Two of the three Solidarity Slate candidates, Phoebe Brown and George “Jorge” Defendini ’22, were elected last Tuesday, paving the way for their progressive political vision in Ithaca.
The Solidarity Slate was a joint campaign that included candidates Brown, Defendini and Maddie Halpert. While Halpert lost the First Ward seat to Democratic incumbent Cynthia Brock, Brown gained the Second Ward seat and Defendini won the Fourth Ward seat.
Bolstered by support from community organizations such as the Ithaca Tenants Union and Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America, the Solidarity Slate’s campaign focused on issues including housing reform, racial justice and environmental sustainability.
Brown, Halpert and Defendini consider the solidarity slate a “new way” to do politics in Ithaca. By serving as a voting bloc connected by shared values, the slate strays away from individualistic politics and brings people together to find solutions to pressing problems, according to Brown.
“The beautiful thing about the slate is that it’s not about the individual candidates like myself, Phoebe or Maddie,” Defendini said. “We are just sort of delegates or vessels for the progressive policies that have been put forward by the community.”
Ithaca has a mayor-council government. The mayor, currently Svante Myrick ’09, is elected at large, and 10 members compose the Common Council, with two representatives from each of the city’s five wards.
Brown has lived in Ithaca for more than 25 years, where she has been a community organizer and worked with many local organizations. She is a founder of Mutual Aid Tompkins, a community-based network created during the pandemic that allows neighbors to share information, such as mental health resources and ways to support small businesses.
Brown is also the central regional coordinator for Alliance of Families for Justice, where she supports the families of incarcerated individuals and people with criminal records to use their voting power to make change. Brown’s personal struggles and experience working in the Ithaca community inspired her to run for office.
“I have a lot of experience with people on the ground, and I’ve had some challenges in my life I had to overcome,” Brown said. “I know what it’s like to feel like your voice is being squashed, and a big part of me gets joy out of being there for others. The reason why we wanted to join the Common Council is to be the voice that usually doesn’t get a chance to sit at the table.”
Brown said she is the third Black woman to be elected to the Ithaca Common Council. She said she hopes her representation will inspire and empower other women of color to seek a seat on the council in the future.
“It blew my mind that I am the third Black woman ever to be on the Common Council,” Brown said. “We found our voice and we are who this community has been waiting for. It also shows that there’s a lot of work we need to do in this community.”
In the Fourth Ward, Defendini brings experience working in progressive politics — including campaigning for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and working as an organizer for Cornell Progressives.
Defendini said he’s excited to bring his perspective as a college student to Common Council. While he works toward a double major in government and American studies with a minor in Latina/o studies, the senior does not foresee problems balancing school and work.
As he steps into the Common Council, Defendini said he expects some challenges ahead of him — among them that other members of the council might view the Solidarity Slate’s solutions as too “idealistic,” according to Defendini.
“We’re just going to have to go in there and prove that we’ve crunched the numbers, we’ve done the research and we’ve listened to the people,” Defendini said. “I feel confident that we’re going to arrive at a situation where we can pass policies that will help the most people because I have faith in our legislators.”
Shaniya Foster was the original Solidarity Slate candidate for the First Ward, but she left the race early in June due to personal circumstances. With just a few days left before petition files were due, Halpert, the former volunteer coordinator for the slate, stepped up to fill the vacancy.
Halpert, who grew up in Ithaca and has worked with local mutual aid, climate justice and food sovereignty movements, garnered enough signatures to appear on the ballot. The support of Defendini and Brown helped them make the time-constrained decision to join the ballot and supported them through the intense campaign process in the First Ward against incumbent Brock.
But Halpert’s work on the slate will continue, even as they won’t represent the slate on the Common Council. Halpert said they look forward to continuing some of the other work the slate was engaged in during the campaign process, such as organizing and supporting local assemblies and groups, while supporting Brown and Defendini in their new positions.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to work together and be in each other’s lives as we move forward, and I’m excited for our networks around the Solidarity Slate to continue to grow,” Halpert said.