In what was considered the City of Ithaca’s most contentious mayoral race in recent memory, 24-year-old Svante Myrick ’09 claimed a resounding victory Tuesday — becoming the youngest mayor in Ithaca’s history and the city’s first African American mayor.
Myrick — who graduated from Cornell two years ago and will be the youngest mayor in New York State when he takes office in January — captured nearly 54 percent of the vote and defeated his closest competitor, Wade Wykstra, a commissioner of the Board of Public Works, by 29 points.
Independence candidate Alderperson J.R. Clairborne (D-2nd Ward) finished third with approximately 13 percent of the vote. Republican candidate Janis Kelly ’71 received less than 7 percent of the vote.
“There were people who said ‘wait your turn,’ but it just felt like that’s not how these jobs should work — there shouldn’t be turns, you don’t wait in line.” Myrick said in an interview early Wednesday morning. “I felt like there was nothing that could stop me from trying.”
Myrick won in all 18 city voting districts, gaining support despite criticism that he lacked the necessary experience to lead a city of over 20,000 residents.
“Winning every district in the city is pretty unbelievable in a four-way race, and it shows that residents all around the city really resonated with Svante’s message and are excited to move in a new direction,” said Fil Eden ’10, Myrick’s campaign manager.
Moments after securing his victory, Myrick thanked his campaign staff — comprised of students and recent graduates Eden, Karen Schillinger ’12 and Ithaca College student Rob Flaherty ’13 — in a room of supporters teeming with excitement at the Holiday Inn Downtown.
“By meeting so many hundreds of you — thousands ofyou — I’ve become more encouraged than ever that we in the City of Ithaca has what it takes,” Myrick said. “I know that after meeting so many of you that you are all willing to try, you are all willing to work hard and that we can move forward as a city.”
Myrick and a group of more than 40 volunteers spent 12 hours going door-to-door Tuesday in a final attempt to garner support for the campaign.
Throughout the race, Myrick’s campaign team knocked on approximately 3,750 doors — hitting every door 2.5 times in the six months leading up to election, Schillinger said.
“Instead of being tired by going to these thousands of doors and many long months of campaigning, I’m more energized now than when I started,” Myrick said to his supporters. “Not because I’m ignorant of the challenges that we’re facing, but because I’m more than ever aware of the scope and the scale of our problems and the complexity of the issues we have to deal with.”
Myrick’s supporters said that his age — a characteristic that many have said makes him ill-prepared to be mayor — is not enough to erode the strength of his character or his proven ability.
“I think we saw some serious prejudice in this campaign — some serious age-ism — and I can definitely see that continuing in this term.” Eden said. “Any time that someone doesn’t like something that Svante proposes, they might end up calling it immaturity, but I think this election has shown that the vast majority of city residents are not susceptible to that kind of manipulation.”
While previously endorsing Tompkins County Legislator Pam Mackesey ’89 in the Democratic primary, outgoing Mayor Carolyn Peterson expressed her support for Myrick and said that the two have met and will continue meeting to work through his transition to office.
“I was never worried about his maturity or age — it’s what the experience is,” Peterson said. “It’s not something I’m worried about anymore because I’m there for him and he will grasp it very quickly — there are a lot of department heads who will help convey what is needed to run the city.”
Seven individuals competed in the six-month campaign, though only four — Wykstra, Myrick, Kelly and Clairborne — made it onto Tuesday’s ballot.
At their respective campaign gatherings across the city, the candidates said that while they were disappointed to lose the race they hope Myrick’s term as mayor is successful.
“Only 3,000 out of 30,000 people in Ithaca voted … But we are supportive of him,” Clairborne said at his event at Uncle Joe’s.
Wade Wykstra, who met with supporters at Lucatelli’s, echoed Clairborne’s sentiments, but maintained that he was proud of the way his campaign was conducted.
“I am shocked at the figures, but we made a statement and drove the issues forward while gaining tremendous experience,” Wykstra said.
The mood at Janis Kelly’s party at the Royal Palm Tavern in Collegetown was dour, and the results of the election were not announced.
As the next mayor of the city, Myrick is likely to face significant obstacles — including the tightest budget the city has seen in decades — yet he remained optimistic for his term and for future city administrations.
“I hope to just set an example of hard work and integrity and send the message that you can achieve whatever you put your mind to,” Myrick said. “I do know that a great number of Cornell students contribute to the Ithaca community and I hope if people feel the desire to do that they feel empowered to [run for office someday] too.”
Duncan Yandell, Dan Temel and Dennis Liu contributed reporting.
Check out The Sun’s video coverage of Myrick’s post-election speech and celebration at the Holiday Inn in Ithaca.
Original Author: Liz Camuti