ITHACA, N.Y.—Three Democratic candidates running in separate primary races for a seat on Common Council have filed to run on an independent line: Ithacans For Progress.

Alderperson Cynthia Brock, who’s seeking reelection four year term in the 1st Ward, Jason Houghton and Margret Fabrizio who are seeking a two and four year term in the 5th Ward, respectively, are running on the line.

Their choice to form the independent line was to allow Brock, Fabrizio and Houghton to continue their campaigns for local office into November in the instance  they were to lose the Democratic primary — an option that was already available to their opponents. 

Brock faces Kayla Matos, deputy director of the Southside Community Center, in the 1st Ward. Houghton is running against Clyde Lederman, an undergraduate student at Cornell University, in the primary.Fabrizio faces Michelle Song, who is also an undergraduate student at Cornell University . The candidates are competing to represent the newly redistricted city wards, which will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

Matos, Lederman, and Song have each been endorsed by the Working Families Party (WFP). If they were to lose the Democratic primary, each of them would remain on the ballot come November under the WFP’s line.

The formation of the Ithacans For Progress independent line and the growing presence of the WFP in city politics has, to a degree, shifted the status of the Democratic Primary as the City of Ithaca’s de facto election event. 

Houghton said  the choice to appear on an independent line was to afford himself the same opportunity his opponent had in their race. 

“This was simply a move to put myself on an equal footing with my opponent,” Houghton told the The Ithaca Voice in a group interview with Brock. Fabrizio declined a request for an interview and cited a time consuming set of unexpected set of obligations as the reason why. 

The Ithacans For Progress candidates maintain they did not file under the independent line for the November election in response to the Solidarity Slate, a group of five progressive socialist candidates — including Matos — running for local office in Ithaca who have pledged to vote as a bloc. 

In a written statement shared over email, Fabrizio said appearing on the independent line “is not a reply or in opposition to the Solidarity Slate. We three are all independent candidates though we have many of the same priorities.”

Brock  is critical of the idea of candidates committing to bloc voting in the City of Ithaca. Bloc voting,  Brock said, can result in the needs or desire of an individual ward being eschewed and, in her eyes, “does not indicate a representative form of government” 

Brock, Houghton and Fabrizio are trying to avoid being labeled as a movement in local politics, but they do agree on many issues.

Where Houghton and Brock said they most overlap in their political priorities are on addressing the staffing shortages the City of Ithaca is experiencing across departments, and prioritizing investment in city infrastructure. 

Brock, Houghton, and Fabrizio are all middle aged and their opponents are markedly younger than them. Lederman and Song are still earning their bachelor’s degrees, and Matos, who grew up in Ithaca, is in her mid 20s. Brock and Houghton both said they don’t see their opponents age as an issue that needs to be raised as they compete for office. 

Though Houghton did express that, for him, it’s important that his Ward is represented by someone who has lived in the city for a longer time than Lederman, a freshman at Cornell. 

“I’ve met Clyde. He is a very intelligent man, very well informed,” Houghton said. “I personally would feel more comfortable with someone who’s a little more familiar with the community.”

The 5th Ward, the district that Fabrizio. Houghton, Lederman, and Song are seeking to represent, is largely made up of Cornell’s campus, and is heavily populated by students. The 1st Ward, which Matos and Brock are competing for, includes Ithaca’s West End, Southside, and Northside neighborhoods, and consists of primarily year round residents of the city.

Both Houghton and Brock are trying to keep their races cordial by committing to a longer term strategy to try and win office by securing an independent line. Both expressed respect for their opponents. Houghton said he admires anyone who runs for office, and Brock said she applauds her opponent for seeking local office, as well. 

“I think competitive elections result in better elected officials, and it’s an important part of the democratic process. So I’m very grateful for Kayla for running for office,” Brock said. “I think it is up to the voter to determine what skills we need on council right now.”

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