Editor’s Note: The following is an opinion column by Michael Smith, reporter for the Ithaca Voice. As always, we welcome dissenting viewpoints.

ITHACA, NY – There’s no getting around the fact that this year’s presidential election has been ugly. Lies, insults and scandals have trumped (no pun intended) matters of policy.

Even when it comes to policy, partisanism can quickly derail any conversation, as both sides withdraw into their ideological corners, and anything the other candidate does is automatically considered a failure, if not disruptive to the very fabric of America.

That’s why watching State Senator Tom O’Mara and his Democratic Challenger Leslie Danks Burke debate on Saturday was rather refreshing.

While the debate may not have been as exciting and bombastic as what we’ve seen on the national stage, it was, above all, civil and, to abuse a cliche, showed that “we’re really not that different after all.”

While there were a few barbs traded here and there, the debate was focused on issues and as often as not, the two candidates had similar viewpoints. It was exemplary of how the two-party is supposed to function: disagreement, but with room for compromise.

For example, when the issue of the controversial gun control legislation known as the SAFE Act came up, one might expect a liberal Democrat from progressive Ithaca to defend it.

Instead, Danks Burke was blunt in her response, saying that the SAFE Act was simply not accomplishing what it was set up to do. She talked about how she herself had tried to purchase a gun to understand the process, and felt that the restrictions imposed were too much. Danks Burke and O’Mara also agreed that mental health was a serious piece of the gun violence puzzle.

Similarly, on the topic of energy, Danks Burke came out strong advocating for an urgent focus on climate change. O’Mara didn’t toe the party line and suggest that climate change was a hoax — rather he agreed but advocated a more balanced approach to gradually phasing out fossil fuels, as he argued that it was unreasonable to completely cut fossil fuels in the immediate future.

There were other issues that the two disagreed more strongly on. But in some alternate reality where the two were colleagues and not contenders for the same seat, you could see how the two might find a compromise and actually produce meaningful policy.

Regardless of how you might feel about their policy positions, it was refreshing to see candidates who didn’t treat each other like enemies, weren’t afraid to say that the other was right on an issue and weren’t afraid to step away from their party’s dogma to have an honest conversation.


Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.