ITHACA, N.Y.—Tompkins Cortland Community College professor Pat Sewell has announced an independent campaign for Common Council, running for the two-year seat in the Third Ward on the third-party Community Party line.
Sewell said he decided to run for office because he did not trust that the current candidates would match the level of commitment he witnessed from elected officials such as Ward 1 representatives Cynthia Brock and George McGonigal on Common Council.
Brock lost the Democratic primary in June to challenger Kayla Matos but is continuing her run as a third-party candidate, while McGonigal announced he wouldn’t run again. Sewell called both McGonigal and Brock “dedicated, passionate alderpersons.”
Sewell chose the two-year term rather than the four-year term because Democratic nominee Pierre Saint-Perez was running for the seat unopposed, arguing that democracy only flourishes with engagement. David Shapiro won the Democratic nomination for the four-year seat, defeating Nathan Sitaraman in the June primary.
“An uncontested election means an unengaged electorate, and there is a lot going on that needs the electorate’s input,” Sewell said.
Sewell, a registered Democrat, said he also wants to use his independent candidacy to highlight the political monopoly the Democratic Party can have in a liberal city like Ithaca, where the closed primary elections are often more competitive than the general election.
Sewell is an environmental ethics and economics professor at Tompkins County Community College and a worker at the GreenStar co-op, both experiences which he said contribute to how he views local governance and community engagement.
“Being community focused, trying to do things specifically for your area, and helping out folks and seeing all the folks in your areas interrelated, interconnected, having a stake in one another — those are the things that I see as valuable, and that I’d like to bring to the Common Council as well,” Sewell said.
Sewell said he will prioritize building a healthy working relationship with Ithaca College and Cornell, the latter of which is currently negotiating a memorandum of understanding regarding its annual contributions to the City of Ithaca. Finding common ground between those two institutions and the City and then fostering a mutually beneficial dynamic is crucial for the future, he said.
“I think the city gets a lot of benefit from Cornell, and I think Cornell gets a lot of benefit from the city. I’d like to see them working as mutual partners for a common goal,” Sewell said. “It feels a little unbalanced right now — maybe Cornell’s getting a bit more out than putting in. I’d like to rebalance that. But I want to do it in a way that creates a relationship that we can go back to.”
The City of Ithaca and Cornell will likely not see eye-to-eye on every aspect of their relationship, Sewell said, but working towards a common goal would be beneficial for all involved.
He said his experiences as the president of the TC3 Adjunct Association, the union representing the adjunct faculty at TC3, inform his outlook on negotiations and relationship building.
Based on his union background, Sewell said he would like to serve as the city’s liaison to its workers, the position currently held by McGonigal on council, and help rebuild the relationship between them and the City of Ithaca.
“I think I could be beneficial in helping to make sure that workers feel appreciated and that they get the best contract that the city can provide while also maintaining their fiduciary responsibility to the city,” Sewell said.
On the topic of housing, Sewell supports owner-occupancy requirements for properties with accessory dwelling units in neighborhoods like his native South Hill and Belle Sherman. Those neighborhoods have faced pressure from both Ithaca College and Cornell’s student housing demands.
“Belle Sherman and South Hill have a very nice overlap, and we have these pockets of areas where there’s single-family housing,” Sewell said. “A single-family house that goes on the market, and an outside company comes in, purchases the house, splits it up into six single units, and rents it to students. It just changes the character of the neighborhood […] You lose a lot when that happens.”
Sewell expressed his hope to build a cooperative, welcoming and friendly atmosphere throughout Ithaca.
“Every year it’s a new batch of folks, some leave and some go. And so it’s a relationship that you have to keep working on compassionately,” Sewell said. “That’s why I think it’s important to maintain good relationships overall, because you have to continue working on them. It’s not just like a one-time thing.”