September 24, 2018

GUEST ROOM | House Candidate Mitrano ’95 Describes Platform, Students Voting

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My name is Tracy Mitrano. I am the Democratic challenger running for Congress in New York’s 23rd District against Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY). I write to urge every Cornellian to take the midterm elections seriously. If and how you vote on November 6 could well determine the kind of society and political culture that will shape your lives for decades to come.

Running for political office takes grit, determination, clear vision and, most of all, strong personal values. It’s a set of traits Cornellians have in spades. One of my core values — which my opponent does not seem to share — is a commitment to education. My parents ran a small restaurant in downtown Rochester and sacrificed so that I could be the first person in my family to attend college. Thanks to them, and to generous financial aid, I graduated from the University of Rochester and went on to earn a Ph.D. in history from Binghamton University and a law degree from Cornell. That education prepared me to pursue a career in cybersecurity policy. Until my retirement from Cornell, I served as its Director of Information Technology Policy.

The years I spent in higher education inform my campaign. Cornell’s commitment to need-blind admissions and generous financial aid packages allows the university to open its doors to middle- and working-class students. Still, an estimated 45 percent of undergraduates leave Cornell with some debt, and the situation for many graduate students remains much more onerous. 2016 graduates of the Vet School, for example, graduated with a median debt load of $152,000. Many Cornell seniors applying to medical or law school can expect to take on average debt loads around $200,000 ― financial burdens they will carry for decades. That is why I believe that every student loan should be interest-free and that profit-obsessed banks should no longer influence how Congress sets interest rates.

My opponent, Reed, argues differently. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents report that they believe colleges and universities have a negative effect in the United States. Our Congressman seems to share this opinion. Last January, he targeted Cornell, as well as 30 other colleges and universities, for special treatment in the Tax Bill he helped shepherd through Congress. Reed was a leader in pushing through the special 1.4 percent tax on college endowment investment income.

Money from Cornell’s endowment that might have funded financial aid is now diverted to support tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. Meanwhile, Reed remains silent about ruinous student-loan interest rates and publicly rails against “luxurious” and “resort type” amenities at universities. I do not understand why our sitting Congressman chooses to use Cornell, one of the major economic engines in his district, as well as its students and staff, as political punching bags.

Reed acts and votes in other ways that many Cornellians will find disturbing. He wants to defund Planned Parenthood, even though it is a major health provider to thousands of his constituents. Reed also remains mostly silent when President Trump sows discord and division. Recently, the Congressman called for an end to the Mueller investigation, a call that, given the recent guilty plea and conviction of two of Trump’s advisors, now seems even more absurd. While presenting himself as a centrist conciliator back here at home, Reed votes in Washington as a right-wing extremist, siding with President Trump 97 percent of the time.

The 23rd district trends red, but Democratic candidates with democratic values win when students vote.  Even if you are already registered to vote where you are from, you are entitled to register in this district — you are a resident of Ithaca now, and our leadership will affect your lives. If you haven’t registered before, make it a priority. The registration deadline is October 12. Stay true to our Cornell values: stand up, speak out and let your voice be heard. Vote.

You must be a registered voter in order to vote in the general or primary elections. To register in New York State you must be a United States citizen, be 18 years old by the date of the election you want to vote, live at your present address for at least 30 days before an election, and not claim the right to vote elsewhere.  A dormitory address is considered a legitimate residence.  For registration forms and more information go to the Tompkins County Board of Elections website (, The deadline for registering to vote in the November 6th General Election is October 23, 2018 (in person or postmarked by then if mailed).