Courtesy of Patrick Mehler ’23 and Katie Sims ’20

Cornellians vie for the Fourth Ward seat.

September 28, 2021

Two Cornellians In the Running to Fill Ithaca’s Fourth Ward Vacancy

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Since Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 successfully ran for the Fourth Ward during his years at Cornell, multiple Cornellians have attempted the same. This election cycle, George Defendini ’21 and Robert Cantelmo, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the government department, are running for Common Council seats. 

Now, two more Cornellians are throwing their hats in for the Fourth Ward seat.

On Sept. 22, members of the Common Council interviewed candidates Patrick Mehler ’23 and Katie Sims ’20 to fill in for the Fourth Ward –– which includes parts of West Campus and Collegetown –– after Steve Smith (D-4th Ward)’s resignation in August. 

The candidate will serve until December 2022 until a special election can be held for the seat and the remainder of the alderperson’s seat. To make the decision, the participants applied to the position and were interviewed by Mayor Savante Myrick ’09, Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward) and Ducson Nguyen (D-2nd Ward). 

At a Tuesday meeting, the Selection Committee unanimously chose to recommend Patrick Mehler ’23 to the Common Council due to his experience working with the student body. 

The committee thought it was a close call and said they would like to have Katie Sims ’20 serve for the community in other ways, like through Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board or some role in Ithaca’s Green New Deal.

The Common Council will vote on Mehler’s appointment on Oct. 6. Common Council votes on matters regarding the City of Ithaca, with two alderpersons per ward to represent the concerns and desires of their constituents. Ithaca has five wards in total.

Mehler, who is also a Sun columnist, emphasized the need for the Common Council to engage with students and make sure their voices are being heard — an effort he says he can help with due to his experience increasing voter participation and his experience as a student.

“There’s really an opportunity here to create and rekindle that fire between students within this community and within the Council as the community,” Mehler said. “I hope that my time on the Council … can be one in which a new era is started of bringing back the young voices.”

Sims similarly explained that her motivation for applying to fill in the Fourth Ward came from having the opportunity to impact the community that she loves. 

“I love Ithaca. I moved here for college and I couldn’t leave because I liked it too much,” Sims, a former Sun associate editor, said. “I really want to put time and effort into this community.”

Sims has previously served on the board of directors for The Cornell Daily Sun and is currently involved in the Tompkins County Human Services Coalition Board of Directors as a community volunteer.

Mehler also expressed his concerns about affordable housing, referencing his current difficulties in trying to find affordable housing. Mehler said he believes that Common Council is the direct avenue to making sure that both students and Ithaca’s permanent residents have access to affordable housing.

Speaking with The Sun, Mehler expressed that improved communication between the city, Cornell and developers can help to address affordable housing. Knowing how many students are projected to be admitted by Cornell can help the city know how many affordable rooms are needed, influencing the development projects already underway in Ithaca, according to Mehler.

Sims discussed economic development and strategies for ensuring that the city can continue to develop new buildings without making housing unaffordable.

“The challenge is how to allow this expansion and create these economic benefits for the city while also making sure that people still have a place to live,” Sims said.

Sims suggested negotiating with developers to increase the mandatory availability of affordable housing and lower the cost of what affordable housing means, ultimately finding what would most benefit community members. 

Sims further elaborated on various other challenges in the Fourth Ward — including the dangers of the traffic and walking infrastructure in Collegetown for cyclists and pedestrians, the best way to reimagine public safety and how academic institutions can contribute to the city.

While acknowledging that he would have only a year in the role, Mehler said he’s confident he could get people involved in Common Council. He referenced his experience with increasing voter participation at Cornell both as the president of Cornell Votes, a student organization that works to increase voter participation, and as the director of elections for the Student Assembly. 

Sims said she believes local governments are essential for making sure people’s everyday needs are met and thinks her flexible work schedule as a social media specialist at –– an organization working to eliminate and advocate against fossil fuels –– would make her a good alderperson.

“The federal government can assign priorities and can get together funding, but it’s really up to the local governments to decide what goes where,” Sims said. “It’s the local governments that need to be most responsive to the needs of the community and can make huge impacts on people’s day to day quality of life through little things like what their walk to work looks like.”

When discussing the challenges the Fourth Ward currently faces, Mehler referenced the city’s past challenges in communicating with students. According to Mehler, many students were not aware of Smith’s resignation, and he wants to make sure the students in the Fourth Ward are heard as part of the governance process.

“As a current student and somebody who is [interconnected to this community] … I will be one more link for every single person in the Fourth Ward, to take their experiences in Cornell and connect it with the city,” Mehler said to The Sun. 

Update, Sept. 29, 10:10 a.m.: This post has been updated to include the Selection Committee’s decision to recommend Patrick Mehler ’23 to the Common Council.