ITHACA, N.Y.—Alderperson Robert Cantelmo, candidate for Ithaca Mayor, and Democrat Josh Riley, who announced on Monday that he will be running against Republican Marc Molinaro again to represent New York’s 19th District in Congress, are cross endorsing each other’s campaigns.
Both are fathers with young families, and both say they share much of the same values they want to bring to the political offices they aspire to.
“I know Rob first and foremost as a dad. And so I know he’s doing this so that his kids have a bright future and strong Ithaca to grow up in,” said Riley.
Speaking with The Ithaca Voice on Wednesday morning, Riley and Cantelmo rattled off a litany of issues they say they view the same way: supporting organized labor, promoting crisis intervention training in public safety, protecting the environment and fighting climate change in upstate New York while also promoting economic growth.
Riley, a lawyer who once worked as a congressional policy analyst, is someone that’s going to get things done, Cantelmo said, explaining his endorsement. Riley, who grew up in Endicott and now lives in Ithaca, “is somebody from the community who’s going to be able to be vocal and advocate for what Tompkins County needs and for the rest of the district,” said Cantelmo.
It’s the first cross-endorsement to be announced for Riley, who has over a year before primarying could begin in the 19th District. But Cantelmo’s race will be shifting into full gear much sooner as he looks at a November election.
In the City of Ithaca, where a Republican candidate hasn’t been elected to local office in at least a generation, Cantelmo appears to be facing a challenger from the right. A petition was filed for Republican Daniel Medina to run for Ithaca’s Mayor’s office The chances of Medina winning are slim at best outside of some extreme circumstances arising. The Voice has not been able to reach Medina since first reaching out to him on Tuesday.
As Cantelmo collects a high profile endorsement from Riley and eyes strong chances of winning office in November, Riley is beginning the process of reinvigorating his campaign against Rep. Molinaro, who he lost to by about two percentage points in 2022 — a “heartbreakingly close margin,” said Riley.
Riley outraised Molinaro in the fight for the toss up seat, and has built his campaign on a strong message of working to fight corporate interests in Washington while trying to beat back attacks for being a corporate lawyer which tailed him during the 2022 midterms.
Having conversations with families from across the 19th District, Riley said that “whatever the issues are, the challenges are that they’re facing, you can draw a direct line from those challenges to the corrupting influence of corporate money in our politics.”
Riley’s campaign manager, Coby Eiss, told The Ithaca Voice that in his view the upheaval and uncertainty around redistricting in New York contributed to voter confusion in 2022, and likely to Molinaro’s victory. Eiss said that Riley’s campaign is now in a position to leverage strong relationships with local political networks across the 19th District.
Molinaro, a moderate Republican who demonstrated during his 2022 campaign to be adept at navigating the fine lines between the centrists the GOP and the further right contingencies often associated with former president Donald Trump, has said that any opponent that goes against him will have to pry his seat from his “cold dead hands.”
While predictions of a “red wave” of Republican victories proved to be exaggerated nationally in 2022, Republicans did flip four seats in New York state with Molinaro being a candidate behind one of those wins.
The GOP’s messaging on crime and criticisms of New York’s bail reforms, seemed to resonate with voters, or was a fear mongering tactic if you ask Riley and Cantelmo. Either way, the messaging was difficult for Democrats to combat in New York.
Riley, who says he is an advocate for community oriented policing and adequately resourcing police departments, has maintained that his views on criminal justice and public safety were misrepresented during the 2022 campaign. Speaking with The Ithaca Voice, Riley reprised his family’s law enforcement connections which became a staple of his TV ad campaigning.
“I come from a law enforcement family. My mom […] just retired. She worked for decades in law enforcement. I am not going to defund my mom,” said Riley.
Riley said that Cantelmo “appreciates the nuances” of the issues around public safety. Cantelmo has made seeing Ithaca’s Reimagining Public Safety plan a plank of his platform.
Republicans’ strong 2022 performance in New York has led to infighting among state Democrats as they have tried to diagnose the cause of the GOP’s relative success in the Democrat dominated empire state. Fingers, particularly from the further left leaning Democrats, have pointed at New York State Democratic Committee Chair Jay Jacobs with the accusation that he has been an ineffective leader, and that the state party lacks organizing muster.
Is Jacobs and an allegedly sleepy state Democratic party behind Riley’s loss? When asked what he thought, Riley said he was proud of his campaign, substantiating its robustness by saying that “as part of our get out the vote program, we had more volunteer shifts during the weekend before the election than any democratic challenger campaign in the entire country.”
The big lesson his 2022 campaign came with was “the importance of a grassroots operation,” said Riley, but he did not express any criticism of Jacobs or the state Democratic Committee. “I choose to look at the positive things and draw lessons from those, and hopefully carry a lot of that forward,” said Riley.
That answer, said Cantelmo, is one of the reasons Riley has his support.
Cantelmo said, “It’s not about looking at where one can place blame for any kind of outcome, irrespective of the race result. It’s what did we do well, what resonated with our voters, and what lessons can we learn and how can we improve going forward?”
Correction: This article previously stated “defend” instead of “defund” in a quote attributed to Josh Riley.