ITHACA, N.Y. — The race to represent the City of Ithaca’s Second Ward for a two-year term has its first entrant: Aryeal Jackson, a community and political organizer and business owner, announced her candidacy Tuesday, finally answering the question of when she would run for local office again in the city.

Jackson has previously worked as a journalist, for years has played the role of a local connector, and she ran for a seat on Common Council but ultimately lost the primary in 2017 to current Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis. Incumbent Alderperson Ducson Nguyen has already announced that he is seeking another term in the four-year Common Council seat for the Second Ward, while Jackson is the first candidate for the two-year seat.

Aside from speaking at public events, Jackson has mostly stayed behind the scenes in local politics since the pandemic scuttled the operations of city commissions. She used to chair the city’s Public Safety and Information Commission.

Her bid for council is a refusal to fade into the background. But why is Jackson running now? The big reason, she says, is the City of Ithaca’s shift to a city manager model. 

“We’re in the midst of a major shift in how we approach politics locally,” Jackson told The Ithaca Voice during a fast-paced 20-minute phone interview as she loaded her car with groceries. Jackson had just gathered an “entire week’s worth of food in 20 minutes” from Wegmans.  

A native of Binghamton, Jackson holds two Master’s degrees in English and comparative literature. She owns a business that offers clients house cleaning, as well as major overhaul and downsizing services. While working, Jackson touts that she listens to the publicly available audio of every Common Council, subcommittee, and county legislature meeting.

“I’m a total wonk,” she said. 

Despite being deeply active in city politics, Jackson defined herself as an “outsider,” mostly based on the fact that she hasn’t been a decision-maker at the table before. 

“I am both not at the table, a bit of a rebel, and also [have] an intimate knowledge of how our government works, and a lot of ideas as to how we can all make it work better,” Jackson said.

Current city issues at the top of Jackson’s mind are the slowed progress behind Ithaca’s Reimagining Public Safety (RPS) initiative and the Ithaca Green New Deal. 

There are only a few tangible results to point toward when it comes to the City of Ithaca’s portion of the RPS initiative, which is a joint county and city plan overall. Jackson said she wants there to be a clear path defined for RPS going forward in the city in order to “honor” the people that put in the work to try and reform public safety locally, both elected and from the community. RPS is aimed at improving law enforcement’s relationship with and treatment of the local Black and brown community, as well as increasing transparency. 

Letting RPS stagnate would be, for the city’s communities, “a betrayal of their trust,” said Jackson. 

Jackson also added that she wants to get into office to improve the city’s relationships with their workers. She called city employees “brave” for the demonstrations they’ve made before Common Council in recent months, vocalizing their discontent with their pay and treatment at the bargaining table with the city.

She also threw her support behind a less fiery issue: sidewalk snow removal. “We need [sidewalks] to be safe, accessible, and open and walkable. As a mom with kids, you’ve got to get out of the house in the winter, because you’ll go crazy,” she said. 

The city manager model, Jackson feels, is going to allow the Common Council to write legislation and policy that was previously more challenging to put together. She’s aligning herself with Alderperson Robert Cantelmo, who’s running for Ithaca Mayor, calling his work “inspiring.”

Both candidates currently stand unopposed in their respective races. 

The Second Ward that Jackson is seeking to represent stretches from Ithaca High School into Downtown, and includes the Fall Creek and Washington Park neighborhoods. Asked why she’s the right fit for the ward, Jackson said, “I’ve been invested in the politics and the people of the community since I got here. I fell in love with it. I’m never gonna go anywhere.” 

Update (03/07/2023): This story was updated to include additional details about the business that Aryeal Jackson owns and runs, as well as details about the higher degrees that she holds.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn