Jason Houghton, Common Council candidate.

ITHACA, N.Y.—Longtime Ithaca resident Jason Houghton announced his candidacy for Common Council’s Fifth Ward seat earlier this month after debating a run over the last few years.  

Houghton is from a town just outside of Des Moines, Iowa and has lived in the Ithaca area for 17 years. He and his partner moved into the city from a neighboring rural area six years ago, and he now works for PNC Bank as IT Product Manager. Houghton, a Democrat, becomes the second candidate in the race for the ward’s two-year seat, running against first-year Cornell University student Clyde Lederman

Houghton told The Ithaca Voice he was motivated to run because he felt that Ithaca is currently at a “critical point” in many ways, citing increasingly high property taxes and rent prices, as well as city staffing issues. 

There’s no single reason Ithaca is in the precarious position it’s currently in, he said, and while these issues are prominent nationwide, it’s different here.  

“Here, [those issues] are compounded by the fact that such large portions of the city are tax exempt,” Houghton said. In the next few years, Ithaca is going to be addressing critical issues like renegotiating its relationship with Cornell and its contribution to city governance. 

Houghton wrote in a public statement that he believes the city should encourage Cornell and other tax-exempt institutions to be better financial partners to the city, for the benefit of permanent residents and also college students. 

“I would like to see their contribution more in line with the contributions that their peer institutions make to their respective local governments,” he said. “I also would like to see the tax exempt institutions help bring city employee wages up to market standards.” 

A major issue on the minds of Ithacans before the primary vote on June 27 is the Green New Deal, an unusually aggressive, one-of-a-kind plan passed in 2019 that aims to decarbonize Ithaca by 2030. 

Houghton said he believes decarbonizing the city by 2030 is “extremely ambitious.” He said while he agrees fully with the ultimate goals of the Green New Deal, he also thinks the city has more fundamental work to do before it’s set to tackle larger issues effectively. He cited finding solutions to city government staffing shortages, specifically at the Waste Treatment Center, where the city has allocated funds to outside contractors to keep the center functioning. 

“Ithaca has a lot of very informed, very energetic citizens who won’t shy away from bold solutions,” Houghton said. “I support that and encourage that, but it has to be coupled with some well articulated, realistic plans that move us toward those broader goals.” 

On the issue of police reform, Houghton told The Ithaca Voice he has stayed active in keeping up with the re-emerging public safety report and the amendments that have been added in the recent months. He said he was “very pleased” to see the police and the district attorney be included in the newly revised report. 

“A lot of the conclusions of the re-emerging public safety report I support,” Houghton said. “I like the idea of some unarmed responders in many situations.” 

The search for a police chief has been a contentious one, and came to a head when Mayor Laura Lewis’ initial pick, Acting Chief John Joly, was unofficially rejected by members of the council the weekend before his appointment as police chief was to be mulled. Lewis withdrew his appointment in response to the clear distaste expressed by council members. 

Houghton said he hopes a new police chief will be selected by the fall and thinks it was “unfortunate that the initial search ended the way it did.” 

He specifically mentioned former IPD Lieutenant Scott Garin, the initial choice of the selection committee last year, as someone he’d like to see apply again. Garin was widely considered the council’s favored candidate back in December of last year. Lewis has declined to comment on her decision to not support Garin for the role. 

“I would love to see prior applicants reapply,” Houghton said. 

Judy LucasGeneral Assignment Reporter

Judy Lucas is a General Assignment Reporter for The Ithaca Voice.