February 9, 2009

'Father of Commons,' Former Mayor Dies

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Edward J. Conley, mayor of Ithaca from 1971 to 1979, died Friday at the age of 76. Known as the “Father of the Commons,” Conley was a lifetime resident of Ithaca and a prominent community leader.
Conley was born in Ithaca, attended Ithaca High School and was involved in multiple public boards, including the Common Council, the Tompkins County Board of Representatives and the Ithaca Town Board.
He held a variety of jobs — working as a counselor for minority students at Cornell, selling used cars and running a gas station at different times.
Conley’s election as mayor in 1971 was the closest in the history of Ithaca, coming down to a margin of only nine votes, although his subsequent victories in 1973, 1975 and 1977 were much more decisive, according to the Ithaca Journal.
Conley is most remembered for encouraging the creation of the Commons, which he felt was a crucial step in downtown revitalization. At the time, many Ithaca residents opposed the idea of the Commons, and Conley is remembered as a champion of the cause, according to Mike Kuntz, owner of Hal’s Deli.
Some of those who lived in Ithaca at the time still remember the controversy.
“A lot of people didn’t want the Commons … I personally wasn’t against it, but I know a lot of people were,” Kuntz said.
Despite the opposition, the plan for the creation of the Commons was passed, and college students and permanent residents alike have enjoyed the area as a dining and shopping hotspot ever since.
“I think the Commons are important because it’s a lot of independent stores … I love the food there — I’ve never had a bad culinary experience on the Commons. It’s also nice that there aren’t cars driving through, which you don’t find often,” said Sarah McCarthy, Ithaca College ’11.
Rohini Bagrodia ’11 had a similar view, noting that the the Commons draws Cornellians despite all of the competing attractions on campus and in Collegetown.
“I think it’s a very quaint place … For example, this weekend, I went to Just a Taste and then the Stars concert at the State Theatre and I really enjoyed myself,” she said.
Conley was a proponent not only of the Commons in Ithaca, but also of similar downtown revitalization projects in other areas.
He was active in politics outside of the Ithaca area as well, serving as president of the New York State Council of Mayors and the director of the Genesee Region New York State Parks.
He is survived by his two daughters, Joanne Conley and Julie Conley Holcomb, and by his son, Jeffrey Conley.
Calling hours for friends of Conley will be held at Bangs Funeral Home from 4 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 9.
In lieu of flowers, Conley’s family has asked that donations be sent to the Ithaca Youth Bureau Kiwanis Baseball Program or the Alzheimer’s Association of Syracuse.