ITHACA, N.Y.—Early in a campaign season that has so far been marked by an intense youth interest in running for office, Ithaca has its youngest candidate in the field yet. Clyde Lederman has announced his candidacy in the Democratic primary for the two-year seat representing the Fifth Ward.
Lederman is a 19-year-old freshman in the ILR school at Cornell University who also works with the Cornell Prison Education Program, which provides education and re-entry resources to those incarcerated. The Fifth Ward, as it has been redrawn, mostly consists of the northern and northwestern portions of the city. It’s not the traditional breeding ground for a Cornell-affiliated representative — that usually comes from the Fourth Ward, which holds most of Collegetown — but with more Cornellians looped into the ward’s new lines, Lederman said the student presence on council should match. That can come without sacrificing a balance for homeowners and long-term residents too, he insisted.
Lederman seems to understand that he faces a somewhat uphill battle in this race. Average Ithacans are a bit distrustful of Cornell students trying to up their influence on the city, and just about everyone is a bit distrustful of 19-year-olds, especially in politics. But, driven by a passion for policy and a background in community organizing around housing, Lederman’s campaign relies on the thought that his age will be an advantage in office instead of a drawback considering the population he intends to represent: college students.
“The discomfort that people have living around a bunch of students, I mean, the noise bothers me too,” Lederman said. “But I think it really comes down to the university and its relationship with the city. […] Students have a particular interest, and we’re not a racial group, we’re not an ethnic group, we’re not a socioeconomic group, we span all across the spectrum. But students have an interest with TCAT, housing and so on.”
Plenty of Cornell students have served on Common Council previously, including Fourth Ward representatives Jorge DeFendini and Tiffany Kumar currently, though both are up for re-election along with the rest of council in 2023.
Lederman’s already caused a bit of a stir in local political circles, initiated by his first fundraising event for his campaign, which took place in his hometown of Nyack, NY, and featured an appearance by former U.S. House of Representatives member Mondaire Jones. Jones is a fellow Nyack native and Lederman worked on Jones’ Congressional campaign in 2021.
As for his priorities if he was to win, Lederman said that he would broadly push for zoning reform, but more specifically that he would look to make accessory dwelling units (ADUs) less restricted to try to introduce more total units in Ithaca. Housing was Lederman’s primary priority, he said, deeming it the city’s most pressing problem.
“I’d also look to diversify the landlord pool,” Lederman said. “We have a huge problem of monopoly landlords, and I think diversifying the landlord pool and the housing stock would go a long way to alleviating those concerns. I don’t think it’s going to be solved in a two-year period, but making sure students are represented, and that housing affordability is front and center is really important.”
Lederman said that public safety is important but does not think the Ithaca Police Department should receive more funding than it currently does. Even while city workers of all stripes demand higher pay, Lederman said he feels those outside of the police department are more deserving of pay raises than those within. He also said the city should move forward with the parts of the Reimagining Public Safety plan calling for unarmed responders.
He also spoke glowingly of the service that TCAT provides, particularly in light of the struggles that the agency has experienced during the last several months amid staffing issues, route cuts and more.
Lederman’s residency has also been questioned. His status as a student whose housing will expire in May, making him temporarily not a resident of the district he’s running to represent, which has generated confusion about his eligibility for the office. Lederman, who currently lives in Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hall on Cradit Farm Drive in the Fifth Ward, contends that he’s been assured he is eligible, particularly because if he wins and takes office in January 2024, he would be living in the Fifth Ward by that time.
Tompkins County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Steve DeWitt said eligibility determinations are the city’s to decide; he added that the situation mirrors Tiffany Kumar’s last year, when her permanent address was in New York City but since she lived in the district at the time of taking office, she was eligible.
“This is just the fact of being a student,” Lederman said. “I understand why folks may find that to be a little problematic, but my answer would be that I’ll be living in the Fifth Ward next year, I’m living in the Fifth Ward now. […] I’m subject to university housing policy and the fluidity that comes with that.”