Jason Wu/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Republican candidate Zachary hopes to "Winn" the City of Ithaca's upcoming mayoral election, citing homelessness and property taxes as two of his main issues.

November 7, 2022

Local Republican Zachary Winn Runs for City Mayor

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This article is the third in a series profiling the candidates for city mayor. Read The Sun’s profile of Democratic candidate Acting Mayor Laura Lewis and Independent candidate Katie Sims.

Zachary Winn is a lifelong, politically-active resident of Ithaca. He decided to run for mayor on the Republican ticket after finding out that Acting Mayor Laura Lewis was set to run unopposed, though Independent Katie Sims joined the race soon after.

“I felt obligated to give people an actual choice when they entered the voting booth,” Winn said. “It was hard to imagine Laura Lewis fixing problems she helped create.”

Winn views public safety, taxes, corruption in City Hall and negative repercussions from the COVID-19 lockdowns as the biggest issues currently facing the City of Ithaca. Of particular concern to Winn is a section of the City termed “The Jungle,” an encampment that stretches from behind Lowes to behind Walmart on South Meadow Street, where many unhoused Ithacans reside. 

The encampment is littered with discarded clothing, propane tanks and shopping carts from neighboring retailers, along with needles and syringes. Winn feels the City should increase its efforts to improve conditions for the unhoused population. 

Grocery carts and a tarp lay strewn across the forest floor, The Jungle, Nov. 4, 2022 (Jason Wu/Sun Assistant Photography Editor)

“This is not compassion,” Winn said. “To leave people out here to do whatever they want. There are people who are routinely victimized within the community by other people in the community.”

Currently, the City has created The Ithaca Designated Encampment Sites proposal which aims to construct around 25 cottages, a common bathroom and a community space in the area occupied by the unsanctioned encampment, providing safer living conditions for the unhoused population.

“With the money set aside on the city and county level for TIDES, I think the first step would be enforcement,” Winn said. “If there is no mechanism for enforcement, TIDES is already a failure.”

Winn said that he does not believe housing first is the solution. Instead, he would like to see more enforcement against lawless behavior, which would require creating access roads so that the police and emergency services can reach the residents of The Jungle.

“Extending these access roads, getting some light down here, going through and making it known that this isn’t going to be able to go on forever, trying to get people in touch with services,” Winn said. “These things should be getting done right now, immediately, because there is an immediate crisis.”

Right now, Winn said the residents of the encampment are facing routine victimization through the torching of campsites and that there is widespread use of methamphetamine. He pointed to a meth bust in November 2021 on Lake Avenue as proof of the methamphetamine problem in Ithaca. 

“This is a lawless area,” Winn said. “This is like the thieves’ forest in Robin Hood, except it’s not a bunch of dudes running around singing songs, it’s people injecting methamphetamine.”

Used needles and syringes line the floor of The Jungle, Nov. 4, 2022 (Jason Wu/Sun Assistant Photography Editor)

As Mayor, Winn would prioritize restoring the reputation of the Ithaca Police Department, which currently has 15 vacancies. He would like to see enforcement against criminal behaviors and services that allow Jungle residents to find purpose in life so that they can improve their life trajectory.

“Philosophies that created this situation are the same policies that are in place in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City, where there is this belief that enforcing the law and holding people accountable for their actions is somehow cruel and inhumane,” Winn said. “I fundamentally disagree with that, and I think you are doing somebody a disservice by allowing them to spiral down.”

To document the crime occurring in The Jungle and in the City, Winn created the website IthacaCrime.com in August 2021, where he writes under the pen name Chip Daley — an ironic nod towards one of his favorite films, Bob Roberts, in which the character Daley represents an uncaring corporate journalist who laughs when reading a report about homelessness.

Winn began the website because his questions on the makeup of the Reimagining Public Safety Working Group were going unanswered by the legislature. He wanted to know why there was limited involvement from the law enforcement groups that would be affected by any reimagining proposals. If elected, Winn would end the Reimagining Public Safety process.

Winn also aims to reduce property taxes by at least 50 percent and instead tax Cornell University, an institution that is currently exempt from property taxes, which he said would generate a revenue of approximately $50 million a year for the City. 

“Cornell possesses 51 percent of city property,” Winn said. “If the institution continues to shortchange the City, the people who keep the water running and the roads plowed will leave for other jobs.”

Winn expressed concern about recent labor union complaints from City workers and believes City Attorney Ari Lavine should be fired over failure to facilitate constructive discussion between the unions and the City, in addition to his lack of cooperation with the ongoing Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board probe, in Winn’s eyes.   

Winn is a frequent attendee to City Hall meetings, and despite Ithaca’s progressive leanings, he feels he could work well with the Common Council. He has been endorsed by the City of Ithaca Republicans.

“I have developed a constructive rapport with several members of Common Council over the last few years, despite clear differences of opinion,” Winn said. “If I was elected, I would see it as my obligation to restore some semblance of balance to a body that is made up entirely of leftists, Progressives, Democrats, Socialists, etc.”

As for his campaign prospects, Winn expressed hope, as he believes a split electorate between Lewis and Sims gives him a chance.

“I went into this race knowing my chances of winning were infinitesimal, if not non-existent,” Winn said. “I am very curious to see the outcome. I have already set out to do what I wanted to do — give people a choice.”