On Nov. 8, Americans all over the country will cast their votes to determine who should represent them in the 118th Congress — Ithaca is no different. In preparation for this widely-anticipated and widely-consequential election, Democratic nominee for the NY-19 district Josh Riley (D-N.Y.) visited campus as part of his home-stretch tour of Upstate New York.
In a Friday afternoon town hall hosted by the Cornell Democrats, Riley spoke to Cornellians about his platform and vision for the region if elected.
As a result of the 2020 Census, Ithaca was redistricted from the solidly Republican 23rd congressional district to the tossup 19th, which extends east to the New York-Massachusetts border. Students cited this as a reason why they were drawn to attending.
“He might be our next Congressperson. He will be representing us as Cornell students if he wins, so I think it is a good use of time to see what he is all about and see what he has in store if he is elected,” said Tover Feist ’26.
Riley began by sharing his background as a native to the region, whose family had exemplified the American Dream, but he also saw many communities like his being left behind by globalization. As a lawyer, he represented the American Academy of Pediatrics in a civil rights case, which solidified his belief that healthcare should be a civil right. The husband of a daughter of Indian and Ecuadorian immigrants, he also spoke about the impact that the Trump administration’s ban on travel from Muslim countries had had on their family.
Javed Jokhai ’24, president of the Cornell Democrats and Sun Columnist, spoke about the Cornell Dems’ history with the Riley campaign.
“We were just moved by him and his policies and his story,” Johkai said. “So then, during the summer we decided that we would take the bold move of endorsing him in the primaries before the Democratic Party, like the National Party decided [to do so], and we just started getting to work with fieldwork.”
Patrick Mehler ’23, Ithaca Commons Council Alderperson, also attended the town hall.
“I see why he makes sense for not just this district and for this specific area, but for students and permanent residents alike,” Mehler said. “I think he did a really good job of highlighting practical solutions to some of the larger problems we’re facing and that we’re going to face once most of these college kids are adults. So I was very happy to hear him speak.”
Riley emphasized his commitment to run a campaign based on individual contributions and grassroots efforts, consistent with his endorsement by labor unions and the stories that people have told him about their cost of living.
“I believe that doing the right thing and rejecting corporate PAC money is the winning thing. And that is on the line on Tuesday,” Riley said. “I want to be able to wake up on Wednesday and prove the world wrong [that individual donations can be stronger than PAC money]. And we’re able to [create] grassroots campaigns and knock out the special interest.”
However, Riley was investigated by The Sun, along with his opponent Mark Molinaro, for accepting money from Political Action Committees. According to the Federal Election Committee campaign finance filing, the organization Communications Workers of America, a labor union that has donated funds from nationals PACs, donated $10,000 to Riley this election cycle.
As a father of a 2-year-old, Riley said some of the most important issues to him were the preservation of democracy and the fight against climate change. He expressed optimism that the advances in green technology made in Upstate New York could be instrumental in achieving the latter.
Moreover, he spoke about the importance of public education funding and government support. He spoke about the community schools model proposed by Senator Sherrod Brown, which would provide services such as mental health services, nurses, better funding for their academic programs and nutrition programs.
“The studies are very clear that if you’re investing one dollar into the community school model, over the long term, you’re saving $14 in benefits because we’ve got kids who are healthier, kids are getting the support they need,” Riley said. “The kids are coming out of our educational system in a position to succeed that they’re not right now.”
Some students at the town hall, like Magdalena Moranda ’24, expressed their concerns for lack of political engagement on campus among the student body.
“I am the type of person that will bug people to get their absentee ballot and actually vote because I have seen how in local politics a few votes matter in swaying things,” Moranda said. “I feel like people are not that engaged,” Moranda said.
Riley emphasized the importance of civic participation, especially in this particular race. A Siena College poll projects Riley will win by 5 points, but Riley discounted this poll as being too favorable towards him.
“Students have a really important voice, and that voice needs to be turned out to vote,” Riley said in an interview with The Sun. “It’s going to take students coming out and voting to show that we won’t tolerate the attacks we’re seeing on women’s equality, our democracy, our environment, labor unions and working folks. I think student voices are critically important in this election and we can’t take anything for granted. This is not an election to sit on the sidelines.”
“This race very well could come down to the number of people in this room,” Riley said.