve demonstrated my dedication to the office.”

Shinagawa is similarly unconcerned about the effect of his age on the outcome of the election. “I think I will be received just fine, because a lot of the guidance I’ve gotten over the last few months has been from legislators,” Shinagawa said. “Everyone comes from a different background. A lot of people have not been on Common Council before they were legislators.”

Bishop and Shinagawa are both also registered as uncontested nominees on independent tickets, meaning that they will both be eligible to run for the legislature in the general elections regardless of today’s results. Both have said they intend to do so if necessary. Spielholz, in contrast, said that she is running only as a Democrat and will support the winner today’s primary if she loses the vote.

The 4th District includes all of West Campus between Central Avenue and University Avenue. In Collegetown, it encompasses roughly the area between Stewart and College Avenues, extending as far east as Linden Avenue between Dryden Avenue and Bool Street. Voting booths are in the Class of ’26 residence hall and St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 109 Oak Ave., next to Collegetown Bagels.

Polls will be open from noon until 9 p.m.

In another primary race, former Vice President of University Relations at Cornell Henrik Dullea ’61 will be facing current Common Council member Pamela Mackesey (D-First Ward) for the Democratic nomination to the County Legislature’s 1st District.

Archived article by Yuval Shavit
Sun City Editor