October 19, 2011

Calling All Students

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WITH THE PASSING OF THE OCT. 14 DEADLINE to run for Ithaca’s Common Council — and with no student registered in this year’s race — it is now assured that both representatives of the Council’s Fourth Ward will no longer be recent Cornell graduates. It is an unfortunate reality and points to a regrettable lack of interest among students in local politics.

Cornell students comprise more than 95 percent of the Fourth Ward, which represents West Campus, Cascadilla Park and most of Collegetown. These students deserve an advocate on the Common Council who has recently experienced life as a student in those areas and has unique insight into their concerns. More importantly, they should have a representative passionate about and willing to fight for the issues that affect them.

This is not to say that Graham Kerslick, who is the associate director of both Cornell’s Energy Research Center and Microenvironment and Metastasis Research Center and is now running unopposed for the seat, cannot become such a representative. From everything we have heard, he is smart and capable and has demonstrated an understanding about his role as an advocate for the students in the ward. His work with students on campus certainly makes him more accessible and relatable than some elected officials in the fourth in the past.

But it is harder to feel passionate about protecting student interests — as well as understanding what those may be — if one has not recently been immersed in them. This is compounded by the fact that, by no fault of his own, Kerslick is running unopposed, and has not needed to appeal to his constituents’ concerns. If a student had registered to run, it would have compelled the candidates to campaign on the issues most important to the majority of residents in the ward.

Political apathy among students is understandable, but regrettable. High turnover of residents in Collegetown may lead some students to believe that local political decisions will never impact them. However, there are issues that the Common Council addresses –– such as the Collegetown Plan –– that can have a significant impact on students during their time at Cornell. Without an advocate campaigning for student concerns, these interests can be neglected.

On the 10-person Ithaca Common Council, student interests are already underrepresented. We hope that Kerslick understands this and, if he takes a vested interest in student perspectives, believe that he can serve as a strong advocate for the constituents of the ward. But in 2013, when Eddie Rooker’s ’09 term expires, we hope to see another student on the ballot.