Patrick Kuehl ’24 asserted his campaign was “far from secret” and that he was surprised Jorge DeFendini ’22 (D-Fourth Ward) and the Solidarity Slate — a group of three democratic socialist candidates — did not know about the campaign in a Nov. 8 email to The Sun.
“I and those volunteering with me have been talking to students and canvassing for about a month and a half. Though I did not talk to the press, had no campaign contributors and no website, my campaign was far from secret,” Kuehl wrote in his email. “I am really surprised that the [Solidarity] Slate did not find out earlier, at which point I would have talked to the press.”
But Kuehl, the Student Assembly’s president — who ran a write-in campaign for the Fourth Ward seat currently held by DeFendini — told The Sun on Wednesday, Oct. 11 that he was not running for Common Council when asked, despite his email stating he canvassed for “a month and a half” before Election Day — which was held on Nov. 7 this year.
“I’m not [running for Common Council] lmao who told u that [sic],” Kuehl said in the Oct. 11 statement, which was delivered via text message.
Kuehl told The Sun on Monday, Nov. 13 that at the time that message was sent, he had not committed to launching a write-in campaign. He said had been asked to run during the primary season — at which point he said no — but finalized his decision to run after Oct. 22.
The Sun first learned of Kuehl’s potential candidacy on Tuesday, Oct. 10, when a Sun reporter was invited to an Oct. 12 meeting by an anonymous source in 150 Warren Hall. The source told The Sun they and Kuehl would be announcing write-in candidacies for the Common Council at the meeting, with the source slated to challenge Margaret Fabrizio (D) for the Fifth Ward’s four-year seat, and that Clyde Lederman ’26 — S.A. representative and the Democratic nominee for the Fifth Ward’s two-year seat — would be present at the meeting.
Kuehl then called a Sun reporter on Oct. 11, saying the meeting was for planning purposes only and not open to the press, although the reporter contacted was permitted to attend “as a friend.” Nobody affiliated with The Sun attended the meeting, in congruence with its ethics policy that reporters may not publicly support candidates for any office. The source said the meeting was ultimately postponed, and they did not attend the rescheduled meeting because they decided not to pursue the campaign.
Following the call, Kuehl called The Sun’s source, instructing them not to inform anyone about the write-in campaign.
“Kuehl told me, ‘Don’t say anything to anyone,’” the source said. “Pretty quickly, he was telling me not to tell anybody about his write-in campaign.”
Kuehl confirmed to The Sun that he made this phone call.
“I was more worried about [the source’s] campaign because it wasn’t finalized yet, and neither was mine,” Kuehl said. “I hadn’t committed to anything. And I didn’t want to be stuck in a position where there was an article about me running when I wasn’t running.”
Despite Kuehl and Lederman’s vehement denials that they coordinated their campaigns, The Sun’s source said both candidates — as well as Tiffany Kumar ’24 (D-Fourth Ward) — were involved in planning both Kuehl’s run and the source’s run since the beginning of the Fall 2023 semester.
“The idea was for Kuehl, Lederman and Kumar — for each of them to win and have some sort of voting bloc within Common Council,” the source said. “This is something that they hatched together. That was their idea.”
A second source, who did not wish to be identified but who The Sun has confirmed worked closely with Kuehl and Lederman on the Student Assembly, told The Sun that the pair have worked closely with one another since they both joined the S.A.
Kumar — who said she was aware of Kuehl’s campaign — did not make a public endorsement in the race and further denied any involvement in Kuehl’s campaign in an interview with The Sun, calling it “kind of ridiculous.”
“I had meetings with Kuehl and Lederman to discuss Lederman’s candidacy,” Kumar said. “I knew about Kuehl’s write-in campaign, and I didn’t endorse.”
Kumar described the process in which candidates — Lederman and Kuehl, in her case — ask for the endorsement of another candidate, saying she knew of Kuehl’s strategy because part of asking for an endorsement entails detailing a campaign strategy.
“During the endorsement meeting, Kuehl explained several different avenues towards victory,” Kumar said. “At endorsement meetings, you usually explain your campaign and your path to victory, but again, I did not make any endorsements.”
However, Kumar also said she had low expectations for write-in campaigns in general, given their difficulty.
“I really assumed that write-in campaigns wouldn’t be that serious,” Kumar said. “A write-in campaign is incredibly difficult to pull off, especially against an active campaign.”
Yet despite Kuehl’s significant efforts toward his campaign and his clear desire to serve as a Common Council member, his willingness to serve the full four-year term — which would begin on Jan. 1 and expire on Dec. 31, 2027 — remains in question. Even as the news broke that Kuehl launched a write-in campaign the morning after Election Day, he was in San Francisco interviewing for a scholarship program that would place him in the United Kingdom next year. He remained in San Francisco on Thursday, Nov. 9 while the S.A. drafted and released a statement in response to his campaign.
Kuehl sent an email to The Sun on Nov. 8 in which he admitted that he may not remain in Ithaca beyond his expected graduation in August 2024, despite angling for political power as one of two alderpersons who would represent Collegetown and most of Cornell’s campus for the next four years.
“I do not know how long I will remain in Ithaca, but I hope that regardless of the outcome, this election will pave the way for alternative perspectives that work towards bringing our community together moving forward,” Kuehl wrote in the email.
However, Kuehl said he currently has no plans to leave Ithaca following his graduation, and did not rule out the possibility of serving his full term.
“I will be at Cornell until August,” Kuehl said. “And that’s what I told every single person that I’ve spoken to. I have no plans after that. So if I am elected to that position, then I will continue to serve as long as I am able.”
Kuehl stressed transparency in his decision to disclose that he could not commit to serving the full four-year term, which he said he told every constituent he spoke with.
“I don’t think it’s fair to the people to be dishonest with them and say that I’m certainly going to be here for the next four years,” Kuehl said. “I think that’s disingenuous.”
DeFendini drew a contrast between himself and Kuehl, saying he would remain in the community that he now calls home.
“Unlike Patrick, my future in Ithaca is not ‘uncertain’ as I intend to remain in the city I have made my home, with the community I am proud to represent,” DeFendini said in a Nov. 8 interview with The Sun.
Some constituents have taken issue with Kuehl’s failure to publicly announce his write-in campaign. Nick Wilson ’26, a local progressive with the People’s Organizing Collective, told The Sun that he has knocked on doors to advocate for newly-elected Alderperson Kayla Matos (D), who defeated Cynthia Brock (D-First Ward).
“If I knew that there was a genuine challenger to Jorge DeFendini in Ward 4, I would have been knocking on doors there,” Wilson said. “It’s irresponsible and undemocratic to deprive voters of that choice and to deprive people in the community the ability to weigh the merits of different candidates and evaluate different policy outcomes. … He hasn’t taken a public stance on a lot of the pressing local issues in Ithaca.”
The Tompkins County Board of Elections’ most recent update to the election results placed DeFendini ahead of all write-in candidates 28 votes to 12, but affidavit ballots and any absentee ballots received after Friday, Nov. 3 have yet to be counted. Of the 22 absentee ballots requested, 10 were addressed to the Sigma Phi fraternity house and another four were addressed to the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity house. Both houses are located in the Fourth Ward, where the Board of Elections received a total of 38 absentee and affidavit ballots combined.
Official results — including a breakdown of write-in candidates — are expected to be made available by the Board of Elections on Wednesday, Nov. 15.
Correction, Nov. 14, 10:31 a.m.: A previous version of this article had an incorrect title for Clyde Lederman ’26. The article has been corrected.