Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Seph Murtagh announced campaign to run for 125th New York State Assembly District.

April 12, 2020

Tompkins County Democratic Committee To Host Virtual Candidate Forum Tuesday

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This Tuesday, instead of knocking doors and shaking hands, candidates running for local offices will move online to compete for their seats. In the age of social distancing, the Tompkins County Democratic Committee will host its first live streamed candidate forum to help candidates broadcast their messages to voters.

The forum will feature Democratic candidates running for local seats in the State Senate, State Assembly and Tompkins County District Attorney.

Each candidate will open with a quick introduction and then proceed to answer questions both pre-submitted and submitted live in a Zoom chat, a representative from the County Committee said.

Jim Gustafson, chair of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee, said that adapting the forum to a virtual format was challenging, but that he was excited at the potential of a larger audience being able to view the forum remotely compared to if it had taken place at its usual meeting space.

“I am heartened that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we are able to provide a forum for the candidates … to introduce themselves to the voters,” Gustafson wrote to The Sun.

Leslie Danks Burke is running uncontested for the Democratic nomination for State Senate in the 58th District. Burke, an attorney and longtime advocate for working families, ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Tom O’Mara (R-N.Y.) in 2016, setting up a rematch this year.

Burke will be on the virtual forum to share more about her platform, which centers around jobs, education, support for agriculture, and enhancing representation for people in rural parts of the state.

Current Tompkins County District Attorney Matt Van Houten is being challenged in the democratic primary by Edward Kopko, a local attorney. This is Van Houten’s first run for reelection as D.A., but he will face a familiar opponent –– Kopko, then running as an independent, lost to Van Houten in 2016’s general election.

Kopko, in an interview with, said that “the culture of the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office is ready for dynamic change and a paradigm shift which includes swift action to join the progressive criminal justice reform movement.”

The crowded Democratic primary in the race to replace outgoing Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-N.Y.) in the State Assembly’s 125th District includes seven candidates, all of whom will attend the forum.

The candidates include Executive Director and CEO of Family and Children’s Counseling Services Lisa Hoeschele, Tompkins County Legislator Anna Kelles (D-2nd District), Cortland County Legislator Beau Harbin (D-2nd District), Dryden Town Supervisor Jason Leifer, former Legislative Counsel to Barbara Lifton Jordan Lesser, Cornell Prof. Sujata Gibson, law, and City of Ithaca Alderperson Seph Murtagh Ph.D. ’09 (D-2nd Ward).

The Forum can be watched via livestream on YouTube. The primary is scheduled for June 23, the same date as the now postponed New York state presidential primary. According to the Board of Elections, those wishing to vote by absentee ballot due to COVID-19 may select “temporary illness” on the absentee form. Early voting information has not yet been posted.

This piece is part of The Cornell Daily Sun’s new Election 2020 Section. Read more of The Sun’s election coverage here.