ITHACA, N.Y.—The New York State Working Families (WFP) has identified Kayla Matos as a “priority” candidate. Matos is running against Alderperson Cynthia Brock in the Democratic primary for a four year term representing the City of Ithaca’s First Ward on Common Council.

WFP spokesperson Ravi Mangla confirmed the state party’s special interest in Matos’ campaign to The Ithaca Voice.

Mangla said the WFP is “heavily invested in the success of [Matos’] race but we’re also working broadly for the entire slate and want to see a number of new city council candidates elected this cycle.” Ten candidates seeking local office in the city, including Mayoral candidate Alderperson Rob Cantelmo, have received the WFP endorsement this election cycle. 

Stephanie Heslop, the Chair of the Tompkins County WFP chapter, said the type of assistance that Matos is receiving are additional canvassers knocking door to door, and advice from the state WFP’s electoral staff. 

Alderperson Cynthia Brock makes her opening remarks at a June 8 candidate forum held by the League of Women Voters of Tompkins County. She faces Kayla Matos in the Democratic primary. Credit: Jimmy Jordan / The Ithaca Voice

The WFP’s interest in her opponent is a development that Brock repeatedly called “interesting” in an interview with The Ithaca Voice. Brock, who is in her 12th year as a member of the City of Ithaca’s Common Council, previously received the WFP endorsement in 2011, 2013 and 2017. 

“I don’t consider myself divergent or, in any way, in opposition to the principles and values that the Working Families Party advocates for,” said Brock. 

The WFP has built its organizing might through a statewide coalition of labor unions, community groups, and political organizations. With stated guiding values like fighting wealth inequality and shifting public resources toward education and housing, the WFP has fought for policies ranging from improving tenant’s protections, moving New York away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner forms of energy, and achieving universal statewide healthcare. 

Matos, who’s employed as the Deputy Director of the Southside Community Center, has sought to position herself to the left of Brock, who has developed a reputation for being a fastidious councilor, and tireless campaigner. Matos is running her campaign as one of five members of the Solidarity Slate, a group of five socialist candidates that have committed to vote as a bloc if elected to the City of Ithaca’s Common Council. Two of those five candidates, Alderpersons Jorge DeFendini and Phoebe Brown, are already seated on the council.

Mangla did not specify any political stances taken by Brock that would lead the WFP to want to unseat her. He said, “I don’t want to say too much about Cynthia Brock so much as the qualities that we see in Kayla. As somebody who has grown up in this community, worked for a long time at the Southside Community Center and just has been doing fantastic work as an advocate, as a voice for working people in the community, we feel that she’d be a wonderful advocate on council.”

Brock chose not to seek the WFP endorsement this election cycle after going through what she called a “chaotic and inconsistent” vetting process by the local WFP chapter in 2021. 

“The process that they followedit seemed that each candidate that came forward had questions that were uniquely tailored to them. And because of, I think, a lack of professionalism and consistency in their process, I chose not to seek their endorsement this year,” Brock said.

Brock added, “I felt that I answered their questions with the best of intent, and I believe that they used the materials I provided to support my opponent [in 2021].”

Prior to the establishment of the local WFP chapter in 2021, state WFP staff handled the endorsement process for local candidates. 

Heslop responded to Brock’s comments at the request of The Voice. Heslop said that about half of the questions that the local WFP chapter asks in its endorsement process are the same for every candidate, and half are tailored to each application. 

“I think that’s really reasonable, because candidates have different records, they answer the questionnaire questions differently,” said Heslop. “If they answer in a way that is vague, or we just want more information, I think it’s legitimate to ask people questions that are specific to their records, or their answers on a questionnaire and I think this is no different from when you go to a job interview.”

Heslop said Matos is “running because she wants to invest in community resources, and the WFP wants to support candidates who are very invested in their communities.”

Brock herself appeared to find it difficult to understand why the state WFP is so intent on supporting her opponent, but opined to The Voice that it may have to do with her attempt to facilitate a compromise between tenants and landlords on a local version of a Good Cause Eviction law in 2021.

Good Cause Eviction has become one of the most hotly contested pieces of legislation in Albany. The current version of the bill before the state legislature would prevent landlords from being able to deny tenants a lease renewal except under a few circumstances like failing to pay rent, and cap yearly rent increases at 3%.

Some municipalities in New York State, like the cities of Kingston and Newburgh, have passed local versions of Good Cause Eviction, setting off lawsuits challenging those city’s authority to regulate rent and a landlord’s rights. Repeated decisions at the appellate court level — which are currently being appealed — have determined that a local version of Good Cause Eviction would supersede the state’s authority.

Brock said that she tried to find a compromise on Good Cause Eviction that was implementable, but which would become criticized as a watered down version by local advocates, like the Ithaca Tenants Union.

“My opponents attacked me for daring to change the proposed legislation that had come out of Albany, and perhaps it is my desire to seek a collaborative, implementable solution that may have soured […] the Working Families Party in their support of me,” Brock said.

Passing Good Cause Eviction in the City of Ithaca is a priority for Matos. She told The Ithaca Voice that she would push for its passage despite the litigation that would likely follow against the city. She said, “Ultimately, yes, I do think that’s something that we should pursue.”

“Good Cause Eviction does protect tenants’ rights, ultimately, and does allow for better treatment of tenants,” Matos said. 

In Democrat-dominated Ithaca, where the Democratic primary often serves as the decisive local election, the WFP endorsement creates the potential for local races to persist until November. And it appears that this will be the case in the race between Brock and Matos.

In New York State, the WFP has committed to a political strategy reliant on fusion voting, a process which gives the left-leaning third party the ability to grant its ballot line to endorsed candidates without those candidates losing the Democratic line. 

Brock filed to appear on an independent line, Ithacans For Progress, along with two other candidates in the Democratic primaries.

Both Brock and Matos separately confirmed to The Voice that they intend to continue their campaigns into November if they were to lose the Democratic primary. 

Correction (06/21/2023): It was originally reported that Alderperson Cynthia Brock had received the Working Families Party endorsement in 2011 and 2013. She received the endorsement in 2017 as well.

Jimmy Jordan is Senior Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn