Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Voters cast their vote at the Alice Cook House polling location on Nov. 7, 2023.

November 7, 2023

LIVE UPDATES: 2023 Election Results for Ithaca’s Common Council, Mayor

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This story will be updated as election results come in.

Cantelmo Grad Elected Mayor of Ithaca

By Sofia Rubinson

Robert Cantelmo grad (D), a current alderperson for the Fifth Ward, won the mayoral seat against Janis Kelly ’71, which will make him the first mayor to work with a city manager — a position that will take on the day-to-day implementation of regulations within the city.

Cantelmo previously told The Sun he would use his position to act as a policy driver and community builder, especially as the role of the mayor’s official capacities are reduced, illustrated by the more than 50 percent salary decrease compared to his predecessor Mayor Laura Lewis (D). 

“What’s really important now for Ithaca is that the mayor will be freed up to be the political leader and the policy driver for the city,” Cantelmo said. “That requires the mayor adopting the persona of coalition building, of listener, of policy and subject matter expert, and really digging into the issues that are facing the community.”

As mayor, Cantelmo said he hopes to prioritize completing the goals of the Ithaca Green New Deal and reimagining public safety efforts. He also believes Ithaca has a housing crisis that requires continuous efforts to adequately address.

As a representative for the Fifth Ward, Cantelmo worked to codify Ithaca as an abortion sanctuary city, which secured a new amendment and article in the city code to declare Ithaca a safe place for reproductive rights. He also helped establish a pay transparency law — over a year before the statewide transparency law took effect — to help workers understand their income opportunities and potential pay discrimination.

Even though Cantelmo had a decade-long career in the nonprofit sector in Washington D.C. prior to moving to Ithaca and is finishing his Ph.D. in government, he said his aspirations remain on engaging in local politics.

“I love the idea of raising my kids in this community. I love the idea of being settled, having seen them grow up with their friends, of giving them that stability,” Cantelmo previously told The Sun. “I really love the [research], but my passion is absolutely public service in my community. And I look forward to being able to provide that stability in my family for staying in a community that’s given a lot to us already.”

Cantelmo’s term will end on Dec. 31, 2027.

Kayla Matos Defeats Longtime Incumbent Cynthia Brock for First Ward Four-Year Seat

By Kate Sanders

Kayla Matos (D) has defeated 12-year incumbent Cynthia Brock (D-First Ward) for the four-year Common Council seat. 

Matos, who has called herself a “progressive democratic socialist,” ran as the Democratic nominee after overtaking Brock in the June 27 primary election, while Brock ran as an independent on the Ithacans for Progress party line. 

Matos serves as the deputy director for Southside Community Center, and she is a proponent of increased city partnership with community organizations and nonprofits.

“I’m really advocating for stronger city support with non-profits or community organizations that are doing the everyday groundwork to help our community be a better place, and that would include organizations like OAR, REACH and No Más Lágrimas,” Matos said in a prior interview with The Sun. 

Matos is an advocate of increasing the availability of affordable housing. Matos said that as alderperson, she will attempt to re-examine the city’s zoning policies to accommodate more affordable housing, particularly for working families who are facing increasingly burdensome rent costs, gentrification and displacement.

Matos is in favor of ensuring the city follows through on the police reforms outlined in the Reimagining Public Safety plan and believes that crime is caused by a lack of resources. She considers homeless encampments on the West End one of the most pressing issues facing the First Ward and said that providing resources for people experiencing homelessness could address public safety concerns.

“One of the first ways that we start reducing crime is providing the resources that those in the encampments need [through policy], but I also think that we need case workers and organizations that are working with them directly, like REACH, to be in there and be able to provide resources,” Matos said.

Matos’s term will expire on Dec. 31, 2027.

Brown Elected to First Ward Two-Year Seat

By Jack Grossman

Phoebe Brown (D-2nd Ward) beat Zachary Winn (R) by a margin of 84 percent to 16 percent. This will be Brown’s second term on the Common Council, previously serving the Second Ward’s two-year seat. 

After redistricting, Brown will now represent the First Ward, which covers much of western Ithaca. 

Brown came to Ithaca more than two and a half decades ago from Harlem in an attempt to achieve sobriety. “I’ve been able now to be clean for over 25 years, going on 26 years,” she said to The Ithaca Voice

Brown has been a long-time community activist in Ithaca, currently serving as the Central Regional Coordinator for the Alliance of Families for Justice, an organization that aims to “to support, empower and mobilize families with incarcerated loved ones and justice-involved individuals so that they can marshal their collective power and catalyze systemic change,” according to their website. 

Brown has prioritized ensuring access to resources for marginalized communities in Ithaca. Alongside this goal, Brown has committed to combating other social justice issues in the City of Ithaca. 

“Homelessness is a top priority,” Brown previously told the Sun. “There are some homeless people who are couch surfing.” 

Running on the Solidarity State, Brown aims to “create a resilient Ithaca that prioritizes strong relationships and healthy neighborhoods,” according to their website. 

In her previous term, Brown has worked on initiatives such as 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.

Brown’s term will end on Dec. 31, 2025.

Nguyen Elected to Second Ward Four-Year Seat

By Jonathan Brand

Ducson Nguyen (D) was re-elected to the Second Ward’s four-year seat after running uncontested. This marks his third term on the City of Ithaca’s Common Council, but also his last

After his term is over, Nguyen told The Ithaca Voice that he hopes to “spend more time with [his] family and have the bandwidth to pursue hobbies and work on [his] career.” 

The Second Ward, which was redrawn beginning in 2023, represents most of Downtown Ithaca and the Fall Creek neighborhoods, Washington Park and part of the East Hill Neighborhood.

First elected in 2015, Nguyen has been an advocate for improving the quality of transportation in Ithaca. He served on a working group responsible for producing some of the Reimagining Public Safety recommendations in Ithaca, and is a fighter for housing and tenant protection. Nguyen was also appointed Acting Mayor by Laura Lewis in 2023.

Nguyen also served on the TCAT board, where he, according to 14850 Today, “worked on its selection of a general manager, the bus fleet’s electrification and a study of fare free transit.”

Aside from his duties on the Common Council, Nguyen is a full time software engineer at Crowdstrike. He earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from Rutgers University and his master’s degree from Villanova University. 

Nguyen’s term will end on Dec. 31, 2027.

Haines-Sharp Elected to Second Ward Two-Year Seat

By Kate Sanders

Kris Haines-Sharp (D), who was appointed to Common Council in February to fill a vacancy caused by Mayor Laura Lewis’s ascension to mayor, has been elected to the Second Ward two-year seat. Haines-Sharp ran uncontested as the Democratic nominee.

Ward Two consists of the majority of downtown Ithaca and the southern portion of Collegetown. Haines-Sharp currently serves as a Fifth Ward alderperson, but has been redistricted into Ward Two.

According to her website, Haines-Sharp is “committed to the work of dismantling power differentials that have minoritized and marginalized many in our communities.” She prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and is a proponent of city reforms including Reimagining Public Safety and the Ithaca Green New Deal

As an alderperson, Haines-Sharp currently sits on the Program Oversight Committee of the Community Housing Development Fund and is a standing member of the City Administration Committee

Haines-Sharp is a former teacher and school administrator, having previously served as assistant principal of the New Roots Charter School for nine years. She has lived in Ithaca for over 20 years.

Haines-Sharp’s term will end on Dec. 31, 2025.

Shapiro Elected to Third Ward Four-Year Seat

By Anthony Nagle

David Shapiro (D) was elected to the Third Ward’s four-year seat on the Common Council. Shapiro ran uncontested as the Democratic nominee with the newly redrawn wards. 

The Third Ward consists of the South Hill area, East Hill’s Belle Sherman neighborhood and portions of Collegetown. 

Shapiro was the executive director of Family and Children’s Services in Ithaca for seven years. Shapiro was also a founding board member of Ithaca’s Unbroken Promise Initiative, which is a nonprofit organization that focuses on racial injustice in the West End community in Ithaca. 

Shapiro has called for more affordable housing for Ithaca residents and for more affordable rent options. Shapiro believes this can be done with increased zoning in neighborhoods. 

Shapiro also has called on his website for increased negotiating with Cornell, completing work to re-imagine public safety, and implementing the Ithaca Green New Deal. 

Shapiro previously ran for the Tompkins County Legislature and was defeated by Henry Granison (D) in 2017. 

Shapiro’s term will end on Dec. 31, 2027.

Saint-Perez Elected to Third Ward Two-Year Seat 

By Anthony Nagle 

Pierre Saint-Perez grad (D) was elected to the Third Ward’s two-year seat on the Common Council after defeating Pat Sewell (I). This will be Saint-Perez’s first term on the Common Council. 

The Third Ward consists of the South Hill area, East Hill’s Belle Sherman neighborhood and portions of Collegetown.

Saint-Perez, a third-year Cornell law student, finished his undergraduate degree at Carnegie Mellon university in ethics, history and public policy.

Saint-Perez, in an interview with The Sun, emphasized the need for a strong relationship between Cornell and Ithaca, which he does not believe is occurring presently. 

“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 has acknowledged in a prior interview with The Sun the ongoing housing crisis in Ithaca as a central issue Cornell is facing. 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 also plans to prioritize improving the homeless encampment in Ithaca known as “the Jungle,” which is located in the First Ward. 

“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.”

Saint-Perez’s term will expire on Dec. 31, 2025.

DeFendini ’22 Leads Fourth Ward Four-Year Seat Against Write-In Patrick Kuehl ’24

By Iskander Khan, Jonathan Mong and Jack Grossman

The race between Jorge DeFendini ’22 (D-Fourth Ward) and write-in candidate Patrick Kuehl ’24, the president of the Student Assembly, for the Fourth Ward’s four-year seat for the Common Council is too close to call. DeFendini, who originally ran unopposed, currently has 28 votes, while write-in candidates have 12 votes. The Tompkins County Board of Elections said write-in votes will not be tabulated until Wednesday, Nov. 15. Not all absentee ballots and affidavit ballots have been counted as of 3:20 p.m. on Nov. 8.

Thirty-eight affidavit ballots — just two votes shy of the 40 ballots currently counted — were cast in the Fourth Ward, according to the Tompkins County BOE.

If elected, this will be DeFendini’s second term on the Common Council, having been elected in 2021. He will represent the Fourth Ward, which was recently redrawn to encompass Cornell’s Central Campus, West Campus and Collegetown. 

While at Cornell, DeFendini majored in government and American studies and minored in Latino studies. 

DeFendini ran on the leftist Solidarity Slate. He has pledged to fight for tenant and labor protections, echoing one of the Solidarity Slate’s missions of “governing alongside community organizations,” according to their website

Kuehl, a senior at Cornell who is a former EMT and dispatcher for Bangs Ambulance, told The Sun he decided to launch a write-in campaign because he was approached by several members of the community who were unhappy about how the Solidarity Slate approaches politics in Ithaca.

“I had no intention of running initially, but as it became clear to me that there were no other options at the current time, I agreed to be the candidate knowing that my future in Ithaca is uncertain; I have made that abundantly clear to both those involved with the campaign and the community members I have talked to throughout this process,” Kuehl said in a written statement to The Sun. “I believe that no person should run opposed, ideas should be challenged and the people should be given a choice. If there is no opposition, there is no accountability to make the world a better place.”

Kuehl said he and a few volunteers began canvassing about a month and a half ago, but did not speak to the press and had no website or campaign donations.

DeFendi recently voted to approve the modified version of the Memorandum of Understanding with Cornell. 

“The fact of the matter is, we don’t have the ability right now as a city to take on Cornell University with their tax exempt status and their army of lawyers,” DeFendi previously told the Sun. 

Earlier in the year, DeFendini sponsored a resolution to provide safe healthcare for transgender individuals in the City of Ithaca. 

“We have a power as a local government — whether it’s advocacy or actual policy and implementation — and we have a responsibility to use that with people’s best interests in mind,” DeFendini said to the council. 

The victor’s term will end Dec. 31, 2027.

Kumar ’24 Elected to Fourth Ward Two-Year Seat

By Iskander Khan

Tiffany Kumar ’24 was re-elected to the Fourth Ward’s two-year seat on the Common Council. 

Kumar ran uncontested as the Democratic nominee in Ithaca’s first election with re-drawn wards.

The re-drawn Fourth Ward encompasses Cornell’s central campus, along with West Campus and Collegetown, making it a heavily student populated constituency.

Kumar, who was also endorsed by the Working Families Party of New York, is in her final year at Cornell in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, having transferred from American University after her first year. Kumar will also graduate with a minor in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Kumar first ran in 2022 as part of the Solidarity Slate, winning her primary against the then-incumbent Patrick Mehler ’23 with over 70 percent of the electorate, making her the youngest Ithaca Common Council member elected in over a decade.

Kumar, who is a self-described socialist, has notably called for increased financial support from Cornell to the city, having spoken at a September protest calling for the University to contribute more. She recently voted in favor of the 15-year MOU between the city and University agreed upon by the council. 

Kumar’s term will end Dec. 31, 2025.

Fabrizio Elected to Fifth Ward Four-Year Seat

By Jonathan Brand

Margaret Fabrizio (D) was elected on Ithaca’s Fifth Ward at Common Council after running against Michelle Song ‘25 whose candidacy has remained dormant for months. This marks her first term on the City of Ithaca’s Common Council.

The Fifth Ward consists of Cornell’s North Campus, along with other places such as Cascadilla Park and Cornell Heights. Fabrizio has lived within the Fifth Ward for over four decades.

Fabrizio recently retired from working at Cornell, where she was the Director of The Carol Tatkon Center for first-year students starting in October 2014. She was also the administrator for Cornell in Rome and AAP NYC for 17 years.

Fabrizio would then become the first person to publicly announce her four-year term. With her election, Fabrizio hopes to make Ithaca a more affordable place to live. She believes that in order for Ithaca to improve, it needs to decrease the tax burden on its residents.

“Ithaca’s unaffordability has reached a breaking point,” Fabrizio said to The Ithaca Voice. “We are all negatively impacted whether students, renters, property owners, landlords, single parents, young families or retirees. Ithaca is under-resourced, which not only means rents and taxes are outrageously high and potholes big, it means we can’t afford the cost of being visionary either.” 

Prior to announcement to run, Fabrizio started a local movement called the Fair Share Campaign which, according to Ithaca.com, is “dedicated to making Ithaca more affordable by seeking equitable compensation through a payment in lieu of taxes for essential community services provided to Cornell University.”

Fabrizio was also involved in matters outside of the city. She was involved in the cleansing of Ithaca Falls, and advocated for its clean-up by others She also worked to protect areas of Fall Creek and helped combat the pollution of the former Ithaca Gun Site.

Fabrizio’s term will expire on Dec. 31, 2027.

Lederman/Houghton Race Too Close to Call

By Jonathan Mong

With all Election Day ballots counted, the Fifth Ward’s race for the two-year seat is too close to call. As of 11:33 p.m. on Nov. 7, Jason Houghton (I) leads Democratic nominee Clyde Lederman ’26 (D) 137-114, a margin of just 23 votes. The two candidates previously faced one another in the June 27 Democratic primaries, where Lederman edged out Houghton by 10 votes.

As a representative of the city’s re-drawn Fifth Ward, whoever wins between Houghton and Lederman will represent heavily student populated areas, spanning Cornell’s North Campus along with University Hill and Cornell Heights. 

Lederman aims to increase the reliability of the bus system and bring affordable housing to Ithaca. As a student himself, Lederman finds student interests important to consider.

“Students are a transient population with permanent interests,” Lederman said in a prior interview with The Sun.

As a representative of the city’s re-drawn Fifth Ward, Lederman will represent heavily student populated areas, spanning Cornell’s North Campus along with University Hill and Cornell Heights. 

Throughout his campaign, Lederman has called for greater funding for the TCAT.

“[TCAT] is not sustainable,” Lederman said in a previous interview with The Sun. “It’s about increasing funding so that we can reduce headways in the routes so buses run more frequently.”

Lederman also said in the interview that he supports the construction of accessory dwelling units to mitigate Ithaca’s one percent rental vacancy rate, just one symptom of Ithaca’s ongoing housing crisis.

“[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.”

But as a longer-term solution, Lederman advocated for the use of rent stabilization in Ithaca, citing success elsewhere.

Lederman, a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, currently serves on the Cornell Student Assembly as the clerk for the Office of Assemblies. If Lederman wins, he will be the youngest member currently sitting on the Common Council at just 19 years old when he is seated on Jan. 1, 2024.

Houghton, an information technology product manager at PNC Bank, said in a prior interview with The Sun that following his primary defeat, he reevaluated his campaign strategy, noting he had not received enough name recognition before Cornell students — who make up about 95 percent of the Fifth Ward’s population — became busy with their finals for the Spring 2023 semester.

“By the time I started putting my name out there and campaigning, students were really focused on finals,” Houghton said. “My outreach to students during the primary was really lacking.”

Houghton said he would not have voted for the memorandum of understanding that set Cornell’s contribution to the city at $4 million and adjust it annually based on inflation rates, saying in a prior interview with The Sun that he believed the six new labor contracts between Ithaca and its constituent public workers’ unions — which the city had settled in advance of the debate over the 2024 budget — had influenced the Common Council’s decision to vote in favor of the MOU.

“I think the City Council voted for [the MOU] because they felt pressure with the new labor contracts,” Houghton said, also pinning blame on the city’s lack of planning. “The city put itself in that situation for lack of foresight … It was a short time until they had to finalize next year’s budget — the $4 million was guaranteed for them for next year if they agreed to this. If they didn’t agree, the timeline was very short, and the $4 million was uncertain.”

Houghton also said he stood in favor of legislation at the state level that would force Cornell to provide monetary contributions to the city.

“Win or lose, I would like some legislation in Albany that somehow obligates Cornell to contribute to the city. I don’t think the city should just be reliant on Cornell’s generosity,” Houghton said, citing models from other cities which would tax dorms or profit-generating centers like the Statler Hotel. He also proposed policies tying Cornell’s contribution to Ithaca with the City’s tax levy.

The victor’s term will expire on Dec. 31, 2025.

Update, 11/8, 11:59 a.m.: With a lead of 109 votes and 98 uncounted ballots remaining, Kayla Matos (D) has defeated Cynthia Brock (D) for the First Ward’s four-year seat.

Update, 11/8, 3:30 p.m.: This story has been updated to include the write-in candidacy launched by Patrick Kuehl ’24.

Update, 11/8, 4:45 p.m.: This story has been updated to include a statement from Patrick Kuehl ’24.

Correction, 11/8, 3:30 p.m.: A previous version of this story misstated the term lengths for two Fifth Ward races. The article has been corrected.