When Katie Sims ’20 first started at Cornell, she was determined to uncover the mysteries related to environmental science. But instead, she discovered her passion for political advocacy that led to her campaign as an Independent for city mayor.
Sims is running as a progressive candidate to the left of current Acting Mayor Laura Lewis, who is running on the Democratic ticket after being appointed when former Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 stepped down from the position in February. Local conservative Zachary Winn is running as a Republican, and the winner will only serve for one year, finishing off Myrick’s term.
Sims dedicated much of her time at Cornell to The Sun, serving on the editorial board as the arts editor, associate editor and then senior editor.
”The Sun was really formative to me, putting down roots in Ithaca, coming downtown and working at the office covering stories in the art scene in town,” Sims said. “It introduced me to a lot of Ithaca, and was one of the main reasons why I decided I wanted to stay here long term.”
“That was really my first big political campaigning experience,” Sims said. “Cornell presents itself as a progressive, compassionate, supportive institution. But that doesn’t necessarily come across in all of its actions.”
A little over a year after graduation, Sims campaigned to fill the Common Council seat for Ithaca’s fourth Ward after the seat became vacant in August 2021. However, the selection committee ultimately picked Cornell student Patrick Mehler ’23 to serve on the Council.
Despite her defeat, Sims remained motivated to stay involved in city politics. Sims was a member of the Ithaca Tenants Union and campaigned to get good cause eviction legislation passed, which would prevent landlords from terminating a tenancy except in the case of a lease violation. A couple of weeks after the legislation received the final ‘no’ from the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee, Sims received an email from her landlord informing her that she could not renew her lease.
“This was an arbitrary non-renewal. I didn’t break any terms of my lease,” Sims said. “I planned on trying to run for office, but in those next couple of months, I was spending so much time looking for housing, I didn’t know if I was actually going to be able to stay inside the city boundaries, or if I was going to have to move out beyond the edges of the city.”
Sims eventually secured rental housing in Ithaca, but only after missing the deadline to petition to run on the Democratic ticket. So, she decided to run as an Independent.
“Since Ithaca is such a strong progressive city, I knew that there wasn’t really a risk of splitting the vote and letting a more conservative candidate win,” Sims said. “I thought it was still important that I run, that I get these issues out here and that we don’t just accept the status quo candidate without having a real conversation about what the issues facing Ithacans are and what we can do to address them.”
Sims’s platform is centered around housing, the climate, economic justice and public safety. Passing the good cause eviction policy is Sims’s top priority to ensure that Ithacans can have secure housing.
“In this city rents are rising so fast, and there is such a scarcity of housing, that being pushed out of your house might mean being pushed out of the city, or might mean trying for months to find a new place,” Sims said. “It’s undermining tenants’ ability to have stable lives.”
Sims said the majority of Common Council is made up of homeowners, which does not reflect the population of Ithaca, as 73 percent of households in Ithaca were renters in 2015. Sims aims to represent renters’ needs.
Ensuring Ithaca has a commitment to environmental justice is also high on Sim’s priorities, as she was a supporter of the Ithaca Green New Deal and believes it provides a good framework for addressing climate change. Sims would also like to see more sustainable transportation options and more investments in local community organizations when it comes to addressing environmental issues.
In terms of public safety, Sims envisions programs that address the root cause of crime and divert residents from incarceration into the healthcare system, especially for incidents involving substance use.
“We really need to approach public safety in a proactive way instead of just responding when violence or crimes happen,” Sims said.
Sims also wants to see the streets of Ithaca made safer for pedestrians and bikers by implementing stricter speed limits, putting in speed bumps and narrowing roads. This issue is particularly personal to Sims, as she was involved in a dangerous bicycle accident during her time at Cornell in which she sprained her wrist and broke several ribs.
Sims has been endorsed by the New York State Working Families Party, Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America, Sunrise Movement of Ithaca and Workers United.
“To have the endorsement of organizations that I’ve worked with, and we share the vision of an economy that works for everyone, of a world where we can address climate change in coordination with economic and social justice,” Sims said. “That means a lot to me, and is indicative of my community-centered approach towards governance.”
Looking ahead to Election Day on Nov. 8, Sims feels hopeful.
“Running as an Independent certainly is an uphill battle,” Sims said. “But, when I’m out talking to voters, and with my wonderful volunteer team supporting me, I know that we are talking about issues that Ithacans care about. We’re resonating a lot with our neighbors. And I’m really happy and excited to have the opportunity to share this vision of change with my fellow advocates.”