With the 2021 election cycle underway, a Cornellian is tossing his hat in the ring for the Fifth Ward Common Council seat.
Robert Cantelmo, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the government department, announced his candidacy Feb 1. to succeed Deb Mohlenhoff (D-5th Ward), who is not seeking reelection to represent the Fifth Ward, which includes Fall Creek and parts of North Campus.
Cantelmo has experience working in local government as a former member of the Public Safety and Information Commission, one of Ithaca’s four advisory research bodies that Cantelmo said researches and analyzes issues from fire and police emergency services, gorge safety and how the public accesses city information.
“[The commissions are] a great opportunity to spend some time learning more about the community and giving back by providing input and thoughts on issues that are of major importance,” Cantelmo told The Sun.
This hands-on work and research culminated in his campaign for the Fifth Ward seat. Cantelmo said his campaign has four focal issues: pandemic economic recovery, meeting commitments to environmental sustainability, addressing the housing crisis — particularly the high vacancy rates — and community policing reform.
Cantelmo said that with the City of Ithaca’s decision to aim for carbon neutrality by 2030, housing policy can have major environmental consequences.
“We can make sure that new housing development does occur, meets high standards and provides quality and environmentally friendly dwellings for residents to live in,” Cantelmo said.
Ithaca has been facing a housing crisis in recent years as students occupy more housing, while Ithaca residents, particularly low-income residents, are unable to find adequate housing.
To address the housing crisis, Cantelmo said rent stabilization policies can be implemented to regulate some of the costs and frequent price changes associated with renting.
Cantelmo said transparency was a key component of his campaign, and adding that he plans on hearing the community’s concerns through running an evidence-based, data-driven campaign.
“My campaign is about developing solutions rooted in open dialogue with members of the community and supported by evidence-based policymaking,” Cantelmo wrote in his campaign announcement.
Cantelmo plans to conduct a socially-distanced listening tour throughout the community and reach as many members of the ward as he can. With experience as a teaching assistant at Cornell, he is planning to use Zoom to conduct office hour-style meetings with constituents and host mini town halls.
“I am going to make sure that I am available and engaged with the community,” Cantelmo said. “I think data is really important, but as a researcher I also know data, absent the qualitative context that it originates from, can lead you to bad conclusions.”
Before coming to Cornell in 2017, Cantelmo lived in Washington, D.C., working for the nonprofit the Nuclear Security Working Group as a Democracy and Governance Officer, which entailed conducting research on voter education, civic education and political party building in emerging democracies in the Middle East and South Asia.
As a graduate student in the government department, Cantelmo focuses on the political economy of conflict, which involves researching how the cost of conflict impacts the causes, conduct and consequences of war. Cantelmo said he plans to use his experience as a graduate student to address the concerns of the district.
“I’m a graduate student, and so my schedule is non-traditional,” Cantelmo said. “I think I can also use that to try to conduct outreach at some non-traditional times as well as traditional times, so I’m not missing people who might be out working a second or third shift somewhere and might not be home for candidates who stop by around six o’clock.”
The Democratic primary election is on June 22, and early voting starts on June 13.