ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca will have a three-way race for mayor this fall, as Katie Sims has jumpstarted an independent campaign for the city’s top spot.
Sims, aligned with the growing Solidarity Slate block, is attempting a run to the left of current Acting Mayor Laura Lewis, who is running as a Democrat and was appointed to her current role by former Mayor Svante Myrick when he stepped down. Republican Zachary Winn will also be on the ballot in November. The winner will only serve a one-year term, finishing off Myrick’s term.
Sims isn’t a total stranger to city government. When Steve Smith resigned from Common Council in Fall 2021, Sims contended for the appointment but Patrick Mehler was picked over her. Mehler was then defeated in the Democratic primary election for Ward 4 by Tiffany Kumar in June.
For some, that unceremonious defeat might have turned them off of municipal government, at least for a while. For Sims, a desire to see Ithaca government more forcefully advocate for the city’s massive renter population, among other things, drove her to once again seek office.
“I’m running because I know Ithaca can be better. In a city as wealthy as this one, there’s no excuse for the ongoing housing crises of stability, affordability and availability,” Sims said. “There’s no excuse for not following through on the Ithaca Green New Deal and there’s no reason why we can’t put the needs of residents before profits.”
Sims’ path to the independent ballot is an unfortunate reminder of why she’s running in the first place. According to her, her landlord served her with a notice of non-renewal around the same time petitioning began to get on the Democratic ballot. As a result, Sims didn’t know if she was going to be able to live within the city limits — a requirement to serve as mayor.
But with that settled, Sims has her eyes set on an office she could use to push legislation like good cause eviction (which is back in play after an Albany County judge’s ruling was appealed this week), public safety reform, transportation equality and combating climate change on a municipal level. Sims has a degree in environmental science and policy and worked with environmental advocate Vanessa Fajans-Turner during the latter’s run for Congress earlier this year.
“I was part of the Sunrise Movement when it was founded and when the Green New Deal was passed in 2019,” she said. “I really wanted to see that project through, and looking at how the implementation steps have not been coming along on schedule, I’m pretty worried about the process and making sure that it is completed on the schedule that we said it should be.”
On public safety, Sims would want to see more spending, but in specific areas that don’t necessarily involve the police department. The aim, she intimated, would be to reduce the demands on the police department through community investment—pointing to the potential unarmed responders unit as something she would want to be further funded, along with “vital organizations that are pinching pennies to try to make our community a better and safer place to be.”
“We need to have that fiscal attitude of abundance towards the things that really do keep us safe,” Sims said. “Supporting the healthcare services in our city, supporting the county’s mental and public healthcare, working with and funding community organizations that are doing this work for free for people, and investing community youth programs too.”
At least some of that money would come from cutting auxiliary expenses to law enforcement, she said. Another target of investment would be infrastructure to facilitate sustainable transportation, in particular better lanes for bicycle transportation. A bike crash, in which Sims was cut off by a car and left with broken ribs and numbness in her wrist, helps inform that position, but also tells Sims that if she’s going to push for sustainable transportation usage, the city needs to be able to safely support it.
Sims also said that she’s excited for what will hopefully be a fairly high turnout mayor election, considering that mid-term elections normally draw more people to the polls than the typical Ithaca mayor election years, which are traditionally held in odd-number years without other elections for larger office to spark more interest.
“This is a chance for people to look at more options, in a year when there’s a governor race, there’s Congressional races, and really have a choice,” Sims said. “Way more voters are going to weigh in, so that’s what’s exciting about this election cycle.”