September 22, 2015

Cornell Student Announces Run for Local Legislature

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Elie Kirshner ’18 announced Friday that he plans to run for a seat representing District 4 — which includes Collegetown and the Commons — on the Tompkins County legislature.

Kirshner, an Ithaca native, described his decision to run as a way to give back to “the community that has already done so much” for him.

“What made me decide to run was that I really have a passion and excitement for the future of Ithaca,” Kirshner said. ”I believe I have a lot to learn. I’m ready to listen and learn and be an effective representative.”

Kirshner said that he considers the issues of affordability, living wages, social justice and environmental sustainability to be of immense importance. He also emphasized the issue of mental health and said he believed it is closely related to drug abuse.

“I believe that mental health is often overlooked because it is such a silent struggle,” Kirshner said. “I think it is prevalent in our society and is closely related to another great public health risk that we face today, that is, drug abuse.”

“I feel very strongly that we need someone to bring these issues to the forefront. We need a clear advocate for people who have family member, friends or are themselves suffering from mental illness, to get help, to increase the resources and services available,” he continued.

Kirshner also said having spent the summer engaging different people from all over Ithaca and growing up in Ithaca had helped him prepare to run for the post.

“I think what has prepared me for running for legislature is living in Ithaca my entire life, specifically living in the neighborhood that I’ll be representing,” he said. “In addition to that, having knocked on doors in Ithaca this past summer, having organized with Collegetown small business owners this past summer has helped me to engage with a lot of different people.”

Kirshner spent the summer working as a field director on Mayor Svante Myrick’s ’09 re-election campaign. He also interned at Ithaca’s City Hall over the past year. He said the experience not only helped him in learning about politics of Ithaca, but also “fully exposed” him to his hometown.

“Essentially what [being field director] involved was me going into every neighborhood and knocking on doors in Ithaca and talking about the issues, affecting people, and asking them to support the mayor,” he said. “There’s nothing that really introduces you to a neighborhood than knocking on every door in it.”

At 19 years of age, Kirshner said he knows he has a lot to learn, but added that he hopes to turn his “lack of experience into a strength in empathy in terms of waiting and listening.”

“The reality is that I don’t know everything and it is important to acknowledge that and listen to my constituents and people around me and thoughtfully come to conclusions that are best for Ithacans,” Kirshner said. “I know that my first task in getting on the legislature would be to learn the history of every county issue and talk to every other representative and to listen to my constituents.”

Kirshner said that running for legislature is a “priority,” and he is shifting much of his focus to being on the legislature.

“I will say that as far as Cornell goes, this is my club and my sport,” he said. “Everyone here has a lot of activities that they dedicate time to. Cornell isn’t just about school, it’s about what you’re passionate about, and for me it’s about engaging with my community. And I’m ready to dedicate a lot of time to that.”

Kirshner said he has been able to find a balance so far and will be able to do so as he starts to “campaign and hopefully serve” the Ithaca community.

“I’m a full time student, and that demands a great deal of time and attention,” he said. “But it’s common for legislators to have full time jobs while fulfilling their duties, and I see my studies at Cornell as equivalent to that.”

The special election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 3. No other candidates have declared to run for the position so far.