ITHACA, N.Y. — On Monday, local software engineer Ducson Nguyen announced that he would be seeking to represent Ithaca’s Second Ward on the Common Council.


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Become an educated home buyer

Nguyen, 35, appears to be running for the seat against Isabelle Ramos; J.R. Clairborne, who currently holds the Second Ward seat, has not filed the necessary petitions to run on a local party line. (We’ve also reached out to Ramos for an interview.)

Ducson Nguyen is running for Ithaca’s Common Council. Provided photo

Here are the 7 questions we asked Nguyen in an interview on Tuesday; click on the one you’re interested in to see his answer, or read the entire story in order.

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1 – What’s your top priority for Council?
2 – What do you think think of how the city has handled the Commons construction project?
3 – Do you support the controversial 210 Hancock Street building proposal? If so, why?
4 – Do you think an 11-story building is appropriate for the Trebloc site in downtown Ithaca?
5 – What do you think of 1) dogs on the Commons and 2) chickens in the home?
6 – What in your background qualifies you for the post? Why are you a good candidate?
7 – What’s your ideal Friday night in Ithaca, and why?

1 — Thanks for speaking with us. What’s your top priority for Council?

DN: “My top priority is housing. Maybe people might feel like they’re sick of hearing about it, but I genuinely think it’s the biggest issue the city faces … While canvassing, I talked to all sorts of people who are worried about their rents going up or have lived here for decades and are seeing their property values increase (which translates into higher property taxes).”

“Anyone who downplays the housing crisis isn’t talking to enough people; I don’t want the city to turn into a playground for rich people — I like having a diverse mix of people, in terms of race and income levels and occupations and all kinds of diversity — and you’re going to lose some of that if you can’t keep people in their homes.”

“The other cool thing about housing is that it’s linked to everything people care about in the city: If you care about sustainability and you don’t want to see sprawl into Lansing and the suburban areas, it’s important to build housing …

“I can say I’m someone with the extreme pleasure of walking to work for the past two years, not having to deal with the road rage and things like that — these are benefits I want to extend to as many people as want it because I think it’s better for our environmental and for our mental health.”

Learn more about the Commons construction project with the Ithaca Voice Story Database, introduced today.
Click on the Ithaca Voice Story Database to learn more. Topics addressed in this interview are filed under “Affordable housing crisis in Ithaca; Hancock Street building proposal; Ithaca Commons construction project; & Treblock site draws 11-story building plan.”

2 — What do you think think of how the city has handled the Commons construction project?

DN: “I think there’s no question it could have done better, but I do want to give them credit for doing the best they could — presumably, I hope at least — under some difficult circumstances. They didn’t know the conditions of the infrastructure in the middle of the Commons other than that it was old and needed replacement.

“So while it’s extremely frustrating to see constant construction, I think large municipal projects are difficult and I personally am a little more forgiving because I know from, say, renovating my own house — which is a tiny comparison — that things go out of schedule and problems come up that you have to deal with.”

“That said, there are incidents that they could have thought better about … the traffic light obscuring the sign — I think it’s an enormous issue. … That was a pretty huge oversight. I don’t know how that passed the planning staff. … I think we may want to review things a little more carefully in the future and, in general, make more accurate estimates.”

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“Maybe part of the problem was that promising the Commons in 18 months, or whatever it was, was grossly unrealistic and people need to have the strength to stand up against these optimistic projections that they come up with just to get the project approved. I’m not saying that’s what they did … but you want to be accurate, so you don’t give people false expectations.”

3 — Do you support the controversial INHS 210 Hancock Street building proposal? If so, why?

DN: “I do support it. And I support it because it provides a lot of housing that is badly needed.”

“I also went to all three of the open houses INHS had, and — first of all, having the open houses was great. Getting the neighborhood’s input was a great way to stay communicative, and I think they learned lessons from the Stone Quarry project that they applied (to Hancock) …

“It’s really badly needed. It’s at the end of the neighborhood and seems an appropriate place for it. … a lot of these complaints won’t bear out in the end and we’ll really enjoy having more people in that neighborhood … Parking, for instance — INHS knows roughly how many people will own cars (based on their work from prior projects) and how many won’t. And I think they’re taking that into account.”

4 — Do you think an 11-story building is appropriate for the Trebloc site in downtown Ithaca?

DN: “I think it could be a little more attractive, and that’s where form-based planning — which I’m trying to learn as much as I can about going forward — it could be more attractive, but that area is zoned for that height and I think it makes sense to try and maximize density in the core of the city.”

“It’s been kind of hard to convey this to people, but the housing market works on supply and demand like any other market; when we have extraordinary demand like we do in the city of Ithaca, the best way to take pressure off the pricing is to increase the supply and we have an opportunity here to make a substantial dent in supply. And for that reason I’m very interested in it.”

The building proposed for downtown Ithaca’s Trebloc building site

“We can make it fit in better aesthetically with the late 19th century buildings that surround it; that would be great. But in general, I’m certainly not opposed to really tall buildings that make an admittedly small dent in the housing crisis but a necessary one.”

5 — What do you think of 1) dogs on the Commons and 2) chickens in the home? 

DN: “I was actually not opposed to dogs on the Commons as long as you were very strict about people picking up after them. If we want to encourage the Commons as a shopping corridor, we should be okay with dogs — but people don’t pick up around their house and it’s irritating, so I understand why people are concerned about that …

“I am not in favor of raising backyard chickens. I love the locally grown food movement and I’m a huge fan of the community gardens, but I think chickens in an urban environment can be noisy and interaction with other animals in the neighborhood can be difficult. Someone recently told me their dog killed their neighbor’s chicken — that was in a suburban setting, but at the same time (backyard chickens) introduce a lot of problems that can cause discord between neighbors.”

6 — What in your background qualifies you for the post? Why are you a good candidate?

DN: “I genuinely love the city. I love my life here — I grew up in New Jersey, where you did not know your neighbors too well. There’s community here — I find a lot of people who are really involved.

“I get to walk to work every day — my life here is amazing, and I want to be sure as many people as possible have access to this lifestyle. The current mayor and the current Common Council as a whole has been fighting this fight, and I don’t want us to reverse course.”

“I’m also a policy wonk and enjoy the nitty gritty of really arcane city policies, and I like to make data-driven decisions, and I think it will be interesting to research and experiment with what works and what doesn’t work. We should be okay trying things to see what actually improves the city.”

7 — What’s your ideal Friday night in Ithaca, and why?

DN: “I do love going to Cinemapolis and watching movies there and the different types of films they show. My ideal evening probably involves dinner at Saigon Kitchen (Nguyen notes he is the son of Vietnamese parents), then a movie at Cinemapolis – probably a documentary, though a nice indie comedy would be good too … and then drinks at The Westy, especially when you can sit outside and play corn-hole.”

“And the fact that I can walk to all those things, not to sound like a broken record, is a great privilege. (It is) something I want everyone else to have: To be able to have a drink and not have to worry about driving back out to Newfield.”

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.