“Don’t be in last place, Cornell,” Adam Levine, the newly declared candidate for Ithaca mayor, told The Sun in a Friday interview. Levine wants to “leverage” Cornell to contribute more to the City of Ithaca — and it’s just one part of his vision for a city that supports the working class individual
Levine will challenge incumbent Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 this fall in what Levine said will not be a negative campaign, but one in which he can hopefully display his idea for making Ithaca “the best it can be.”
In a phone interview, Levine touched on his deep passion for politics, stemming from his youth in New York City. “We spoke about [world events and politics] at my family dinner table, it was part of life,” he explained.
In January 2002, Levine moved to Tompkins County, and then to downtown Ithaca around eight and a half years later.
Levine, now declared as a candidate for mayor, told The Sun that the public’s “support for me to run right now is profound,” and despite some hesitation, Levine realized it seemed “like a doable thing.”
“I didn’t think it was going to be that right now was the time for me to run, but apparently it is. The time chose me,” he said. He submitted his petition to run on May 28.
On May 31, Myrick tweeted that the new candidate actually only submitted around 250 signatures — 339 are required to run, but the mayor said that he wouldn’t attempt to have the challenger removed from the ballot.
Someone else has filed petitions to run. He seems like a nice and earnest guy.
He has only submitted about 250 of the required 339 signatures, but I have decided not to ‘challenge’ his petition and have him removed from the ballot.
— Svante Thee Mayor (@SvanteMyrick) May 31, 2019
Myrick won the effectively uncontested 2015 election with 89 percent of the vote.
This is not Levine’s first foray into public advocacy. In 2012, he led a rally outside the Tompkins County Courthouse, demanding a living wage. In 2018, he appeared in a Tompkins County Workers’ Center video again on the need for living wage — this time using his experience as a taxi driver to explain how he personally is often “hanging off the edge of a cliff” with bills.
In The Sun’s interview, Levine discussed many issues facing the Ithaca community, ranging from astronomical rent prices to a need for renewable energy.
“The rents are too damn high,” Levine said, quoting former New York Governor candidate Jimmy McMillan.
Levine said he wants downtown Ithaca to be accessible and affordable for the “average person.” He highlighted how individuals being pushed outside the city by rising rent may encounter limited bus service on the town’s outskirts, making access to downtown jobs more difficult.
To increase affordability, he plans to advocate for rent control in Ithaca, drawing on his roots in New York City. “Not on the small landlords,” Levine said, “but on the big landlords.”
“We’d have to do the math to figure out how many, but every so many, or percentage of apartments that you rent will have to be rent controlled,” Levine explained.
Levine also expressed worry about the role of over-development in Ithaca’s affordability. With the city’s increasing number of high-end apartment buildings, Levine explained how some hope that the “well off people” moving into these apartments will distribute their wealth throughout the downtown area by spending money.
Levine, however, cautioned against what he called a form of “trickle-down economics.” He believes that some development may be beneficial, but reiterated the need for new affordable housing downtown.
The effects of over-development, Levine said, disproportionately affect people of color in the Ithaca community, pushing people out and further segregating the community.
“We’re going to have to reach in and support people of color in our community so that they feel like they’re being treated as equal human beings and equal citizens,” Levine said.
For Levine, part of the problem stems from Cornell’s lack of contributions to the city of Ithaca. In 2018, Myrick stated that, “Ithaca would be a better place to live if Harvard were here instead of Cornell.”
Levine explained how, currently, the tax system in Ithaca disproportionately benefits Cornell while not supporting the city of Ithaca properly.
“Cornell is a very wealthy institution, and I believe it is the least of the Ivy League schools as far as how it contributes to the city financially, to the town and city in which it is,” Levine claimed, saying that Cornell leadership “does not care about that.”
In 2014, the Ithaca Times reported on what it called a “not statistically rigorous” study conducted by Myrick that examined voluntary payments by similar universities to their respective localities. The study argued that Cornell’s voluntary contribution was far below what schools like Harvard, Princeton, Boston University and Yale paid to their municipalities.
Levine also said he thinks “Cornell students are probably encouraged not to be too much a part of town,” something he wishes to change as mayor.
Core to Levine’s campaign is an idea of inclusion, of listening and considering everyone.
“I’m not going to be mayor by myself. We’re going to have endless seats at the table,” Levine said.
One thing Levine was sure to speak to was the need to shift Ithaca to renewable energy “in a big way.” While not offering specifics, Levine stated that if elected, the move would be “pretty strong” and “pretty fast.”
Levine closed the interview when he had to get ready for an evening shift — where exactly, he declined to say, stating that he would like to keep his work separate from his campaign. Levine announced his candidacy on May 15th from his “lunch break.”
“I think I’ll be good at helping people feel heard,” he said, repeating how it’s “everybody in and nobody out.”
The Tompkins County 2019 general election will take place on November 5.