Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Phoebe Brown (D-2nd Ward) speaks at a Common Council meeting on Oct. 11. Following redistricting, Brown is now running for Ward 1's two-year seat.

October 30, 2023

Phoebe Brown Aims for Local Equity Development in Common Council Campaign

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“I’m just the type of person where if there’s work to do, and you ask me, I’m going to do it.”

Phoebe Brown (D-2nd Ward) is running for her second, two-year Common Council term as one of three inaugural members of the progressive Solidarity Slate. Since district lines have shifted, Brown is running for the Ward 1 seat, different from her previous term in Ward 2. She currently serves as the Central Regional Coordinator for Alliance of Families for Justice, a nonprofit aimed to provide support to the loved ones of incarcerated individuals so that they can unite their power and generate systemic change. 

Brown discussed her motivations for running for her second term on the Common Council in an interview with The Sun. 

“I want to be a person who represents a population of people who have been through some of the life changes that I’ve gone through,” Brown said. “I’m 69. I want to encourage seniors, … young Black and brown people, … LGBTQ people to know [that] … whatever has happened in your life should not limit you from wanting to be the voice of the unheard.”

Brown is a longtime Ithaca resident. Arriving 31 years ago from Harlem, N.Y., she stayed with a friend until she became a tenant, while recovering from addiction, with the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services. 

To Brown, one of the largest issues in the city is homelessness, including those who are couchsurfing.

“Homelessness is a top priority,” Brown said. “There are some homeless people who are couch surfing.” 

Brown also mentioned that she wants to focus her efforts on developing free childcare services and including reparations that the city can begin to give Black people in the city budget. The reparations would be similar to the nationwide appeals for reparations to repay for the decades-long suffering endured by Black individuals, fuelling the country’s economy until the late 1800s. 

“We all have the same issues at hand,” Brown said. “[To fix the] systemic problems that we worry about, [we must focus on] uniting us all, getting to a place where we see our similarities and not our differences.”

The Memorandum of Understanding between Cornell and the city was recently approved, seeing the University provide a $4 million voluntary contribution to the City for a revised time frame of 15 years, adjusted annually to inflation. Brown discussed her choice to approve the MOU despite her desire to strike a better deal. 

“We would have a big gap in our budget without it,” Brown said. “[Cornell] is a non-profit, and the state has given them the right not to be taxed. Our work has to start with the state and changing that [policy].”

In her previous term, Brown has worked on initiatives like Reimagining Public Safety, which she claims still needs much more work, hoping to potentially shift some ethical police funding to different grassroots social services. Brown said that she actively seeks input from members of the community so that they can feel heard.

Passion and love for her community is what Brown claims to qualify her for a spot on the Common Council. 

“A … hope of still seeing change for the individuals in our community who have been waiting. And so I feel like I’m, well, [what] they’ve been waiting for,” said Brown. 

According to Brown, changing wards will not change how she approaches her policies — Brown said she is very connected to Ward 1, where she looks forward to connecting with constituents should she be elected.

“I still am going to be available for my constituents,” Brown said. “I’m still going to respond to whatever I can and give [all the] information that I have.”

Initially unchallenged in the Democratic party, Brown will now face conservative activist Zach Winn (R-1st Ward) in November’s general elections.

Early voting for the Common Council election runs from Oct. 28 to Nov. 5. The election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 7.