February 9, 2012

Local Attorney Begins Race to Replace Representative Maurice Hinchey

Print More

Ithaca attorney Leslie Danks Burke announced her candidacy Wednesday for the congressional seat in New York State’s 22nd District, which is currently held by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.). Hinchey, who has served in Congress for 18 years, said in January that he would not seat reelection.

Tompkins County Legislator Nathan Shinagawa ’05, M.A. ’09 (D-4th District) has also emerged as a prospective candidate for the 22nd District congressional seat. Shinagawa has not declared his candidacy, but said Thursday that he is “strongly considering running.”

Danks Burke, who is also chair of the Town of Ithaca Democrats, said she has raised more than $100,000 since launching her campaign, according to a press release posted on her website. In her statement, Danks Burke decried hydraulic fracturing — a method of extracting natural gas by injecting water and chemicals at into the ground that has become increasingly controversial in Tompkins County and throughout the nation.

“We have built systems to protect our health, environment and way of life, yet we face the prospect of energy corporations extracting our natural resources for their gain with questionable long-term benefits for New York,” Danks Burke said in the press release. “Looking at it from a long term perspective, we need to determine what the benefits [of hydrofracking] will be and if they will actually solve our problems.”

Danks Burke also called for education reform, saying currently, technical schools and community colleges are not integrated into a “cohesive whole.”

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 encouraged Shinagawa, who was Myrick’s mayoral campaign chair and is also a recent Cornell alumnus, to enter the race. Myrick said Shinagawa would be a strong candidate for congressional office.

“I do hope Nathan is strongly considering a run right now,” Myrick said. “Nathan is a fighter and he will really champion the causes we care about here in Tompkins County.”

Common Council member Eddie Rooker ’09 (D-4th Ward) also spoke in support of Shinagawa.

“From my point of view, I hope he runs. He has been around for awhile, is extremely respected in the Ithaca Democratic Party and has done a lot for me personally,” Rooker said. “He is an extremely confident and capable person.”

Shinagawa said on Thursday that he believes economic development will be one of the key issue facing Ithacans in the 2012 election cycle.

“There are two big issues: one being economic development and getting good, high-paying jobs for people,” he said. “I’ve had a track record of that. Through the County Development Corporation, we’ve been able to use tax incentives in a responsible way to draw good businesses here and also provide low-rate financing. It’s not just getting jobs, but high-paying, quality jobs.”

Shinagawa also agreed with Danks Burke that hydrofracking is an important issue facing Ithaca and the 22nd District.

Like Hinchey — a longtime advocate for federal student aid, such as the Pell Grant program — Shinagawa advocated reducing student loans and relieving the financial burdens faced by students. Shinagawa said he accumulated $113,000 in debt from being an undergraduate and graduate student.

“I am more like [students] than I am like a millionaire member of Congress who is so out of touch and doesn’t understand what we are going through,” he said.

Both Danks Burke and Shinagawa spoke about the difficulty the district faces in replacing Hinchey, whom they both called a respected progressive in the Ithaca community.

“Congressman Hinchey has been a great advocate for New York for 20 years and a significant other portion of his life, but we do now need someone to step up and fill that position,” Danks Burke said. “I think I bring a fresh perspective as a mother, a woman and a community member.”

Like Danks Burke, Shinagawa praised Hinchey for his service, calling him “a great voice for the middle class” and a man who left “big shoes for anyone to fill.”

Still, Shinagawa expressed confidence that his work outside of politics makes him an appealing advocate for the working class.

“What makes me similar to Hinchey is that I’m a fighter for working class people, but what makes me different is that for almost three years, I’ve been an administrator at a non-profit hospital,” he said. “People want an independent voice that hasn’t been part of the system.”

Although the election is still months away, plans to redistrict New York State may soon impact the race for the 22nd District. Political observers anticipate that the district will be redrawn, as legislators in Albany will eliminate two congressional districts due to the results of the 2010 Census.

Original Author: Dan Temel