ITHACA, N.Y. — While the 2020 race for the White House is already in full swing, Democrats from around Tompkins County are gearing up for their own local battles this November. The Tompkins County Democratic Committee gathered at Stewart Park on Sunday to rally their slate of candidates and volunteers ahead of the 2019 election cycle featuring one of their party’s 2018 success stories, neighboring freshman Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY).

Democratic Committee members and volunteers met candidates for the upcoming 2019 elections as Democrats seek to expand their bench of elected officials across the county.

Both candidates and volunteers were front and center Sunday as Tompkins County Democratic Committee Chairman Jim Gustafson recognized called out the candidates for local offices on the ballot in November. Many of which aren’t competitive races such as Ithaca City Common Council where Republicans aren’t fielding any candidates. However, Gustafson highlighted especially competitive races such as in Lansing and Dryden as well as for State Supreme Court.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) takes questions from a crowd at the Tompkins County Democratic Committee picnic Sunday at Stewart Park. (Vaughn Golden/The Ithaca Voice)

Democrats and Republicans continue to wrestle over control of the Lansing Town Hall where Republican Edward LaVigne is running for reelection against Michael Koplinka-Loehr who lost his bid for Tompkins County Legislature in 2017. The Democrats are also defending their two seats on the town council. In Dryden, Republicans are fielding a candidate, Ronald Szymanski, to fill one of the two seats on the town council being vacated by Democrats.

Many of those Democratic candidates were in attendance, distributing campaign materials and seeking volunteers to help with canvassing over the next few weeks.

• Related: Early voting is available this November election

Bob Lynch, of Enfield, is one of three Democrats, one on an independent ballot line, running for Enfield town council. He told The Ithaca Voice his major focus right now is on meeting residents by picking a street each day and knocking on doors. Democrats currently control the town council and Republicans serve as clerk and highway superintendent.

“I really appreciate what you’re doing, putting your name on the ballot. It’s not an easy thing to do,” Brindisi told the crowd, reflecting on his hard-fought 2018 win over Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) which was defended heavily by the Trump family who rallied for the GOP congresswoman.

“It seemed like at some point, I had the entire Thanksgiving table of the Trump family in the 22nd district,” Brindisi earlier joked.

Ithaca and its surrounding communities are a bastion of Democratic support compared mostly conservative surrounding counties. In the 2016 presidential election, Tompkins County went to Hilliary Clinton with nearly 68 percent of the vote. During the primary earlier that year, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) received nearly 62% of the vote. The deep pool of Democratic support housed within Tompkins County and its Democratic Committee makes it important to candidates both locally and regionally looking for volunteers and funding.

Democratic State Supreme Court Candidates Claudette Newman (center) and Pete Charnetsky (right) discuss their judicial experience. (Vaughn Golden/The Ithaca Voice)

Brindisi, a lawyer from Utica, previously served in the New York Assembly before he was tapped to run for Congress in the 22nd district which includes Broome and Cortland counties, but not Tompkins. He entered the House during the 2018 “blue wave,” and while he said he gets along pretty well with the rest of the freshman class, his voting record and proposals so far in Congress doesn’t align himself with progressives, many of which make up Ithaca’s Democratic base.

In Congress, Brindisi said he focuses on issues with a bipartisan consensus like lowering prescription drug costs, expanding background checks for firearms and revising campaign finance laws. Over the summer he voted to table a motion to begin impeachment proceedings by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). Brindisi took questions from the crowd on Sunday but was not asked about impeachment.

“The world looks different when you’re in a college town like Ithaca,” Gustafson said.
“It’s important, I think, for Tompkins County Democrats to understand the challenges that people like Congressman Brindisi face and frankly that Tracy Mitrano, if she’s the candidate, will face again in running in the 23rd [district],” he added.

Mitrano lost her bid to incumbent Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) in 2018 and is running again for the seat in 2020. She wasn’t present at the event.

This year’s general election is set for Nov. 5, but newly implemented early voting runs from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3.

CORRECTION: This article previously stated that Bob Lynch, a candidate for Enfield Town Council is running unopposed. It has since been changed to note that he is one of two candidates (including Stephanie Redmond) running on the Democratic line. The third, Darren McGee, is a Democrat running on the independent “Enfield Community Values” ballot line. Redmond is also running on that line.

Featured image: TCDC Chair Jim Gustafson (left) introduces Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) (Vaughn Golden/The Ithaca Voice)

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...