ITHACA, N.Y.—The highly-anticipated primaries this year delivered on the hype, with three Common Council races seemingly destined for a manual recount next month to determine the official winner and the Solidarity Slate proving its mettle with a surprise upset in the First Ward.
To illustrate the thin margins that were a theme in the race: David Shapiro holds a nine-vote lead over Nathan Sitaraman in Ithaca’s Third Ward; Clyde Lederman holds a seven-vote lead over Jason Houghton in the Fifth Ward race for the two-year term, while Margaret Fabrizio has a six-vote lead over Michelle Song in the other Fifth Ward race, for the four-year term.
The Democratic primary race for Danby Town Clerk is also separated by just nine votes, with Mariah Dillon leading Janice Adelman.
The closeness of the races extends the timeline for finding out definitively who has won them. Absentee and affidavit ballots are accepted until next week, and the final count is being held on July 5.
Stephen DeWitt, the Democratic commissioner for the Tompkins County Board of Elections, told The Ithaca Voice that “it appears the Ward 3 race, the Ward 5 races and the Danby race will end up with the margin being 20 or less.”
That will trigger an automatic recount in those races, DeWitt said, which would be held the week of July 10.
In Ward 1, Kayla Matos, deputy director of the Southside Community Center and member of the Solidarity Slate, successfully mounted a major upset, beating out 12-year incumbent Cynthia Brock in the Democratic primary to represent the Ward 1 for a four-year term. Matos leads Brock by almost 10 percentage points in the unofficial results, which do not include some absentee and affidavit ballots.
“It’s still hitting me,” Matos told The Ithaca Voice.
It is a success that comes on the backs of a wave of grassroots organizing from the political and advocacy groups the Ithaca Tenants Union, the Ithaca chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Ithaca chapter of the Working Families Party (WFP), a progressive third party. Members of the Solidarity Slate were endorsed by all three groups.
Matos said that over 100 individual volunteers supported the activity of the Solidarity Slate.
“Our community really came together and showed the city what community organizing can do,” Matos said.
Brock and Matos have both previously committed to continue their campaigns for Common Council in November if they were to lose. Brock had filed to appear on an independent line, Ithacans For Progress, along with Ward 5 Democratic primary candidates Jason Houghton and Margaret Fabrizio, while Matos is set to appear on the November ballot on the WFP.
But Brock said that she is not ready to follow through on that commitment.
“I’m giving myself permission to take a few days before I decide what I’m going to do next,” Brock said.
She expressed concern about the organizing capacity that she is up against. Matos was named a priority candidate by the New York State WFP which, she said, would bring “a lot of firepower for a very small ward in a small city in upstate New York.”
It’s a level of might that Brock admitted she is not matching.
“I do all of the door to door myself,” she said. “[My] old school style [campaign] structure cannot compete against large scale volunteer outreach efforts where multiple teams are engaging with each and every voter. You just can’t compete with that.”
The attention that Matos’ campaign received has led Brock to question why a state campaign or party would take such interest in a local election.
“What is their intent?” Brock wondered. “How does this fit into a larger picture?”
Brock congratulated Matos on her victory after the Tompkins County Board of Elections released the unofficial primary results on Tuesday night.
Kris-Haines Sharp, long-time Ithaca resident and community figure, won the race in Ward 2 by a substantial margin, guaranteeing her name be included on the ballot for the general election in November. She took home about 44% of the votes cast in Ward 2, with 321 ballots counted in her favor.
“I’m excited to have won,” Haines-Sharp told The Ithaca Voice. “And to continue the work I’m doing into the Fall, and hopefully, into the next few years.”
Haines-Sharp made sure to thank her two competitors, Aryeal Jackson and West Fox, for their “willingness to serve,” as well as her supporters. She said she looks forward to collaborating with both Jackson and Fox in the future.
She said she is eager to participate in and support the pending changes to city government with the creation of a city manager role, which was voted on and approved by residents in 2022.
“This change will have implications for all of us,” Haines-Sharp said. “I’m looking forward to the work and the possibilities.”
The general election in November has her thinking there will be “things to navigate,” but Haines-Sharp said that regardless, she is “very eager to continue working on the issues of housing and affordability, accessibility, and climate justice and sustainability.”
Haines-Sharp said she plans to spend the next couple of months between elections “continuing conversations, talking to people, and figuring out what people need and want for our city.”
West Fox, community activist and member of the Solidarity Slate, received the second highest vote count in Ward 2, with 259 ballots cast in their name. Votes for Fox made up about 35% of the total counted votes in Ward 2, not including absentee ballots or affidavit notes yet to be counted.
Fox told The Ithaca Voice via text message that they are proud of the Solidarity Slate candidates as a whole.
“I knew it would be an uphill battle,” Fox wrote. As a working class, Black, trans and queer candidate, Fox wrote that “it’s been an honor to be able to represent and advocate for people like me, who are often kept from seats of power.”
“I’m talking to my team in the upcoming days about plans for the WFP ballot line,” Fox said regarding their plans for the general election, signaling they could still challenge in November.
Aryeal Jackson received 151 votes, according to the partially completed results, which made up about 21% of the vote in Ward 2.
She told The Ithaca Voice via text message that she does not plan to run again in November.
“Traditionally, candidates who do not win Democratic Primaries do not run in the fall,” Jackson wrote. “I respect that practice.”
This is the second time Jackson has run for a spot on Common Council, the first in 2017. She wrote she has no plans to run again and that she is “much better” at “helping campaigns.”
While the Ward 3 race is still tight, both candidates were reflective on their campaigns in interviews Wednesday.
Shapiro reiterated his admiration for the campaign that Sitaraman ran, and added that if Sitaraman overtakes him during the absentee ballot counting, Shapiro would not run in the general election.
Sitaraman, a candidate with the Solidarity Slate, said he believes Shapiro will win the primary election once all votes are counted and has accepted the outcome. He added that while he wants to consult with his team ahead of a definitive decision on the general election, he is leaning towards not challenging Shapiro in November.
“I’m moving forward with the expectation that David has won this race,” Sitaraman said regarding the outstanding absentee ballots still to be counted and whether that could overcome the nine-vote deficit.
Both candidates said they were looking forward to learning more from one another.
“I’m hearing there were some messages that Nathan was talking about that resonated with people better,” Shapiro said. “I’m still waiting for the results, but I think there’s a lot for me to learn here, either way. […] We had different viewpoints on housing policy. Some of the things that the Slate is pushing, and that the mayoral candidate is pushing, there’s some opportunities there for me to learn more.”
Sitaraman expressed some worries about sentiments he heard from residents of Ward 3 during campaigning—exposing, in his mind, a mentality that put the well-being of the Third Ward explicitly ahead of the city as a whole.
“When I joined the slate, our website defined ‘solidarity’ as finding common ground and building on it, and that really resonated with me,” Sitaraman said. “But something I felt as we were getting into the last week’s of the race was that there’s a minority faction of people in Ward 3 that are not really ready for solidarity with the rest of Ithaca. People who would say that there are things that are good for Ithaca that would be bad for Ward 3, so they felt like that common ground didn’t exist. These voices got louder and louder, and it was quite concerning to me.”
Sitaraman noted that he did not believe Shapiro was fueling those voices. He said he hopes Shapiro is a “strong alderperson for our city, with unity in his heart.”
Ward 5 – Two year seat
Just seven votes separated Clyde Lederman from Jason Houghton in the Democratic primary to represent Ithaca’s Fifth Ward for a two-year term on the Common Council.
Lederman credited the lead he managed to take with his messaging on affordability in the city, like enacting rent stabilization through the Emergency Tenant Protection Act. He said the “vast majority of people who voted for [him] were not students, but were permanent residents here.”
“That’s simply just a message of Ithaca for Ithacans,” Lederman said.
Absentee and affidavit ballots are yet to be counted, meaning the razor-thin lead Lederman holds over Houghton will remain in question until the Tompkins County Board of Elections finishes their count next week.
Lederman told The Ithaca Voice he is confident that he is going to come out victorious once all ballots are counted. He declined to comment on whether he would continue his campaign into November on the WFP line if he were to lose the Democratic primary.
“The results look like they’re going in my favor, so I’m focused on the primary,” Lederman said.
Houghton agreed with Lederman and said, in an interview, that he thinks “[Clyde’s] won the primary.”
The issues that Houghton focused his campaign on include reining in a strained city budget in order for the city to be able to provide quality city services to its residents. Doing so, he emphasized, would mean addressing the disparity in pay that the City of Ithaca’s employees contend with, as well as staffing shortages that various city departments are facing.
Houghton, along with Margaret Fabrizio and Cynthia Brock, filed to appear on an independent line that would allow him to appear on the ballot in November if he were to lose to Lederman in the primary. But now that it appears that he has lost, Houghton said he is going to “reassess” his options before making a decision of whether to continue striving for a seat in City Hall.
“I’m going to the Adirondacks for two days. I’m going to take some time and make a decision later,” Houghton said.
Ward 5 – Four year seat
Margaret Fabrizio and Michelle Song finished within six votes of each other, with Fabrizio collecting 85 votes to Song’s 79. Their race is all but certain to undergo a manual recount.
When asked her thoughts on running in the general election if the lead switches, Fabrizio said she does not anticipate the outstanding ballots to erase her lead. Song said she thought it is too early to say whether or not the election is over, considering how close the race is as it currently stands.
Song and Fabrizio both took pride in the turnout for their election, noting that in previous years the primary had drawn just 54 voters total. This year, that total number of votes tripled.
“I’m really proud to say this illustrates that this message resonated with students, but more importantly, it resonated with lifelong Ithacans,” Song said. “The unofficial results Tuesday night, that’s a testament to what people want, the direction Ithaca is going.”
Candidates in every race try to turn out voters, and the different methods employed by Fabrizio and Houghton, who ran as a tandem of sorts, and Lederman and Song, who ran their campaign similarly. Lederman and Song are both Cornell students, so Fabrizio theorized that between their work on campus to gather in-person support and absentee ballots from students, as well as Houghton and Fabrizio’s door-to-door efforts, a jump in turnout was created.
“[Lederman and Song] registered people, they got them absentee ballots and collected them before people left campus,” Fabrizio added. “We were tracking things very carefully, and all of the people that we knew were supporters of us went out to the polls. I feel really good about our turnout, and I’m not surprised it was close.”