September 24, 2007

Cornell Junior Runs for Common Council

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With prelims starting, homework increasing and temperatures dropping, most Cornell students are finally settling into their academic routines. However, some, like Svante Myrick ’09, have begun focusing on issues beyond the academic curriculum. In order to maintain town-gown relations and work on behalf of student interests, Myrick is campaigning for the Ithaca Common Council.
According the Gayraud Townsend ’05, the Council, of which he is a member, is the legislative body for Ithaca, in charge of overseeing the City’s various departments, including police and fire. The Council is also the fiscal agent for the City and so is in charge of setting the budget and controlling what projects the city will fund.
Only a few Cornell students have been able to serve on the Council. Josh Glasstetter ’02 served as a representative of the Green Party starting in 2000, and several students have won seats on the Council since then.
Townsend and Alder­person David Gelinas ’07 (D-4th Ward) will leave the Council in December. Myrick is currently running to fill Townsend’s seat. The Cornell students, past and present, agree that it is extremely important to have a student voice on the council.
“It makes sense to have students on municipal government because the issues that students care about are unique and important,” Michael Taylor ’05, a former Council member, said.
“It’s extremely important,” Myrick said, “especially if you look at the Ward we represent. We aren’t living on campus, and so we’re using Ithaca’s resources. We’re looking to their police department and their fire department.”
Townsend’s four-year term is up in December, but Gelinas will be leaving the Council ahead of schedule. According to Townsend, because Gelinas decided to resign so late in the year, no one was able to raise the necessary support or gather enough signatures to run for his place. Therefore, Myrick is running unopposed, and a 4th Ward Collegetown seat still remains open.
“There is a current seat for the 4th Ward open. The primary was on Tuesday and there wasn’t a personal running against Svante,” Townsend said. “So in this case the mayor appoints a person [for the seat] and the Common Council approves by voting.”
Gelinas did not offer any specific reason for leaving.
“I’m not actually positive that I’m moving out of Ithaca,” he said, “but for personal reasons I’ve chosen to resign from the Council in December. As for what I’m doing next, I’m really not sure.”
Although the primary elections have already past, and there is little chance for another student to begin on the Council this December, those that have been involved in the Council encourage other students to look into it, and into city government in general.
“It’s a really good job,” Taylor said, “the kind of experience that very few young people ever have. You have a very important role and there’s this opportunity to learn, so if you’re interested, you should definitely do it.”
“I would encourage all students to try to get involved,” Myrick said. “If something sparks your interest come down to City Hall, go to meetings, they’re all public. It’s how you have to go about it, and if you want to make a change you can. It’s a small enough city that it’s really possible.”
“The best way for students that are interested to learn more about the position and learn if this is something they really want to do is come talk to Gayraud and myself,” Gelinas said. “[Having] that institutional knowledge of who you should be talking too and what the current issues are … [is] pretty vital.”
According to Myrick, talking to other Council members is how he got involved in the first place. Townsend heard his name and knew that he had been doing work around town, and so contacted him with some questions about the position.
“I was working with the Ithaca youth bureau and I started getting interested in Ithaca,” Myrick said, “Townsend called me because he had heard my name and he needed an assistant to get out this message of anti-tobacco. I [worked] on his program for six months and I got to watch the work he did on city council and I saw the impact that he made.”
Once on the Council, Myrick is hoping to work with the Collegetown Vision Implementation Committee or the Collegetown Vision Task force, a project started by Gelinas, and whose primary goal is to beautify the area.
“We’ve been trying to move towards what we want Collegetown to look like in 20 years, and figure out how we get there,” Gelinas said.
“[We’re] trying now to put out requests to urban designers who will come and look at Collegetown,” Myrick said, “and [we plan] on really working with them to improve the atmosphere that is Collegetown.”