November 3, 2011

Candidates for Mayor Tackle Youth Issues at Debate

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At the final debate before the Nov. 8 election for Mayor of Ithaca, three of the four remaining candidates squared off Thursday over the issues of youth involvement in city government and how to foster a sense of city-wide unity.At the debate — co-sponsored by the Ithaca Youth Council and the Greater Ithaca Activities Center — the three candidates in attendance agreed on the importance of addressing issues facing local youth.However, the candidates — Independence candidate Alderperson J.R. Clairborne (D-2nd Ward), Democratic candidate Alderperson Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward) and independent candidate Wade Wykstra, a commissioner of the Board of Public Works — differed on what they believe is the most pressing concern for city youth. Janis Kelly ’71, the Republican candidate for mayor, said she did not attend the event because of a previously scheduled family event.Drawing on his formative years, Myrick — who was also the chair of the committee to create the Ithaca Youth Council in 2008 — said youth unemployment is one of the greatest hurdles facing young people in Ithaca.“I personally worked 20 hours a week through high school, and getting a chance to get that job not only helped my mother pay the bills, but also gave me employment skills I could use throughout my life,” Myrick said. “Encouraging the extension of growth programs are how local leaders at our level can encourage more youth employment in the City of Ithaca.”

By contrast, Clairborne said involving young people in the civic process was the key to improving the success of both the city government and struggling youth. Clairborne said he has accomplished much toward this goal already, citing his role in creating the Ithaca Youth Council.“We heard the voices of students, and it took a couple years to make the Youth Council happen,” Clairborne said. “But a good leader recognizes successful people and, being in the position I was in on Common Council, I asked Svante to sign on with me to make that happen.” According to Wykstra, ensuring the safety and well-being of young people should be the top priority for the city regarding youth issues. “It’s too easy for kids to get in trouble.” Wykstra said. “When there is a new mayor and a new superintendent, we need to review those relationships and strengthen those bonds and cooperate to help kids stay out of trouble.”The candidates also discussed ways to include other disenfranchised groups in government and ways to maintain city-wide unity when dealing with divisive issues. Clairborne addressed the need to break down barriers to civic engagement that exist for city residents who do not trust government officials. “A lot of people have their own experiences that lead them not to trust government. The way we can solve that is really learning how to utilize our resources,” Clairborne said. “We need to bring people together through a potluck and talk to our neighbors.”Wykstra also emphasized the importance of gaining the trust of city residents to improve communication and streamline decision-making in the mayor’s office. “I think the best way you can keep things calms during a time of strife is to gather the trust of the people through your actions when things are relatively stable” Wykstra said. “Then if things go bad they’ll have confidence in you to go right in there and calm things down.”Myrick called for more formal mechanisms to open communication channels between the mayor’s office and city residents. “I think we need to have more communication opportunities, online and in person,” Myrick said. “We need to have a virtual town hall and to make better use of email, Facebook and Twitter so residents can make sure they get their voices to you and we can make sure they feel heard.”

Original Author: Liz Camuti