For the first time since 2012, a Cornell student is joining the Ithaca Common Council.
Patrick Mehler ’23 is the new alderperson for Ithaca’s Fourth District — which includes parts of West Campus and Collegetown. The Common Council approved Mehler joining Oct. 6, and Mehler’s term officially started Wednesday.
The Fourth Ward has often been filled by Cornellians over the years — including Ithaca’s Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 and Eddie Rooker ’10. The newest member of the Common Council celebrated his acceptance by starting to read an 100-page city budget document, staying true to his major as an industrial and labor relations student.
“That’s been the most exciting thing so far,” Mehler said, speaking from his father’s study in Yonkers, New York.
Apart from marking up the budget with highlighters and pens, looking for interesting questions to ask the council, Mehler has started to meet with the various members of council to better understand his colleagues.
“I think an important part of any sort of governance is that everyone knows each other,” he said. “I’d like to know why people are doing what they’re doing, beyond looking at their campaign websites and things like that.”
Mehler said he hopes to use his connection to both Ithaca and Cornell to act as a bridge between the communities, specifically when looking at possible housing projects they can collaborate on.
“There’s a lovely spot I’m certain is right here for collaboration between the two of us, to see what projects there are that we can work on together that helps everybody,” Mehler said.
According to Mehler, a core part of his focus is civic engagement, continuing his work as the president of Cornell Votes, a student organization that works to increase voter participation, and the director of elections for the Student Assembly.
“I’ve really dedicated my collegiate career and I’m starting to really set up my professional career to be one in which my purpose or life goal is to get people civically engaged,” Mehler said.
Mehler said he hopes to get more students involved from the moment they enter Cornell’s campus, helping new students learn more about the city they live in.
Mehler explained that new students learn all about Cornell’s campus — but they should also get to know what ward they’re in and who their representatives are. According to Mehler, even that brief introduction to the city will help acquaint them with the place they live.
He said many organizations on campus, including the Office of Student Government Relations and Cornell Votes, have already started to inform students on local government. Mehler said he’s starting from a strong base.
“My hope is I can elevate and then further the causes that are getting people connected and getting people more aware of the city,” Mehler said.
Apart from focusing on civic engagement and living up to his reputation as “the election guy,” Mehler keeps busy with bowling and dining throughout Ithaca.
“[I’m] trying to explore more of the restaurants — trying to figure out what are the more secret gems hidden throughout not just the Collegetown area, but throughout all of Ithaca,” Mehler said.
Mehler said he’s grateful for everything that Cornell has given him, saying that it has given him a stronger sense of responsibility to give back to the community.
“I work for my community and my job is to serve my community,” Mehler said. “It’s not something that I do on the side. That is why I want to do what I do — to help people.”
Mehler’s term will end in December 2022 when the city will hold a special election for Ithaca’s Fourth Ward vacancy.