ITHACA, N.Y.—It appears voters will not get a chance to see the candidates for Ithaca mayor make their case directly to one another before the November special election.
With the election just 18 days away and early voting set to begin on Oct. 29, two proposed debates between the three mayoral candidates have fallen through. Conventionally, there is at least one debate during a mayoral election cycle, though this one is taking place a year early and the winner will only hold the office for one until the end of 2023 to finish former Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s term.
The candidates are Democrat and incumbent Acting Mayor Laura Lewis, Republican Zachary Winn and independent candidate Katie Sims. The Ithaca Voice and local radio station WRFI attempted to organize a mayoral debate for Oct. 25, but Lewis chose not to participate.
A separate debate had been preliminarily scheduled between Sims and Lewis, organized by Tompkins County Progressives, potentially for an endorsement. Tompkins County Progressives Chair Emily Adams said that former Tompkins County Legislator and prominent local Democrat Martha Robertson was slated to moderate the event, but after both candidates agreed and began exchanging date possibilities, Lewis pulled out of that debate as well.
When The Ithaca Voice contacted each candidate earlier this month, Winn said he would be open to a debate, but that he would strongly prefer that one of two alternative moderators of his choosing was used. Sims first asked who would be participating and eventually agreed to participate. Lewis, though, declined to participate, citing the tight schedule of the city’s annual budget season and that “any candidate forum for all mayoral candidates would need to be sponsored by a neutral non-partisan organization,” offering the League of Women Voters as an example.
While the League of Women Voters has not answered an inquiry from The Ithaca Voice, no mayoral event has been announced by the organization, which does frequently organize and host debates or forums during local election years.