November 5, 2007

Junior Shifts Focus in Bid for Common Council

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Looking to improve the quality of life of students and permanent residents and to ease tensions between the two groups, a number of students have served on the Ithaca Common Council since Josh Glasstetter ’02 was elected in 2000.
Svante Myrick ’09 is currently running for a seat on the Council. Although elections are not until Tuesday, Myrick is running unopposed and will fill the seat of Rep. Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-4th Ward), whose four-year term is up at the end of the year.
The Council is the governing body of Ithaca and works under the mayor, according to Myrick. It is a 10-person council that passes laws and resolutions, creates and manages the budget and oversees departments in the city.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve gotten to a point where I feel like I’m more than a Cornell student — I’m an Ithacan,” Myrick said. “I saw an opportunity to continue the community service work I’ve done in the city and the county.”
With 13,562 undergraduates currently enrolled, Cornell students comprise a significant portion of Ithaca’s winter population. With such a significant impact on the culture, community and local economy, students feel they can also provide an important viewpoint in the local government.
“I thought that I could effect some significant change for students by joining the Council,” explained Townsend. “The median age in Ithaca is 22, so why not have someone young sitting at the decision making table? Students provide an economic boost [to the community] and should have an impact on the municipal and governing policies.”
Students said that enhancing Collegetown, both the physical structures and relations between students and residents, is a main concern. According to David Gelinas ’07 (D-4th Ward), the state of heavily student-populated area was one of the factors that motivated him to run. Gelinas is currently chair of the Collegetown Vision Task Force.
“When I moved into Collegetown, I looked at the area and it appeared to have been neglected. The infrastructure certainly needed improvement. I thought the Council position was an interesting opportunity, and a good way to represent my peers and the residents and facilitate the interaction between the two groups,” he said.
Students have a unique perspective and are often able to call on their own experiences. When discussing the noise ordinance, for example, Townsend said some representatives suggested riding around for a night with an officer to better understand the situation.
“I don’t need to ride around with a police officer,” he said. “I don’t need to have that type of experience because I’m already part of it. I provided a more legitimate voice because I was able to speak from experience and not speculation.”
Students stressed that as representatives of Collegetown, they are concerned with matters affecting students and permanent residents.
“Being a representative requires that you see both sides and perspectives. Issues impact everybody — students on this hill, permanent residents and students on the other hill also,” said Myrick.
In order to be able to really work together, students said they have had to prove themselves.
“It is a stereotype that I have to overcome on a regular basis, but I don’t see myself as just a student, but as a resident of Collegetown,” said Gelinas.
Furthermore, in proving themselves worthy of serving the community, representatives are also paving the way for future student Council members.
“The interaction between students and residents was much better than I expected,” said Gelinas. “The councilperson before me [Michael Taylor ’05] had done a very good job of putting forth a very good face and he built up the credibility of students to run in the future.”
Non-student representatives say they have been satisfied by the interaction of student and non-student councilpersons.
“I have enjoyed individually all of the students on Common Council with whom I have worked, for their intelligence, imagination and inquisitiveness. And I believe that there is value for everyone in encouraging students to think of themselves as members of the Ithaca community, and for those of us who are long-term residents to encourage such a shared approach,” said Rep. Mary Tomlan (D-3rd Ward).
When campaigning, students have taken advantage of Cornell’s political organizations.
“The Cornell Democrats were incredibly helpful during my campaign. They have done an exceptional job over the last few years of facilitating local elections, reaching out and engaging the community, and showing them that students do care about the issues,” said Gelinas.
According to Randy Lariar ’08, president of the Cornell Democrats, the club helps get the candidate’s message out to voters, by passing out literature and going door-to-door.
“We support all the democratic candidates. Over the past few years, it has been students in Collegetown who we’ve been helping to win. More recently, we’ve also been helping county democrats in local elections where they are contested,” said Lariar.
Like the Cornell Democrats, the Cornell Republicans also like to take part in local politics. However, while they have been active in the Town of Caroline, president Ahmed Salem ’08 says that they have not participated in any Ithaca Common Council campaigns. There are no Republicans currently running for Council.
“This year we have not helped so far with any of the campaigning, but in general we love to get involved when approached. I see local politics as a place where most things are happening,” said Salem. “If candidates need us to do anything, the Cornell Republicans would love to get involved,” he said.
Possible reasons, he explained, are the large number of uncontested seats and the small number of Republican candidates, resulting from the town’s political leaning.
Students interested in local politics can also pursue other paths, according to Lariar.
“It’s always good for students to be involved in the community; they don’t have to run for city council to be involved in the local government. The city committees and local council meet less frequently still have a huge impact. We are always in favor of students getting involved,” he said.