This is an opinion piece from Democratic candidate for Ithaca Mayor Robert Cantelmo. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit opinion pieces, please send them to Matt Butler at

In just six months, Ithacans will go to the polls to elect all ten members of the Common Council and the Mayor. November also marks an historic moment for the City, as we transition to a Council-Manager system of governance, which was approved by referendum in 2022.

As the Democratic Candidate for Mayor, I recognize the inflection point our city faces. Our community deserves a Mayor with the vision and leadership to ensure our new system of government exceeds expectations, sets durable precedents about the separation of powers, and always remains responsive to community concerns. 

Beginning in January, the Mayor will no longer have a dual legislative and executive role. Instead, the administrative responsibilities of government will be vested in a City Manager who is hired and managed by the Common Council. Our City Manager will oversee the city departments, prepare the annual budget, and implement policies and procedures set by Council and the Mayor. For example, Council recently voted on a package of public safety reforms, but the City Manager will be the individual charged with working with our departments to implement them.

This new arrangement frees up time for the Mayor to more fully engage in listening and responding to the needs of City residents; setting policy agendas and driving legislative change; representing the City in its relationships with municipalities, County, State, and Federal governments; and regularly liaising with the City Manager on behalf of Council. 

The most important job of the Mayor will be to remain an active listener and communicator around the City. As the political head of the City and the only official elected citywide, the Mayor has a unique perspective into how issues may impact our community at both the neighborhood level as well as citywide. As one of the current council members for Ward Five, I send out monthly newsletters to residents and hold regular town halls to share information about upcoming policy items, recently enacted legislation, and other pertinent news. I will continue and expand this effort if elected Mayor, holding regular meetings with each neighborhood across the City and working with their elected council members to best understand the needs, character, and quality of life issues facing our residents. Ultimately, elected officials represent the residents we serve and I believe the best tool for accountability is open and transparent communication. 

Related to the constituent communication charge is the Mayor’s role as chief policymaker. The Mayor will serve as the president of the Common Council, establish the standing committees of Council and determine their membership, and appoint members of advisory boards and commissions with the consent of Council. The Mayor will have a vote on Council, but cannot — and should not — act alone. Instead, they should behave like a majority leader to advance the goals of our community by organizing legislative plans, consulting with elected colleagues across the city, and scheduling key votes and debates. The Mayor’s role is therefore both one of agenda-setting and team-building to address the multitude of issues facing our community: from roads and sidewalks to housing. I am proud to be endorsed by eight of my colleagues on Common Council and I believe this is a testament to my ability to work across the spectrum to craft policy that best serves the needs of our community. 

Relationship management is important, not just among Council and the public, but also between the City and the County, Albany, and Washington, DC. We have seen how progress on flood mitigation relies on advocacy to the DEC and FEMA, how sorely needed infrastructure projects rely on State and Federal grant dollars, or how the County and City work together to craft a sustainable public transit system. We have also seen how issues that impact our neighbors in Caroline, Dryden, or the Town of Ithaca affect our community and vice versa. I promise to tirelessly advocate for increased resources for our community, while also amplifying our voices about key environmental, housing, and public safety issues at the State and Federal level. 

Finally, while Council as a whole will collectively manage the City Manager and provide formal guidance and performance evaluations, the Mayor will serve as the Council’s primary liaison to the City Manager. As the presiding officer of the Council, the Mayor must have regular meetings with the City Manager to discuss how policy priorities set by council are being implemented and to seek the advice and consent of Council on major initiatives. 

The Mayor must help enforce the bright lines between policy formulation and implementation on both sides of the relationship. The responsibility of our elected officials is to ensure that City policy is followed and supported, but not to intrude in the direct administration of city departments. At the same time, the Mayor must also work to ensure that the City’s chief administrator does not stray into setting policy or legislative priorities. This delicate balance will require constant communication, outlining expectations, and working with elected colleagues and city staff to route their concerns through the appropriate channels. 

There is an enormous amount of work to do in the next four years, from infrastructure and housing to public safety and sustainable development, but Ithaca will rise to the occasion. I am privileged to serve this community today and I hope to earn your support as your next Mayor. 

Robert Gesualdo Cantelmo is the Democratic Candidate for Mayor of the City of Ithaca.