ITHACA, N.Y.—Jason Houghton isn’t ready to give up his pursuit of a seat on Ithaca’s Common Council.
He told The Ithaca Voice Wednesday that he will continue his campaign after losing the Democratic primary to his opponent, Clyde Lederman in June. The two are competing for a two-year term to represent the redrawn Fifth Ward.
Lederman, who’s in his sophomore year at Cornell University, edged ahead of Houghton in the primary with 94 votes compared to Houghton’s 84. Prior to June’s primary election, Houghton committed to continuing his campaign into November.
Houghton had filed to appear on an independent line, Ithacans For Progress, in the lead up to the primary. Houghton said he secured the independent line in order to have the same opportunity his opponent did to appear on the ballot in November. Lederman had previously received the endorsement of the Working Families Party.
Losing the primary pushed Houghton to reconsider his commitment to continue his campaign, he said, but what ultimately pushed him to follow through were residents of the Fifth Ward “encouraging me to continue to run.”
The race has remained among the most cordial in the city. Houghton called Lederman “very informed” on local issues, and “very intelligent” while speaking with The Ithaca Voice, but he believes his tenure as a city resident separates him from Lederman.
Lederman has lived in Ithaca since 2022, when he began as a freshman at Cornell. Houghton said he’s lived in the Ithaca area for over 17 years, and in the city for six. He said he felt that having someone who’s “lived off campus” would be beneficial experience for a council member.
“The primary thing that distinguishes me from my opponent is my experience in the city,” Houghton said.
Lederman said in an interview that he is “proud that Democratic voters think I should be the Democratic nominee.” He credited his win in the primary with his campaign’s focus on addressing housing affordability in the city through policy proposals like evoking the Emergency Tenant Protection Act to introduce rent stabilization to some units in the city.
“I don’t think [Houghton] is interested in being as aggressive or as forceful as I am on this issue,” Lederman said.
Houghton said he would be “in full support of exploring” the use of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act in the city.
The issues and messaging Houghton intends to run on remain mostly the same, he told The Ithaca Voice. He reiterated a commitment to bringing city workers salaries up to parity with similar positions in nearby municipalities, and working to make Cornell University contribute greater financial support to the City of Ithaca — a virtually unanimous view among Common Council candidates and current office holders.
Issues like increasing the contributions of Cornell University, which is exempt from local property taxes, and making housing more affordable in the city have become perennial political issues in the city.
The city’s plans to restrict where homeless encampments are in Ithaca have become hotly debated among council members and the public since drafts started undergoing public review in May. It’s a policy that Lederman and Houghton appear split on as they prepare for round two of their race against one another.
The encampments are on Ithaca’s West End in an area known as “The Jungle.” The policy, which is still currently being drafted, would restrict camping to a single “green zone” on the West End, and outlines a six-step enforcement protocol that would eventually involve police issuing a citation to campers who refuse to move out of areas where camping is banned.
Opponents of the policy have criticized the plan for restricting the area in which someone might be living without shelter, and for criminalizing homelessness because of the involvement of law enforcement.
Supporters have called it the city’s first step to begin delivering services to homeless people living in the Jungle, and reducing friction between the businesses and other residents in the area. That friction has largely stemmed from concerns around criminal activity in the immediate area.
Houghton counts himself among supporters of the plan.
“I don’t see it as criminalizing homelessness, I see it as trying to create an environment where we can most effectively assist the homeless,” Houghton said.
Council members have discussed establishing sanitary facilities and running water in the green zone, although the draft policy does not stipulate building those amenities in its most recent draft.
The policy draft still has the potential to change dramatically after being discussed during a four hour meeting of Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee on Aug. 16. City staff are redrafting the proposal.
Lederman said he is “not convinced” the latest draft of the policy will address the concerns that area residents have about crime associated with the Jungle. The issue of homelessness, he said, is tied to “fundamental problems,” like the opioid crisis. But Lederman said he wants to wait until the proposal is more “concrete” before making a final judgment on the camping ordinance.
Republicans, independents, and voters registered to third parties will now have a vote in choosing Lederman or Houghton, in addition to a wave of students residing in Ithaca for the fall semester. The redrawn Fifth Ward is largely populated by students living in dorms on Cornell’s campus. Students registering to vote in the election, and a wider residential population able to participate in the election, are factors poised to differentiate November’s vote from that of the primary.
The support that’s remained with Houghton is what he said he’s thinking about as he continues his campaign.
“I feel an obligation to the people who voted for me and the people who supported me so far to run,” he said.