Alderperson Svante Myrick ’09 (D – 4th Ward), a candidate for Mayor of Ithaca, faced a variety of challenges when he ran for Common Council while still a Cornell student. Now, the same questions — his age and his relationship with the University — are evolving into major issues for his mayoral campaign.
At Tuesday’s Collegetown forum, Myrick was asked a question about the way students interact with the city. “We get a bum rap, students,” he began, before correcting himself. “See — I still think I’m a student; [I’m] not a student.” Since his graduation two years ago, Myrick says he has matured and his ties to Ithaca have strengthened. However, opponents have still criticized his Cornell connections and what they say is a student-oriented campaign.
One candidate, Tompkins County Legislator Pam Mackesey ’89 (D – 1st District), has criticized Myrick’s out-of town fundraising and relationship with Cornell students. Though an alumna herself, she said she has distanced herself from the University and has been able to take more active stances against it.
“I’m an alum, too, so it’s not that, but until very recently he had worked there, had a very recent close relationship he’s had with the University, whereas mine has been, time wise, a more distant one and a more ambiguous relationship because I have been at odds with them in the past,” she said.
Mackesey also seized an opportunity to criticize Myrick when she obtained an email from Myrick’s campaign manager, encouraging a group of 19 students to switch their registration status from their hometowns to Ithaca to vote for Myrick and then “switch back if you want.”
Amid this criticism, Myrick has distanced himself from the University by resigning from his job in the alumni affairs and development at Cornell, leaving for the University to work on his campaign full time.
Additionally, he has continued to pressure the University to increase its payment in lieu of taxes to the city.
“I may critique the University; I’ve suggested forcefully that it should increase its payment in lieu of taxes, but I think increasing the payment in lieu of taxes is in the University’s self interest,” he said. “If Cornell’s host city is a more attractive place to live, then Cornell itself is a more attractive place to be.”
Myrick recalled his last campaign, where he had to prove to the Democratic committee that he should be allowed on the ballot because he had developed roots in the community and would “stick it out” for a four year term, despite being a junior in college. After serving out his term for four years, people are still concerned, he said, though he added that they have no reason to be.
“I proved my dedication and commitment, and service, to the city,” he said. “I may have been a student, but I wasn’t a student city councilman. I was a city councilman that happened to be a student. There’s no question now — and there shouldn’t be a question — of where I want to make my life, and that’s in the city of Ithaca.”
Myrick maintains several close ties with Cornell and his former classmates. His campaign team is composed almost entirely of Cornell students and recent graduates. He held one fundraiser at a New York City bar, which some of his opponents viewed as indicative of less than pure allegiances.
“When you’re taking money from outside of Ithaca, you’re certainly shifting your allegiance,” said mayoral candidate Wade Wykstra (I), commissioner of the Board of Public Works. “Right now we need a mayor whose only loyalty is to Ithaca.”
Mackesey acknowledged that there was “nothing illegal” about the fundraiser, but said it “once again raises the question of how connected he is to our community.”
“If the people who vote for him don’t have a stake in the community and the people who are fundraising for him don’t have a stake in the community, I do think it makes his candidacy one step back from being in the middle of the city and our culture here,” she said.
Myrick says that despite all the allegations of a student-centered campaign, his campaign has been almost entirely focused on Ithaca. He said that he has not been knocking on the doors of students, and that Myrick yard signs in Collegtown are not as common as they are in other areas of the city.
As time passes, he says, he has begun to move further from the University. Even as he walks around campus, the faces have changed, he said.
“You’d be surprised at how quickly the crowd changes,” he said. “One year out, I’d still run into people that I was in section or people I served with as a tutor or that I worked with in public service. The next year, there were fewer people, but still some. Now, downtown, where I spend all my time, I’m often stopped on the street, recognized. People want to chat and talk about the city. Now, I go walking in Collegetown and I’m far more anonymous.”
Original Author: Juan Forrer