ITHACA, N.Y.—Letitia “Tish” James, New York State Attorney General, held her first “AG in your community” event Thursday at the Greater Ithaca Activites Center (GIAC) in Ithaca.

Approximately 150 people crowded into the gymnasium at GIAC for the debut “AG in your community” event, hoping to meet and levy concerns to James herself and staffers from the Office of the NYS Attorney General, along with other local agencies, like officials from Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) who were in attendance.

State representatives were also in attendance, such as State Senator Lea Webb and NYS Assemblywoman Anna Kelles, both of whom recently held a rally in Ithaca to sound the alarm on proposed NYSEG rate hikes. 

James said the turnout was encouraging and speaks to the mission of the series, to get the public and government in conversation.

“We just wanted to bring the services to the people and let the people know that the Office of the Attorney General is here to serve, that we truly are the people’s lawyer,” James said. “[To hear from constituents I have an impact], it means the government is working.”

James also used the event to raise awareness regarding a number of issues, ranging from criminal justice reforms to a lesser-known, but highly dangerous drug informally known as “Tranq.” Xyzalzine, which is legal and often used for animal tranquilizations, has begun entering the illegal drug market and according to NBC News, Fentanyl, a powerful opioid, is frequently laced with the drug, making for an especially deadly combination.

Kelles, who spoke at the rally also drew attention to the NYS Earned Time Act, which would provide time allowances for incarcerated individuals with good behavior and who engage in rehabilitation programs, such as college programs.

Credit: Photo by Aubren Villasenor

“New York State has one of the most punitive and antiquated criminal justice systems in the country,” Kelles said. “We need to accept that, own it and change it. We currently have a system that is punishment, not corrections, for all but a small fraction of people.”

The bill is currently in committee and has not entered the full NYS Senate or Assembly. Kelles also provided follow-up on recent NYSEG developments, encouraging residents affected by NYSEG issues, to continue to file a complaint with the public service commission as it investigates NYSEG’s business practices. 

The event was the first in a series the office says it hopes to host throughout New York State. The state is still dealing with the after-effects of an era plagued with controversy and coverups, making events like this seem more significant for public trust. With each event James said she hopes to host more local agencies, services and amenities, including more informal features like food trucks to attract more people.

“I want to expand it and I want to come back because there were a number of service providers who I met and they should be here too,” James said. “I also want some food trucks outside. I want to make this an event, this was great but I want to do it even better and bigger.”

In an interview with The Ithaca Voice, James said the purpose of the event is to increase civic engagement and demystify state government, something that fascinated Ithaca resident Dongpyo Hong.

Hong, who is in Ithaca from South Korea on a Humphrey Fellowship at Cornell University, said the community event was a new experience for someone coming from a country where elected officials it’s uncommon for elected officials to interact with the general public. 

Hong, who hopes to one day become a politician, was inspired by James’ resilience and said when he asked for “her secret,” James encouraged him to remain true to himself.

“She told me to become pure,” Hong said. “Even after succeeding a number of times, she said keeping a clear head is one of her assets.”

Assemblymember Anna Kelles speaks to attendees Thursday. Credit: Aubren Villasenor / The Ithaca Voice