ITHACA, N.Y. — With Tompkins County Legislator Carol Chock opting not to seek reelection, the District 3 seat is being hotly contested by at least three people vying for the position.
Longtime activist and Cornell University alumna Carolina Osorio Gil is among the candidates, bringing experience in community organizing and outreach to the table.
“I’m an active member of the community and I feel like getting involved in local politics is a civic duty,” Osorio Gil said.
Osorio Gil is hoping to represent the central Ithaca area. She is running under the platform of participatory democracy in conjunction with newly announced District 4 Candidate Reed Steberger.
“It’s all this fresh blood, all the fresh energy — to me is energizing but it’s also validating for work that we’ve been doing for a long time,” she said
Osorio Gil has been an organizer in the community for more than a decade. She currently works as the director of CULTURA Ithaca and as the engagement coordinator for the Latina/o Studies Program at Cornell University. She has also served on a variety of local boards, such as the Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County and The Ithaca Festival.
Osorio Gil said affordable housing is a huge issue for her as a candidate. She has been a renter for the better part of her 18 years in Ithaca, but she doesn’t believe that means she shouldn’t have a seat at the table for the discussion about affordable housing.
“As renters, we do indirectly pay property taxes. We are part of this economy,” she said, adding that she has seen first-hand how gentrification and rising rent prices push people out of Ithaca.
About a year and a half ago, her good friend Ana Ortiz was among three tenants who were forced out of their homes after Elmira Savings Bank purchased a lot on the 100 block of North Meadow Street in December 2015. Ortiz was subsequently forced to suddenly move and ended up living in the town of Caroline.
“She lives in Caroline and here is a primary example of an active person of color, a person people say they say they want to support…and is now pushed out… “Osorio Gil said. “That could have pushed her out of our community.”
Instead, she said her friend has made the effort to remain a part of the Ithaca community. It’s possible that that may not have been the case for her.
The displacement and gentrification of Ithaca can also be linked to accessibility to social services, she said.
For instance, two years ago, she said she spent her birthday at a social services office with two Latina women who clearly did not speak English well.
“I saw with my own eyes how they were being treated differently from me,” she said. “That to me was a moment like, oh my God, this is institutional racism.”
The inequity with which the women were treated hits close to home for Osorio Gil. She is a Colombian-born woman who came to this country undocumented when she was 4-and-a-half years-old, became a permanent resident when she was 12, and became a U.S. citizen when she turned 18-years-old.
Osorio Gil moved to Ithaca in 1998 to attend Cornell and studied Cognitive Psychology and later went on to earn her Master’s in Curriculum and Teaching from Columbia University Teachers College.
She said the difference in how the women were treated while trying to receive basic services was easily apparent to her, a light-skinned Latinx woman who speaks English well and has an Ivy League education.
“I have the privilege of experiencing the difference…,” Osorio Gil said.
And it’s the local immigrants who are working some of the lowest wage jobs in the community at restaurants, hotels and on farms. A lot of the problems in the county, she said, are compounded by the lack of living wage being paid to many people — immigrant or otherwise.
“Everyone deserves a living wage,” she said.
If elected, Osorio Gil plans on ensuring that people have a clear voice in the policies being made locally and have easily accessible and understandable access to information that impacts the county.
“I think people are really realizing that you really do need to start local or be local,” she said. “You can be nationally engaged but you need to be locally engaged.”
To learn more about Osorio Gil, and her perspectives on the possible jail expansion, mass incarceration, living wage and climate change, visit her website here.
Featured image: Carolina Osorio Gil speaks at the Southside Community Center before the May Day rally and march May 1. Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice