Courtesy of Saint-Perez for Common Council

Pierre Saint-Perez grad, a third year law student at Cornell Law School and Democratic nominee for the Third Ward's Common Council seat, hopes to maintain values recognized from his youth growing up in Ithaca.

August 28, 2023

Common Council Candidate Saint-Perez Makes Cornell Central to Campaign

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Third-year law student Pierre Saint-Perez grad grew up surrounded by Ithaca’s natural beauty and supportive community. After finishing his undergraduate degree at Carnegie Mellon University, Saint-Perez returned to Ithaca to attend Cornell Law School. He now aims to give back to the city that raised him by running for the Third Ward’s two-year Common Council seat as a Democrat in the hopes that he can maintain what he considers to be Ithaca’s central characteristics.

“We’ve always been a welcoming community. That’s part of our nature,” Saint-Perez said. “But we need to make sure that as we grow, we don’t lose our core aspects of what makes Ithaca so special.”

Saint-Perez said one of his top priorities is the negotiation process between the City of Ithaca and Cornell over the mutual memorandum of understanding regarding Cornell’s Payments In Lieu Of Taxes to the city, which is set to expire in June 2024. 

As an educational institution, Cornell is largely exempt from property taxes despite owning roughly 47 percent of the city’s property value. It instead pays about 1.6 million — or 0.03 percent of its $5.26 billion annual operating expenses — in annual PILOTs to the city, whereas Ithaca residents pay a cumulative $30.5 million annually in property taxes. The City of Ithaca, meanwhile, has faced growing homelessness, increased housing prices and decreased TCAT services.

“It sometimes feels like Cornell isn’t pulling its weight in our more cohesive situation and relationship,” Saint-Perez said. “Cornell needs to contribute to our community, just like we as a community contribute to Cornell. We work together to build a better experience for residents, for students, for faculty, to attract the professors that make this university so incredible.”

Saint-Perez said he believes Cornell should help pay for municipal improvements such as sidewalk and infrastructure repairs — the quality of which drew ire from Ithacans during the primary elections in June — since the University would benefit as much as the city does from the improvements.

“I don’t think that’s an unreasonable ask from an institution in town that relies on and uses those sidewalks and roads,” Saint-Perez said.

Saint-Perez also acknowledged the ongoing housing crisis in Ithaca as one of the central problems the city is facing. Housing prices in Ithaca have consistently increased in the last few years, and Ithaca is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. In Tompkins County, the annual cost of living is $110,163, more expensive than Los Angeles County — which has an annual cost of living of $102,226 — and comparable to San Diego County — which has an annual cost of living of $110,158.

Saint-Perez pointed to the issue of Southwest Woods — the part of Ithaca that houses the homeless encampment better known as The Jungle — as a summation of his viewpoints.

“A lot of the people who live in Southwest Woods are victims,” Saint-Perez said. “I think the city should be doing something. We need to provide some level of dignified living for people who are clearly falling through the cracks in our social fabric.”

Anthony Nagle ’27 is a Sun contributor. He can be reached at [email protected].