Jason Wu/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Voters fill in their ballots during Election Day 2022 at Ithaca Town Hall. Voters will flock to the polls once again on Tuesday, Nov. 7 for Ithaca's legislative elections.

October 30, 2023

Ithacans Express Their Key Issues Ahead of Election Day

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As election day approaches, candidates and their supporters have been ramping up campaign efforts. Leaflets and signs of support for candidates have become increasingly common outside people’s homes and in community spaces, and candidates have staged town-halls and other community events to capture the attention of voters.

Ahead of Ithaca’s upcoming legislative elections on Tuesday, Nov. 7, The Sun spoke to residents from all five of the city’s Wards to hear their biggest concerns and how they hope candidates will address them.

All 10 seats of Ithaca’s Common Council, as well as the Mayor’s office, are up for election. Adding to the unorthodox circumstances, six Alderpersons have declined to seek reelection, leaving fresh-faced, first-time candidates to vie for their places. For a detailed breakdown of each race, see The Sun’s 2023 voting guide.

One of the most commonly voiced concerns of residents was the perceived proliferation of Ithaca’s homeless population. According to the 2023 Point-in-Time Count, Ithaca’s homeless population increased by 10 percent from just last year. The issue is compounded by the city’s current lack of staffing and resources, as well as the divides among the general population about how to address the problem. 

Tim Gray, the owner of Comics for Collectors in Ithaca Commons for four decades, said that the increasing homeless population in the area was repelling customers. He expressed disappointment that the city’s police services were unable to address separate incidents of shoplifting or thievery, which have also increased in frequency. Gray also pointed to larger issues facing the Commons and Ward 1, where he believes a general disregard for rules in the area — including smoking, biking on the commons and speeding vehicles — has continued without city pushback. 

Other residents shared different views. Caleb Harned, a resident of Ward 4, said he felt that more humane policies were needed to address Ithaca’s homelessness crisis. He expressed disapproval of the city’s sanctioning of “The Jungle,” which served as an unofficial place of refuge for many homeless Ithacans, and said that budgets should be raised to provide services for these people who need help the most. This could include funding for proper treatment of opioid addiction, as well as general effort to destigmatize isolated members of the population. 

“It’s [become] hard for the unhoused population to be seen, heard, felt or loved,” Harned said. 

But concerns about general safety were echoed by people across the city, including a resident of Ward 2, who wished to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns, who said how shoplifting and crime had yet to subside since the rate upticks that followed the end of COVID lockdowns. 

“People can’t even be trusted in our [store] bathrooms without having a key,” they said. 

Policing emerged as a both a related and popular area of concern for voters and also served as an illustration of another divide in the Ithacan community. 

The Ithaca Police Department has grappled with historic levels of understaffing — with 36 vacancies in 2023 — resulting in increased overtime costs and difficulty responding to calls in need. This has been only compounded by a dip in community regions, which eventually spurred the Reimagining Public Safety initiative that strived to implement key reforms. There was also the controversy surrounding former acting police chief John Joly, who is currently on indefinite leave from his position and is pursuing a lawsuit against the city for discrimination and harassment following a complaint about hostilities in his work environment. 

Ashley Broadwell, a resident in Ward 2, said that a general police presence in the Commons and other popular areas had served to deter disorder, but that the policy had ended long ago. He also explained how having regular officers in certain areas could help create stronger bonds to the community. 

Another resident in Ward 3, who wished to remain anonymous for privacy concerns, echoed Broadwell’s thoughts, saying that officers should each have their own beats to create both a  relationship between officers and citizens and to promote overarching feelings of safety. She also stressed the need for Common Council to ensure the full staffing of the police department, and to allow greater civilian oversight through an organized body, of which would serve to hold police accountable to their responsibilities. 

Others were more wary about the city going all-in on policing. 

Biagio Abbatiello, a resident in Ward 1, said that perceptions of an uptick in crime did not correspond with reality, and that making the police force more efficient should be paired with humane policies. He also stressed that an increased police budget should not correlate with police militarization. 

Another common issue of concern among Ithacans was the city’s housing policies. Over the past several years, Ithaca has faced a three-pronged crisis: increased costs of homes, lack of affordable housing for low and middle income families and a growing population that increasingly strains the already low housing supply. 

Some, like Abbatiello, feel that the majority-Black neighborhood of Southside — which has been historically underdeveloped due to policies such as redlining — has been neglected by the city in favor of the Northside, which has had various redevelopment projects approved by Ithaca’s Planning Board. He pointed to the emergence of high rises that had developed in the latter, many of which are too costly for most residents and remain vacant while other Ithacans have no place to live.

Stefanie Green, a resident in Ward 5, said that this was a familiar problem in her Ward, where  unoccupied houses riddle an otherwise “very nice neighborhood.”

Harned had similar grievances, saying he felt much of the new housing was designed mostly for Cornell’s affluent student population. Now, when a resident does manage to buy a home, they feel as though they have no choice but to keep it indefinitely. 

Broadwell added that the city’s lack of resources meant that they have not yet updated infrastructure to accommodate for the new houses and residents (such as bridges, electric grids, parking lots and sewage systems), of which are favored by tax abatements. It is worth noting that Ithaca has recently received $4 million in federal funds to boost this ailing infrastructure. 

“[Ithaca] is not built to support that, and [developers] can wreak havoc on [the infrastructure] without having to pay for it — we do that [instead],” she said. 

Residents connected the issues of homelessness, policing, public services and housing costs to an underlying structural issue — Cornell’s relationship with Ithaca. 

Cornell and Ithaca only just recently ended a months-long legal conflict about the amount of money the University should pay to the city, an amount Cornell usually decides unilaterally due to the school’s exemption from property taxes. On Oct. 13, Cornell agreed to pay the city $4 million annually, up $2.4 million from its original payments of $1.6 million annually, but still well below the $32.5 million the city would receive if taxes were in place. 

“Cornell can make a name for themselves locally [instead of] globally. The relationship between the University and the City should become more symbiotic [instead of] parasitic,” Harned said. “We’re talking about a billion-dollar organization.” 

Election day is on Tuesday, Nov. 7. You can find the list of candidates here.