Cornell’s director of campus planning, Leslie Schill MRP ’02, took her oath of office as Tompkins County legislator Tuesday, after a special election on March 23 to replace Anna Kelles (D-2nd district).
Kelles, who served as a Tompkins County legislator for five years, resigned after progressing to the New York State Assembly, representing the 125th District. Schill will run for re-election in November’s regular race, opposing Veronica Pillar M.S. ’14 Ph.D. ’19 for the second time since the special election.
Schill will serve out the rest of Kelles’ term as legislator representing the second district, which includes the areas of Fall Creek and Cornell Heights. Her platform emphasizes efficient vaccine distribution and increasing housing security.
“Our top priority right now is addressing COVID in the community, and I would say the county is doing a great job and is still innovating even weekly,” Schill said. She expressed the importance of speed, accessibility and health education in vaccinating Tompkins County residents.
Schill said her experience as a campus planner and community leader will help her achieve her platform. Schill’s current role at Cornell focuses on sustainability, long-term development and maintaining relationships between Cornell and Tompkins County.
According to Schill, past projects she has worked on serve as models for future initiatives she hopes to carry out in the county and beyond. As an example, she noted the Community Development and Housing Fund, a collaboration between the county, the City of Ithaca and Cornell that has financed 815 affordable housing units and built 600 units over the past 11 years, according to Schill.
“I work on a lot of these initiatives,” Schill said. “I have the background and the current knowledge on them, and I can bring that to bear to create an even better collaboration between our county government and Cornell.”
Before this position, Schill worked in municipal governments and on community-building projects for 10 years in Washington, D.C. and in Tompkins County. She earned her masters in regional planning at Cornell, and she’ll continue in her current position as the director of campus planning as she takes on her legislator role.
Schill explained that she wants to put her skills to use within a greater community, drawing on her connections at Cornell and throughout the county. While the pandemic complicated her run, she was up for the challenge.
“I was out in January nights after work time in the dark with a mask on and a hat on and a giant winter coat when it was freezing and sleeting,” she said, “knocking on people’s doors in the dark and hoping they would answer.”
Jeanne Boodley-Buchanan, project intake manager for the campus planning department, has worked closely with Schill. She expressed confidence in Schill’s credentials as a legislator — describing Schill’s attention to places where Cornell students live, like Collegetown, and emphasized her potential to draw the Cornell and Tompkins County communities together.
“She takes a lead in that for Cornell as far as making sure that we are working together and have a plan that is workable for everybody,” Boodley-Buchanan said.
After her first 24 hours in office, Schill has jumped on working with two committees: the Government Operations Committee, which covers legislation, law and public information, and the Health and Human Services Committee, managing resources for Tompkins County’s youth, elderly and veteran populations.
“It feels good to be back in a public servant role,” Schill said. “That’s something I identify with.”