Jason Wu/Sun Senior Editor

Clyde Lederman is currently the clerk for the Office of the Assemblies.

April 24, 2023

First-Year Student Clyde Lederman Vies for Ithaca Common Council Seat

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Still acclimating to college life, there are many priorities that might be top-of-mind for a Cornell first-year student. Running for elected office is not usually one of them. 

However, this is exactly what Clyde Lederman ’26, a first-year student in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, is pursuing. Lederman had just finished his first semester at the University when he launched his campaign for Ithaca Common Council alderperson.

Lederman — who is running as a Democrat — has his eyes on a two-year seat representing Ithaca’s fifth ward, first announcing his plans last December. On campus, Lederman is involved with the Cornell Prison Education Program and is the clerk for the Office of the Assemblies. 

“I decided to run [for a seat on Ithaca Common Council] because students in Ithaca deserve an alderperson who will fight for affordable housing and quality public transportation,” Lederman wrote in a December Facebook post announcing his candidacy.

The fifth ward represents North Campus and the Cornell Heights area, along with much of University Hill. If elected, Lederman would become the youngest member of the Common Council at just 19 years old.

Lederman officially launched his campaign on Sunday, Jan. 8, with a fundraiser in his hometown of Nyack, New York. He was joined by former Congressman Mondaire Jones, also a Nyack native, who Lederman had volunteered for in 2020.

Lederman credited his upbringing for his early interest in politics and labor relations.

“I’ve always had a political orientation. That comes from my family and how I grew up,” Lederman said. “My mother, she’s a fourth-generation union member.”

This political awareness was only made more acute by disputes Lederman witnessed growing up in Rockland County — from disputes involving the East Ramapo Central School District to zoning issues in the community.

Lederman said he first thought about running for Common Council following disputes over TCAT funding last December.

“I remember in particular when Cornell turned down the funding increase [for TCAT], which was something like $75,000,” Lederman said. “And to me, that was a real wake-up call.”

Lederman is referring to the University’s denial of an 8 percent increase in funding to TCAT, for which the University cited a lack of “any specific justification for such a large increase.”

Lederman also highlighted issues with the TCAT system, from delays to service cuts, which he noted make it difficult for many Ithaca residents to get to work.

“[TCAT] is not sustainable,” Lederman said. “I think it’s about increasing funding so that we can reduce headways in the routes so buses run more frequently.”

In addition to TCAT funding, Lederman said he is also focused on housing and the “Make Cornell Pay” campaign as key issues.

Lederman said Ithaca’s housing shortage has had detrimental impacts on permanent residents.

“[From 2010 to 2021, Ithaca’s population] grew in raw numbers, which is an increase in students. [But] we actually lost a lot of permanent residents. And that’s really damaging,” Lederman said. “People shouldn’t have to leave where they live their whole lives because it’s become just too expensive.”

Lederman has proposed accessory dwelling units to improve Ithaca’s low one percent rental vacancy rate.

“[Accessory dwelling units] are the opportunity to create zoning permissions that would allow anyone to turn [a space] like a garage, basement or attic into an additional unit,” Lederman said. “They’ve done this in California and it’s been really successful in increasing the housing stock.”

Lederman acknowledges that ADUs are not a perfect solution, instead calling for a constellation of policies to increase the housing stock.

But the University’s role also came up in the discussion over Ithaca’s housing supply, with Lederman believing the University has an obligation to provide adequate housing options.

As for the ‘Make Cornell Pay’ Campaign, the University’s contribution to the City of Ithaca has been bound by an agreement in place through 2024, meaning negotiations would be on the table within Lederman’s term. The agreement, approved in 2003, has the University contributing about $1.575 million in this final year — a majority of which goes towards the Ithaca Fire Department.

Student voters are of particular interest in the fifth ward, as redrawn wards have left the ward with a 90 to 95 percent student population. However, student voting remains a hurdle, especially with the Democratic primary taking place on Tuesday, June 27 — when most Cornellians are not on campus.

“Not a lot of students are registered to vote here, [so] a big part of my campaign is getting people registered,” Lederman said. “In the past, you’ve seen candidates elected with one-half of one percent of the total population casting a ballot for that candidate. And to me, that’s a problem — that’s not really democratic.”

To Lederman, the short-term nature of the student population does not discount their importance in local affairs. 

“Students are a transient population with permanent interests. So students now, students five years ago, still cared about the bus, they still care about the price of housing,” Lederman said. “I think if we took adults, and they lived in any city for two to three years in a row, we wouldn’t say, ‘You don’t deserve to vote, you shouldn’t care.’ That’s not really fair, and that’s not a reasonable approach.”

However, as a 19-year-old that has only lived in Ithaca for about nine months, Lederman acknowledges concerns over his potential inexperience. But he emphasizes his own lived experience in Ithaca and his many conversations with residents.

“I think my interest in improving the community is genuine. I know what it means to wait in the Commons and there’s not a bus for an hour,” Lederman said. “And that affects the lives of so many different folks.”

Lederman described that he has made a concerted effort to talk to the residents of the ward he hopes to represent. 

“I’ve knocked on, if I had to guess, 80 percent of the doors in Cornell Heights, in particular,” Lederman said. “[I’m] continuing to reach out to all the residents because I think folks who make sure they talk to everyone are the ones who are sort of best able to navigate the nuanced and challenging issues we have.”

The alderperson seat is currently held by Robert Cantelmo grad, a Ph.D. candidate in government at Cornell. With Cantelmo setting his sights on a mayoral bid, an opportunity on the council opened up.

Lederman will be up against Democrat Jason Houghton, an information technology product manager at PNC Bank. Like Lederman, affordable housing is a primary concern for Houghton, as reported by The Ithaca Times.

The seat comes with a salary of about $13,000, which Lederman says will be spent on his Cornell housing and tuition fees among other costs.

Lederman has already been endorsed by the New York Working Families Party and will remain in Ithaca over the summer. With the Democratic primary two months away, the race is just getting started. 

Iskander Khan ’26 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

Correction, April 24, 11:53 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Lederman is the assembly manager for the Office of the Assemblies. The article has been corrected to reflect that he is the clerk for the Assembly.