August 30, 2011

Mayoral Candidates Debate in Collegetown

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The three Democratic candidates for Mayor of Ithaca attempted to avoid entanglement in the thicket of town-gown relations at a forum held Tuesday in Collegetown, finding common ground on many of the pressing issues between the city and Cornell.

At the debate — co-sponsored by The Sun and the Collegetown Neighborhood Council and moderated by Sun Managing Editor Michael Linhorst — the candidates emphasized their respect for Cornell students, agreed that a greater police presence in Collegetown was necessary during periods of heavy student partying and said the homeless residents of Ithaca’s “Jungle” should not be evicted.

Like the other candidates, Alderperson Svante Myrick ’09 (D – 4th Ward) said he understood the challenges faced by those who have to “live among students whose lifestyles and cultures are different.” He added, however, that permanent residents have to understand that Cornell students need to be reeducated about the community’s needs every year.

“Just ask college students to get involved,” Alderperson J.R. Clairborne (D – 2nd Ward) agreed.

Still, while never directly attacking their opponents, Tompkins County Legislator Pam Mackesey ’89 (D – 1st District), Clairborne and Myrick took diverging views on several issues affecting Collegetown and the University.

Cost of Police Patrols During Orientation Week and Senior Week

In contrast to the other candidates, Myrick said the University should not be responsible for footing the bill of enhanced police patrols during Orientation Week and Senior Week.

“I believe it is not the University’s responsibility to pay for that particular service,” Myrick said. He added that some parts of Collegetown already contribute more than their fair share to the city’s tax base.

“Collegetown is not seeing a level of service commensurate with the level of taxes paid in this area,” he said.

By contrast, Clairborne said he would “like to see some kind of help … whether they be in kind or financial” to alleviate the costs incurred by the city for added patrols.

Mackesey also suggested that Cornell should increase its contribution for patrols and to not do so puts a serious strain on the city’s budget.

“[It is] certainly an area where we have definite and dramatic increases in their costs, and it has an impact on our ability to police in general,” Mackesey said.

Collegetown Master Plan

Myrick was also at odds with the other candidates in his support for the Collegetown Plan, a set of four heavily debated proposals aimed at increasing population density in the core of Collegetown while protecting the character of single-family homes in surrounding neighborhoods.

Myrick, who helped draft the plan, defended its provisions and intentions on Tuesday. The plan was defeated this May because enough property owners in the area protested the plan, triggering a provision that necessitated the bill pass with 75-percent approval of the Common Council, according to The Ithaca Journal.

“We came up with a plan that I support and I endorsed, not because I agreed with every aspect, but because I respected the process – and I believe the outcome was a good thing,” Myrick said.

Clairborne voted against the plan, and stood by his opposition on Tuesday. Although the interlocking measure was defeated, three of the four provisions passed the Common Council, and the fourth, rejected, measure received majority support.

“The Collegetown Plan has a lot of good components; however, there were a number of people who came to Common Council en masse and said we didn’t like this plan,” Clairborne said.

Mackesey also said that, although she could not vote on the measure as a member of the county legislature, she opposed the Collegetown Plan.

University’s Suicide Nets Proposal

The University’s proposal to install suicide nets under bridges on and off campus was also a source of disagreement among the candidates.

“I’ll stay open to [the proposal] but need a lot of convincing,” Clairborne said, adding those who want to take their lives are “going to do what they want to do.”

Still, Clairborne recalled that, as a reporter for The Ithaca Journal, both his first and last stories were about suicides off bridges — and that if if the nets “will make a difference in someone’s life, I can’t argue with it, that makes sense to me.”

Ultimately, however, he said the University needs to elaborate on its proposal.

“Hopefully there’s some more details because right now all we have is these superficial ideas,” he said.

Mackesey highlighted the importance of finding a more comprehensive solution than the barriers and said the city could not be responsible for paying for maintenance fees.

“I think they should be the ones who bear the expense for putting them in and maintenance, and we’ll see how it goes,” she said.

These perhaps minor points of disagreement, however, did not stamp out the general consensus between the candidates on most of the questions asked.

The Jungle

The candidates jointly opposed rumors that residents of the Jungles — a set of encampments occupied by many of Ithaca’s homeless residents — would be evicted.

“You can’t outlaw homelessness,” Clairborne said. “I think we’re a more compassionate community than that.”

Myrick said the issue was one that affected him personally, given that he and his family were one part of the “alarming percentage of American families who have fallen into homelessness.”

“The thing that’s not helpful is to just push people out of the way, frankly,” Myrick said. “At this time, there are a lot of issues in the Jungle … but we don’t have a better option right now, it’s not perfect but until we do I don’t believe the city should evict anyone.”

Mackesey concurred.

“Criminalizing them is not the solution,” she said. “If there is a problem with sanitary and health and safety issues, there’s got to be some way for us to cope with those issues.”

Original Author: Jeff Stein