ITHACA, N.Y.—There were two events at the CRS Barn Studio in Lansing Wednesday: The Tompkins County Democratic Committee’s (TCDC) summer fundraiser, featuring Governor Kathy Hochul as its headline speaker, and a demonstration outside the event urging Hochul to take action on two locally relevant issues.

As over 100 people schmoozed, sipped wine, and contributed to the coffers of local Democrats, almost 40 took the opportunity to express their concerns about proposed rate increases for New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) and the fate of Ithaca Carshare.

Hochul’s high profile presence was a selling point for the local Democratic party in promoting the event as it strives to build up a bankroll to support its candidates in the upcoming local elections in deeply Democratic Tompkins County. Assemblymember Anna Kelles and state Senator Lea Webb, who both represent Tompkins County in the state legislature, also spoke at the event. 

Linda Hoffman, chair of the TCDC, said she aimed to raise $5,000 Wednesday, and “came within that range, and probably a little more.”

All in all, the fundraiser went “quite smoothly,” Hoffman said.

The TCDC barred members of the media from the event. The Ithaca Voice was turned away at the entrance after being told it was “private” by Hoffman, though it had been publicly promoted on social media as a “Summer Party” featuring words from Hochul.

However, Zach Winn, a conservative activist who writes about local crime under the alias “Chip Daley” at, was admitted.

Winn is running on the Republican ticket in November against Alderperson Phoebe Brown, a Democrat, for a two-year term representing the city of Ithaca’s First Ward. 

Hoffman said she had “no idea” who Winn was and was “not aware that he was there.”

Winn said he was able to film the entire event.

Hochul used her remarks Wednesday to reiterate a commitment to fighting climate change, expanding the state’s housing stock, and her request of President Joe Biden to expedite work authorizations for tens of thousands of migrants that have arrived in New York City over the last year from the U.S. southern border. 

“Mr. President, we have to let them work,” Hochul said Wednesday. 

The governor did not touch on the issues raised by demonstrators at the entrance of the fundraiser event.

Demonstrators outside of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee’s summer fundraiser. Credit: Dove Williams / The Ithaca Voice

Ithaca Carshare is facing what leaders of the nonprofit have described as an “existential threat.” The organization, which runs a 24/7 membership-based car rental service, has been unable to insure its cars since its last provider dropped it in May. 

Ithaca Carshare is unable to acquire auto-liability insurance through a private carrier, said Jennifer Dotson, the executive director of the Center for Community Transportation, which runs the Ithaca Carshare service.

As a result, Ithaca Carshare needs to seek coverage from a type of insurance company known as a risk retention group, Dotson said in an interview Thursday. Risk retention groups are not authorized to provide auto-liability insurance in New York under current state regulations if the insurance company is not domiciled in New York.

The state legislature has approved a bill that would change that. The bill is currently at the governor’s desk. Dotson said that Ithaca Carshare might be forced to permanently shutter while waiting for the bill to be signed into law. 

The organization will have to begin selling some of its cars next week in order to stay afloat financially, she said.  

Dotson, who attended both the fundraiser and the demonstration on Wednesday, said Ithaca Carshare supporters were not staging a “protest per se. It’s a direct urgent communication.”

She added, “We were very much hoping to celebrate last night.”

Katy Zielinksi, a spokesperson for Hochul, stated that the governor “is reviewing the legislation” in an email to The Ithaca Voice.

Alongside Ithaca Carshare supporters were demonstrators calling on the governor to deny the NYSEG rate increases that state regulators are considering.

The Public Service Commission (PSC), the state authority that regulates utilities, and NYSEG have reached a proposed deal to increase the utility’s electric delivery rate by 62% and gas delivery rate by 17.8%. The increases would be expressed over the course of 3 years.

NYSEG released a statement when the proposed settlement was released in June, in which the company said, “This proposed settlement provides the means to best serve customers in light of historic inflation, the ongoing recovery from the COVID pandemic, supply chain issues, and new state requirements regarding clean energy.”

The settlement between NYSEG and state regulators comes after Hochul called NYSEG’s initial request for delivery rate increases — 34.9% for electricity and 14.9% over the course of one year — “outrageous and unacceptable” in May 2022. Hochul called on state regulators to deeply scrutinize the utility’s arguments for increasing its rates. 

The governor’s office deferred The Ithaca Voice’s request for comment to the PSC.

James Denn, a spokesperson for the PSC, said, “State regulators pour over the utility’s books to identify ways to cut costs. Nothing about a utility’s rate case is taken for granted or assumed.”

Laurie Konwinski, an Ithaca area resident, said she thinks the proposed rate increases “are outrageous.”

“We sure hope [Hochul] follows through,” Konwinski said. She added that she supports the governor, but “wants to hold her accountable.”

A final determination will be made on NYSEG’s rate increase in the coming months.

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