Iskander Khan/Sun Staff Writer

During a small event held at the Ithaca chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, Janis Kelly '71 (left) and Zach Winn both underscored crime and safety as central campaign issues.

September 6, 2023

Local Republicans Launch Campaigns for Common Council, Mayor

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Zach Winn and Janis Kelly ’71 launched their campaigns for Ithaca Common Council and mayor, respectively, on the Republican ticket on Sunday, Sept. 3. At a small event at the Ithaca chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, Winn — who is running for the two-year seat in the 1st Ward — and Kelly both highlighted crime and safety as key campaign issues.

Winn, a son of Cornell alumni and local conservative activist, is no stranger to Ithaca elections. Winn ran in the 2022 special election for mayor, receiving just 8.7 percent of votes in the general election. Winn also ran for mayor in 2007 under the Anti-Death Party, advocating for a reduction in the police force, more control over Ithaca schools and establishing Ithaca as the Mecca of marijuana. He is presently co-chairman of the City of Ithaca Republican Committee.

“Mainline Democrats are being cannibalized from within by Marxists, socialists and communists who are intent on seizing power,” Winn said during Sunday’s campaign lunch. “These people are capable of anything and are clearly willing to use violence, intimidation and terrorist tactics.”

Zachary Winn, co-chairman of the City of Ithaca Republican Committee, launched his campaign for the two-year seat in the 1st Ward of the Ithaca Common Council. (Jason Wu/Sun Senior Editor)

Throughout the evening, Winn disparaged the Ithaca Democratic Socialists, Ithaca Tenants Union, New York Working Families Party and The Solidarity Slate. He also brought up the 2021 incident of Ithaca Tenants Union organizer Genevieve Rand, who blocked a police vehicle responding to a ‘shots fired’ call.

“They know they’re not going to get in any trouble because the former mayor, and to a lesser extent the current one, have allowed them to do whatever they want without any consequences,” Winn said.

For Kelly, a medical journalist and member of the City of Ithaca Republican Committee, a revitalized Republican presence in Ithaca is a long time coming.

“​​The last decade of all-Democrat, machine-like city administration has set the City of Ithaca on the path of unsustainable job-killing policies, regulatory overkill and financial foolishness. … Our situation will worsen unless we make a major course correction now. The rebirth of the Republican Party in the city will help make that change,” Kelly wrote in a 2010 press release as chair of the city Republican Party.

The two candidates maintained the importance of a Republican counterweight in Ithaca on Sunday.

“I don’t like elections with predetermined outcomes. A one-party system lends itself to abuses of power,” Winn said, calling for a “forensic audit of City Hall.”

Ithaca’s current situation regarding drug use and addiction was also discussed. Kelly found issue with the city’s broader approach towards the homeless population, especially in regards to the large homeless encampment known as “The Jungle.” The site, located along Six Mile Creek, has been home to deaths, explosions from methamphetamine production, widespread drug usage and a recent kidnapping

“I think one of the problems with the city’s approach — and particularly with Mr. [Jorge] DeFendini’s [’22, alderperson for the Fourth Ward] approach to the homeless encampments — is that they are prioritizing the rights and needs of people who are behaving in criminal ways,” Kelly said. “They are ignoring the safety and rights of taxpayers and hardworking citizens.”

Kelly and Winn also took issue with poor planning around the new 40-bed detox center in Lansing, which has been facing major staffing issues. Additionally, they questioned the effectiveness of the Cayuga Addiction and Recovery Services clinic at the corner of State and Plain streets, with Winn claiming the clinic lies directly across from an active crack den.

“We’re behind the curve in dealing with [fentanyl],” Kelly said. 

Winn and Kelly both described death and violence in Ithaca as their biggest priorities. The candidates touched on the issue of sexual offenders and general safety in The Jungle. 

According to a report commissioned by the Center for Policing Equity and based on data from the Ithaca Police Department, violent crimes in Ithaca occurred at a 54 percent higher rate in 2021 compared to the moving average over the five years prior. Over that same period, arrests are down, with felony arrests down 26 percent and violation arrests down 77 percent.

Winn argued that Ithaca’s issues of drug use, homelessness and crime had a basis in poor policy choices, not mere circumstance. 

“Why are these big city issues in a small town? That tells me that it is not an issue of size but an issue of policy in Ithaca,” Winn said.

With nearly 100,000 migrants arriving in New York City since the spring of 2022, the two candidates also discussed the issue of Ithaca as a sanctuary city as the state seeks to manage the unprecedented number of migrants within the state.

Winn also said that the city needs more police given its population. 

“More communication and less blame,” Kelly said, on dealing with the Ithaca Police Department. Kelly called for adequate resources, training and support for the police department, but also proper accountability.

The conversation between the candidates and attendees continued for two hours, touching on a wide spectrum of issues — including gaps in TCAT service.

“You can’t have a job at Cornell University or Ithaca College and make it home on a bus. If I’m elected, one of the first things I would like to do is to hopefully get on the advisory board for TCAT. There are a number of issues there,” Winn said.

Kelly’s run comes as Ithaca switches its style of governance to a city manager format, absorbing much of the administrative tasks normally left to the mayor. Yet, she affirmed that even under the new system, as mayor, she would maintain an active role in interfacing with members of the community and the Common Council.

Kelly will be facing Robert Cantelmo grad — who won his primary election unopposed — in the mayoral race. Winn will face Phoebe Brown, a member of Ithaca’s Solidarity Slate who was a Second Ward representative before being redistricted into the First Ward.

With the general election on Nov. 7 and early voting starting on Oct. 28, the candidates plan on ramping up their campaigns in the coming weeks. 

“We are optimistic,” Kelly said. “We are the happy warriors, and we are willing to work hard to move things off the dime.”