October 24, 2007

Tompkins Enters Election Season

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On Nov. 6, Tompkins County will hold general elections in all of its towns and cities to determine a wide range of local positions, including the appointment of a new judge to the State Supreme Court. The elections will also decide whether Svante Myrick ’09 will become the fifth student-elected member of the Ithaca City Council.
According to the Tompkins County Board of Elections website, there are nearly 60,000 voters in Tompkins County registered for the upcoming election. It is unknown, however, how many Cornell students are registered to vote in Ithaca. “We do not have the means to keep statistics on students,” said Commissioner of Elections for Tompkins Elizabeth Cree (R).
“Cornell students have a stronger presence during non-local election years, unless a student is running for an office,” she said in taking note of Myrick, who is running for election to the 4th Ward of the City of Ithaca’s City Council as a Democrat nominee.
“In the City, there is an increasingly strong presence [of Cornell students],” said Irene Stein, chairwoman of the Tompkins County Democrats.
Ahmed Salem ’08, president of the Cornell Republicans, noted the collaboration that has existed between local and student-run political organizations.
“The College Republicans are open to campaigning in local politics, if approached,” he said.
Salem explained that local Republicans have not contacted the College Republicans, but said that in the 2006 elections, the College Republicans actively worked and campaigned in the election.
“This time,” he said, “I’m not sure there really is a contested seat that they’d need our help with.”
“There are a lot of ways for students to get involved that many students don’t know of,” said Randy Lariar ’08, president of the Cornell Democrats. “There are boards and committees. All you have to do, really, is show up to these meetings and have good ideas.”
This year, there are several recurring issues that have taken center stage in the elections. “In general, different cities and towns have different issues,” said Stein. “But, all people want a government that responds to their needs. They want to be sure of no waste with their taxes,” she said.
“It does depend on which area you’re from,” agreed Lariar. “For students, though, what happens to Collegetown is definitely most important,” he said, in reference to the contentions between the City and the University over Collegetown. “We have to find a way for peaceful cohabitation of students and locals, and the noise ordinance must be reevaluated. It’s too arbitrary.”
“I feel that fiscal issues are not well addressed by the City,” Salem said. “There should be leaner taxes to drive business to Ithaca and increase employment. The City is too unfriendly to business right now; our main goal should be to revitalize the economy.”
Both Salem and Lariar expressed concern over the City’s recent decision to freeze development in Collegetown, a move the City argued was necessary to improve the quality of Collegetown development.
“There is a tension” Stein acknowledged, “over how elected officials can balance development versus environmental issues in a satisfactory manner.”
While 2008 will be a nationally significant year for elections, this election year is important on a community level.
“Local elections are very important,” said Lariar. “The smaller the election area, the more impact the elected people have on daily life.”
Salem agreed, saying “They’ll contribute to our quality of life, as students of Cornell and as residents of Ithaca. These elections will impact our day-to-day life as Cornellians.”
Despite the number of important issues that are relative to Cornell students and Tompkins county citizens, there is a concern that voter turnout will not be high in some places. “This year, there are no contested races in the City or Town of Ithaca,” Cree said. “This may mean that voters will stay home.”
Even though many positions, including that of City mayor, are uncontested, Lariar feels that voting is still necessary. “We should care about voting because it’s good citizenship,” he said. “We want to see the government functioning well. Taking the time to vote shows the politician you care.