This article is the second in a series profiling the candidates for city mayor. Read The Sun’s profile of Independent candidate Katie Sims here.
After serving as the City of Ithaca’s Acting Mayor for less than a year, Laura Lewis is campaigning to finish off former Mayor Svante Myrick’s term, which has one year left. Acting Mayor Lewis was appointed by Myrick when he left office in January to become the executive director at People for the American Way, a progressive think tank.
“I think [Myrick] understood the deep roots I have in this community and the various ways in which I have participated, volunteered and worked in a professional capacity,” Lewis said.
Lewis moved to Ithaca about 40 years ago to establish an academic advising system at Ithaca College. She then transitioned to working at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations in the Office of Undergraduate Student Services, where she was eventually appointed director.
Lewis was involved in community service while working at Cornell and raising a family in Ithaca. She served on the board of directors of the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services, an organization dedicated to expanding housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income residents in the surrounding area. She also served as a chair of the Fifth Ward and the City of Ithaca Democratic Committees.
In 2017, Lewis ran to fill the Fifth Ward Common Council seat. As an alderperson, Lewis chaired the Planning and Economic Development Committee in addition to serving on the TCAT Board.
As Acting Mayor, Lewis said she worked to address housing, infrastructure, staffing needs, public safety and sustainability, which she hopes to continue if elected Mayor.
“I grew up in a single parent household, no one in my family had been to college. And we did not have much in terms of financial resources,” Lewis said. “That is one of the reasons I am very passionate about housing issues.”
Lewis believes Ithaca needs more affordable housing units and senior housing. She would like to see more development within the city center so that people have easy access to jobs, schools and public transportation. She is also concerned about the unhoused community, and as acting mayor appointed a working group to look at unsanctioned encampments on city property.
“We have needs for the type of housing and the type of wraparound supportive services that would allow people to live safely and comfortably within our community,” Lewis said.
Lewis also wants to see more initiatives concerning public transportation and infrastructure.
“If we want to be able to promote safe biking throughout the city, if we want to be able to promote fewer vehicles within the city, then we have to pay attention to roads, to bike lanes, and the ways in which people can move around through the city without having to rely on a car,” Lewis said.
Prioritizing sustainability is important for Lewis. In the 2023 city budget, she is proposing transitioning to electric city fleet vehicles. Lewis also pointed out that the East Hill fire station is being rebuilt to be fully sustainable and she is working to implement the Ithaca Green New Deal.
Lewis also served on the working group for reimagining public safety.
“It is really important that we look carefully at how we deliver public safety,” Lewis said. “I support our police department. The Ithaca Police Department is short staffed. There are 15 vacancies at the moment.”
Lewis has set aside money in her 2023 budget to fill some of these vacant positions. She also supports the development of unarmed first responders.
Also on the ballot this election will be a referendum to create a city manager position in Ithaca. This new position would work on building the city budget, managing department heads and reporting to the Common Council.
“I strongly support the city manager position. This is a position that exists in many cities across the country,” Lewis said. “It mirrors the county in terms of their organizational structure.”
Lewis has received the endorsements of 15 current and former members of Common Council and the Ithaca City Democrats.
“They are my colleagues, some of whom I worked with for the past four years, some of whom I’m working with currently,” Lewis said. “I am very grateful to have their endorsement.”
Looking toward the Nov. 8 election, Lewis and progressive candidate Katie Sims have raised nearly equal amounts in terms of fundraising, with Lewis raising a total of $6,893.16 and Sims raising $6,845.58 as of Nov. 1, according to the Ithaca Voice.
“The decisions are always up to the voters. I’m very excited for this opportunity to be elected to complete the current mayoral term,” Lewis said. “I’ve been involved and committed to a lot of things in this city for many years. So I’m excited about the possibility.”