Cornellian Tiffany Kumar ’24 is poised to win the Democratic nomination for the Ithaca Fourth Ward Common Council race following the June 28 primary elections.
Though the official results from the recent primaries have not yet been released—absentee and affidavit ballots still need to be counted—an unofficial count published by the Tompkins County Board of Elections at the time this issue went to press had Kumar winning by a wide margin.
Reflecting on her impending primary election win, Kumar said she was grateful for the people that helped her and the opportunities she’s had.
“It’s such a huge honor. I’m not a person that the systems that uphold this country intended to have power, to be in an elected office. My mom is an immigrant, working class. My family came from a really difficult background,” Kumar said. “I’m a first gen. [college] student. I was a transfer. I’m Asian American. Queer. Socialist.”
Kumar attributed her success to the people of Ithaca and their support for “real progressivism,” as well as the endorsements she’s received from various organizations, activist groups and individuals.
“In my door-knocking I’ve been really inspired by the amount of real progressivism, drive for change, willingness to want to uplift your whole community and love for your neighbors here in Ithaca,” Kumar said. “We were able to really blow this election out of the water, especially against an establishment-supported incumbent.”
Kumar received endorsements from the Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America, the Ithaca Tenants Union, the New York Working Families Party, Cornell Progressives, Cornell Democrats, Climate Justice Cornell, and the Ithaca Solidarity Slate (including Solidarity Slate representatives and alderpeople Phoebe Brown and Jorge DeFendini).
On the other hand, her incumbent opponent and fellow Cornell student Patrick Mehler ’23 was able to secure endorsements from most of his Common Council colleagues.
Running under a banner of “real progressivism,” Kumar wants to push back against the conception that she and Mehler were similar candidates.
“I think there’s been a lot of coverage so far saying that like, ‘oh, we’re very similar.’ ‘We both represent different factions of the left.’ But a lot of democrats on the city council right now are fake progressives. They come out and make as many value statements as they want, but at the end of the day, they don’t back it up with real public policy,” Kumar said.
On Council, she plans to tackle housing issues by working to pass good cause eviction, assuring the right to repairs, updating zoning laws, making Ithaca housing more affordable and enforcing the right to counsel in housing court.
Kumar also plans to address the need for progressive infrastructure reforms in Ithaca if she wins the General Election in November. Some of her potential ideas include securing state grant money to help make Ithaca more walkable and bikeable, improving snow and ice removal, putting legislative action behind the Ithaca Green New Deal as well as pushing for a free and expanded TCAT service.
As an Alderperson, Kumar looks forward to having a material impact on the lives of marginalized communities in Ithaca and generating real progressive policies.
“I always thought that I’m a city girl, that I have to live in a city. But when I came to Cornell, when I came to Ithaca, I felt like I found a place where I finally could belong. Ithaca has really shown me the power of community and fighting alongside your neighbors for material change.”
As for Mehler, he plans to make the most of his remaining six months on Council—his term ends on December 31, 2022. He expressed thanks to the community members that have supported him thus far, as well as to his fellow council members for trusting him to take on this job.
“I’m really thankful for all the people who supported me, for all of the people who in other ways supported [my] campaign,” said Mehler. “I’m really proud to have had the support and trust of councilmembers and people who have lived in the community for decades to say, ‘we don’t just want any student doing this work. We want [you.]’”
Mehler also said that he’s proud of the work he’s been able to accomplish in his fairly brief time as an alderperson, including helping to secure two million dollars in funding to re-do College Ave.
“If you’re in Collegetown right now, you will see that College Ave. is closed and under construction. And to me that’s a big accomplishment, being able to advocate for that.”
Mehler expressed frustration with some of the malicious tactics that his opponent used and believes that Kumar won’t be able to keep the lofty promises she’s made to her voters.
“I think a representative is supposed to be someone who [brings] the community together. Somebody who is supposed to inspire, somebody who is supposed to find creative solutions, and not just taking a national platform and jamming it down the throats of a small populus,” Mehler said.
When asked if he plans to endorse Kumar, Mehler explained that he intends to return to the Cornell Votes nonpartisan work that he was focused on before his common council term.
The race for New York State Governor and Lieutenant Governor were also on the recent primary ballot. In line with current statewide preliminary results, the Tompkins County votes had Kathy Hochul, Lee Zeldin and Antonio Delgado as the Democratic Governor, Republican Governor, and Democratic Lieutenant Governor winners respectively. There was no need for a Republican Lieutenant Governor primary election, as Alison Esposito is running uncontested.
Julia Nagel is a reporter from The Cornell Daily Sun working on The Sun’s summer fellowship at the Ithaca Times.