ITHACA, N.Y.—Mayor-elect Laura Lewis has announced her choice for chief of staff, bringing back a familiar face in longtime former Common Council member Deb Mohlenhoff.

Mohlenhoff represented the Fifth Ward in the City of Ithaca for 12 years before announcing that she would be leaving council after her last term, which ended at the start of this year. Mohlenhoff was designated as the Acting Mayor in 2014, serving when former Mayor Svante Myrick was traveling or unavailable for any reason.

Mohlenhoff replaces Faith Vavra, who announced her departure from the city in October, though Vavra was last working as the City Clerk for the time being after Julie Holcomb’s retirement, as recently as last month.

“I am thrilled to be returning to local government as the City’s Chief of Staff,” stated Mohlenhoff. “The time I spent as a member of Common Council gave me an incredible appreciation for the hard-working city staff and in this role, I will be able to support their needs as well as design more ways for local citizens to be engaged with city government. I am also excited to lay the groundwork for the new form of government voted in through referendum in November. This city is such a special place and I am honored to have been chosen by Mayor Lewis to do this work.”

Separately, Mohlenhoff has also been frequently mentioned as a possible City Manager when the position opens officially in 2024, after the proposal was approved by voters in a referendum in November.

Mohlenhoff is a veteran of the higher education institutions in the area, having previously worked at Ithaca College and most recently as Tompkins Cortland Community College’s Associate Vice President for College Relations.

“I am thrilled to be inviting Deb back to City Hall where her familiarity with city staff and operations will be incredibly valuable as I begin my term as the elected Mayor of the City,” said Lewis in a press release. “Her professional background and expertise will help city staff advance a range of initiatives. In addition, with the passage of the referendum for City Manager, we will need someone to assist the city with the transition to a new form of government. Deb’s experience with complex organizational management will be crucial as the city enters this new era.”

The announcement also mentions Mohlenhoff’s leadership of the United Way of Tompkins County Campaign and her work as chair of the Games Operating Committee for the Special Olympics State Summer Games, which this year began a three year stint at Ithaca College. She will begin as chief of staff on Jan. 9, 2023.

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at