ITHACA, N.Y.—Voters cast their ballots in the City of Ithaca’s Democratic primaries thinking about homelessness, the city’s staffing shortages, housing affordability, and the Solidarity Slate, a group of five progressive candidates running for Common Council with a strong grassroots organizing base backing them.
The unofficial results, which do not include absentee and affidavit ballots, only make clear the competitiveness of Tuesday’s primaries across the city. The split in the race in Ward 3, and the two races in Ward 5 are all stunningly close margins.
Kayla Matos, a member of the Solidarity Slate and Deputy Director of the Southside Community Center, beat out the 12-year incumbent, Alderperson Cynthia Brock, in Ward 1 with 56.27% of Tuesday’s unofficial vote count.
Arielle Johnson, a graduate student at Cornell University, told The Ithaca Voice she voted for Matos over Brock to represent Ward 1 for a four-year term. She said her decision was not motivated by “any specific beef with Cynthia Brock,” but she was drawn to Matos because of her experience at the Southside Community Center, where she serves as deputy director.
“It’s less of a vote against Cynthia, and more of real excitement of bringing a new voice to local politics,” Johnson said after voting at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center on Tuesday.
Matos’ perspective on addressing the homeless population also appealed to Johnson. Matos has positioned herself as an advocate of the approach outlined in Home, Together: Tompkins, an ambitious road map prepared by the Tompkins County Continuum of Care that proposes to “end unsheltered homelessness” and enhance service deliveries to in-need marginalized groups.
Louise, who only wanted to be identified by her first name, told The Voice she chose to cast her ballot for Brock because of a conversation she had with the candidate. Staffing shortages in the city and the incoming City Manager position persuaded Louise that Brock’s institutional memory made her a “voice for stability.”
Kris Haines-Sharp received 44% of the total votes cast in Ward 2, putting plenty of breathing room between her and her two opponents, Aryeal Jackson, and West Fox, a member of the Solidarity Slate. Fox and Jackson finished with 35.4 and 20.6 percent, respectively.
Jackson won the support of Ward 2 resident Rose Streets.
Streets said in an interview with The Ithaca Voice that Jackson’s advocacy around furthering the Ithaca Green New Deal seemed “pragmatic.”
“She’s a working mother,” Streets said, emphasizing her admiration of Jackson’s work. “So I relate to that.”
Several voters in Ward 2 told The Ithaca Voice they found it difficult to distinguish the political platforms of Jackson, Haines-Sharp and Fox.
“All of the candidates have the same platform,” Ward 2 resident Tim Phelps said in an interview outside Ithaca Town Hall, where he placed his vote. “Like, eerily the same.”
He ultimately cast his ballot for Jackson. Phelps said former Mayor Svante Myrick’s endorsement was “proof for him” that Jackson has been meaningfully involved in city politics, as she wrote on her website.
“I wouldn’t even call myself a big Svante Myrick fan, but he can confirm that she was involved for many years in politics. I think that matters more than just your stated goals — just being committed to a place,” Phelps said.
The experience Haines-Sharp has on Common Council was compelling for others, despite her having been appointed to the position to fill a vacancy just months ago, in January.
Andy Weislogel, a resident in Ward 2, told The Ithaca Voice that after studying all the candidates in Ward 2, Haines-Sharp’s experience was notable.
Weislogel said Haines-Sharp’s take on negotiating with Cornell University was appealing as well as her thoughts on expanding transit — both of which were general positions held by Haines-Sharpe’s opponents.
“I feel like she is already doing the position, and brings a lot of experience,” Weislogel said.
Tziona Szajman also lives in Ward 2 and told The Voice she voted for Fox because of their vision to expand and defend “tenants rights and workers rights” put forward by the Solidarity Slate.
David Shapiro, the executive director of Second Wind Cottages, leads Nathan Sitarman, a member of the Solidarity Slate, by just nine votes in the Third Ward.
Wendy Wallitt, a Ward 3 resident and voter, said she liked a lot of Nathan Sitaraman’s ideas, but ultimately, she said she voted for David Shapiro because of concerns she has about the Solidarity Slate.
“It scares me to think of a slate of five people having regular meetings and coming to what they think is going to be a consensus, and not including — not having a part of the conversations that take place among 10 people,” Wallitt told The Ithaca Voice outside of Belle Sherman Annex, referring to the 10-member Common Council.
“If he were voting his mind and his opinions, I’d feel differently, but to think that he’s going to be voting as a bloc with four other people — or however many — that scares me,” Wallitt said.
Rupert Spies, another voter who exited the polling location alongside Wallitt, agreed. Spies said his experience living in West Berlin — surrounded by the Communist German Democratic Republic (better known as East Germany) — left him wary of the Solidarity Slate as well.
“If there’s all these blocs, and there are dealings within a small group coming in [they will have] more force, power, say — whatever you want to call it, unless the other members do the same,” Spies said. “But then why do we have Common Council meetings? Why do we have committees? Why do we have a process in place that regulates it? I’m sure people on Common Council talk to each other, but I think it needs to be in the open.”
Cornell undergraduate student Clyde Lederman has a lead on longtime Ithaca resident Jason Houghton by seven votes in the race to represent Ward 5 for a two-year term.
Margaret Fabrizio holds the lead by six votes over Michelle Song, also an undergraduate at Cornell University, in a race to represent the Fifth Ward for a four-year term.
Adrienne Bitar, a Ward 5 resident, said she voted for Lederman because he had canvassed her house twice, and showed interest in addressing affordability in Ithaca, as well as exploring the possibility of codifying renters’ rights.
“In general, this region has affordability problems,” Bitar said. “They need to pay people more and work on lowering taxes and reducing that pricing behavior.”
Michael Decatur — who declined to share for whom he voted — said that he cast his vote based on lowering the tax rate and improving the quality of city governance.
“The quality of services that result from the taxes is low, like our roads are not in good shape,” Decatur said. “Our infrastructure is crumbling. The morale of the city workers, from what I can tell, is low. And it’s just all those things. That’s not a good equation, we need to change course.”
Decatur said he was not worried about the candidates’ age — with both Lederman and Song being undergraduate students at Cornell — but that he did worry about their lack of life experience and that they were not from Ithaca.
“[Lederman and Song are] clearly smart, capable people, but you can’t deny the fact that they’re not from this community,” Decatur said. “And so I mean, that’s just a reality. And it’s something that I weigh into my consideration.”
Jonathan Mong is a reporter from The Cornell Daily Sun working on The Sun’s summer fellowship at The Ithaca Voice.