On Nov. 5, voters registered in New York State will have the chance to elect candidates to a smorgasbord of positions: mayor, city council alderpersons, town board members, a supervisor and state supreme court justices. Here is The Sun’s guide to the 2019 local elections.
City of Ithaca
Svante Myrick ’09 (Incumbent)
Two-time incumbent Svante Myrick (D) has held office since 2011, beating out three other candidates to become Ithaca’s youngest and only African-American mayor. During his time in office, Myrick, from Earlville, New York, is credited by Forbes Magazine with eliminating a multi-million city deficit, lowering taxes and increasing affordable housing. He ran again in 2015 unopposed, winning with 89% of the popular vote. While serving as mayor, Myrick has been vocally critical of Cornell University’s tax dollar contributions.
Political newcomer Adam Levine entered the Ithaca mayoral race despite not attaining the required number of signatures. A blue-collar worker, Levine, who is originally from New York City, has made income inequality a cornerstone of his campaign. In an interview with The Sun, Levine stressed the need for inclusion, whether in the form of higher wages or affordable housing. Like Myrick, Levine has expressed interest in increasing Cornell’s “financial contribution” to Ithaca, which Levine says is disproportionately low compared with that of other Ivy League universities.
1ST WARD (Western Ithaca, Southern Ithaca and Six Mile Creek)
George McGonigal (Incumbent)
Alderperson George McGonigal (D-1st Ward) has held his seat on Common Council since 2011, and is running for re-election. The landscaper decided to re-run to have a say in the 1st Ward’s development, he told the Tompkins Weekly. McGonigal wants to maintain a space throughout where local manufacturers, trade and business can continue to thrive. Building on work during his previous term, McGonigal also wants to prioritize making the 1st Ward family-friendly, with a focus on public safety and a possible playground.
2ND WARD (Dewitt Park, downtown Ithaca and Fall Creek)
Ducson Nguyen (Incumbent)
Alderperson Ducson Nguyen (D-2nd Ward) moved to Ithaca just over ten years ago, where he now works as a software engineer at GrammaTech, a cybersecurity research company. Four years ago, he ran for alderperson in the 2nd ward on a position of “housing issues,” he told The Sun on Sunday.
“Four years later, I feel like we’ve made progress,” Nguyen said. “I have all these things that intersect with my interest in housing and equity issues, and I’d like to continue that work.”
For Nguyen, these issues include expanding affordable housing, updating the current housing zoning and working with TCAT to have more electric buses — all issues he wants to tackle in a second term. In the past four years, Nguyen is especially proud of his efforts to connect with his constituents, especially through social media. With his fellow Alderperson Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward), Nguyen started a podcast to communicate their work to the public “in a more accessible way.”
3RD WARD (Eastern Cornell University, upper Collegetown and Belle Sherman)
Rob Gearhart (Incumbent)
Alderperson Rob Gearhart (D-3rd Ward) is running for re-election for the City Council of Ithaca, where he has lived for the better part of 40 years. His day job is the Interim Associate Dean of Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications, a position he has held since 2015. Goals for this successive term, should Gearhart win re-election, include continuing his work in restructuring Ithaca committees and potentially adding an elected position to aid in neighborhood-government communication.
One of Gearhart’s priorities is sustainability — he has expressed support for enacting a Green New Deal in Ithaca. Part of this effort includes rethinking transportation, which includes discouraging cars in the city, he told The Sun in October. Even little changes, Gearhart said, can make a “big impact.”
Similar to other council members and Myrick, Gearhart also believes that Cornell does not contribute enough to Ithaca. Gearhart sees Cornell as a “huge economic engine” that does not provide enough resources for the city, but said he sees room to negotiate with the University on major issues such as infrastructure.
Ellie Pfeffer ’23 (Write-In Candidate)
Freshman environmental sustainability science major Ellie Pfeffer decided to run to represent the district encompassing much of North Campus last minute. As a member of Climate Justice Cornell and the Sunrise Movement, her number one priority is to follow through on the promises of the Ithaca Green New Deal: a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 through emission reduction, building renovation, and dispersal of green technologies. Pfeffer said in an interview with The Sun that she felt that she “had no choice but to run.” She emphasized that she is also running to bring student attention to the importance of local politics. “It’s exciting for people to see someone like them; someone who’s young and visionary.”
4TH WARD (Collegetown and adjacent parts of Cornell University)
Stephen J. Smith (Incumbent)
Alderperson Stephen Smith (D-4th Ward) is running for re-election for the City Council of Ithaca, where he has served since 2012. Smith also works for the Cornell College of Engineering as a major gifts officer. Focusing on his constituency, who are largely associated with the Cornell campus, Smith wants to increase contributions from the University and encourage development in Collegetown to further develop community culture. In terms of the students, he wants to lift their voices and invite them to City Council meetings.
“I would hope that the students feel comfortable and confident applying for positions on commissions and joining the conversation,” Smith told The Sun in October.
Smith has seen much of this involvement through the environmental issues. One of his priorities should he win re-election is sustainability. Aside from institutional changes at the governmental level, Smith also advocated for individual actions to rethinking sustainability, including “car-culture.” Smith wants to encourage transportation methods away from cars through changes in parking, which he called “artificially subsidizing owning a car.”
“You need to get to the point where we’re making it just a little harder to own a car,” Smith said. “You force people to make the choice on whether they really need that car.”
Thea Kozakis (Write-In Candidate)
“No one knows better than people working on what I do [finding habitable planets] that there is no planet B,” Kozakis said.
Kozakis became involved with Ithaca’s chapter of the Sunrise Movement after the Global Climate Strike. Her campaign platform centers on implementing the Ithaca Green New Deal and addressing its housing shortage. Kozakis believes that if Ithaca had more housing, Ithaca workers would commute less, producing fewer emissions.
5TH WARD (Cayuga Heights, Stewart Park, Fall Creek)
Laura Lewis (Incumbent)
After retiring as director of student services at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations for 30 years, Laura Lewis (D-5th Ward) won a 2017 special election to represent the fifth ward on the Ithaca Common Council. Now, Lewis is seeking re-election on a platform of creating more affordable housing, improving Ithaca’s streets and sidewalks and implementing Ithaca Green New Deal measures in the city.
In a statement to The Sun, Lewis said she saw these issues as most “affecting my constituents and city residents as a whole.”
During her time as the fifth ward’s Alderperson, Lewis has sought to address major infrastructure issues in Ithaca by increasing funding for the Department of Public Works — allowing the department to increase its personnel to better address issues with sewers, streets, water and other facilities.
Cheyenne Carter (Write-In Candidate)
Cheyenne Carter, a senior at Ithaca College majoring in environmental studies, is currently the public outreach coordinator for Ithaca’s chapter of the Sunrise Movement. Carter has done work on plastic bag ban legislation with the waste management committee of Tompkins County as a senior at Ithaca College, a project still in progress. Carter describes her platform as centered on the Ithaca Green New deal, focusing on both carbon neutrality and social equity.
“We don’t see anything from the Common Council about the gentrification we already see in Ithaca,” she claimed.
Town of Ithaca
Rod Howe is running for the Town Supervisor position unopposed. In the role of Town Supervisor, Howe would be responsible for directing, planning and supervising the management of infrastructure throughout the Town of Ithaca. This includes all construction and repair work on highways and sidewalks. Howe is the executive director of the History Center of Tompkins County, and has served on the Town Board for one and a half terms, also acting as the deputy supervisor. He will be stepping down from both of these roles to run for Town Supervisor.
Town Board Members
Eric Levine (Incumbent)
Levine is an incumbent town board member. He is an attorney at law and the Acting CEO of Alternatives Federal Credit Union, Ithaca’s local credit union. During his time as a board member, Levine served as 2019 Chair of the Budget Committee, as well as a member of the Records Management Advisory Board Committee. Levine has also previously expressed his support for a living wage law, the Ithaca Journal reported.
Pamela Bleiwas (Incumbent)
Pamela Bleiwas ’87 has served on the board since 2015, and is the deputy town supervisor. She is a recipient of the American Jurisprudence Award for Legal Writing. Bleiwas graduated from Cornell University in 1987 with a B.A. in government and earned her J.D. at Brooklyn College. She has served on the boards of directors for the Tompkins County SPCA, Sisterhood of Temple Beth El, Kitchen Theatre Company, Chemung County Neighborhood Legal Services, and Offender Aid and Restoration. The attorney plans to continue to draw on her experience litigating family court cases in delegating town issues, according to her campaign website.
Bill Goodman has been Ithaca Town Supervisor since 2015, and has previously served as a member of the Ithaca town board. When elected town supervisor, he promised to focus on affordable housing. In 2017, Goodman raised concerns about Cornell University and Ithaca College not paying their fair share for Ithaca emergency services. He is an active member of EcoVillage, a community focused on sustainable living.
County Court Judge
Scott Miller ’90 J.D. ’95 is currently is the senior presiding judge of the Ithaca City Court, where he has served since 2013. He is running unopposed for the position of county court judge of the Tompkins County Court. Miller will fill the newly added third seat that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into legislation on June 25, the Ithaca Voice reported.
New York State
This year, voters will not cast ballots on any referendum items as in previous years. The impactful statewide decision will be made on the State Supreme Court judge seats, with five candidates vying for three seats in the court. The two Democratic candidates are Pete Chametsky and Claudette Y. Newmann; the three Republican candidates are Chris Baker, Oliver N. Blaise, and Mark Masler.
Meghna Maharishi, Kathryn Stamm, Ayana Smith, Maryam Zafar, Tamara Kamis and Amanda H. Cronin contributed reporting to this story.