ITHACA, N.Y. — Two Republicans are seeking public office in the City of Ithaca, aiming to overcome the odds of a heavily liberal political arena. 

Zach Winn is running to represent the city’s redistricted First Ward for a two-year term on Ithaca’s Common council, and Janis Kelly is seeking the Mayor’s office for a four-year term. They formally launched their campaigns Sunday. Both are racing against Democrats currently on the city’s Common Council: Alderpersons Phoebe Brown and Rob Cantelmo. 

Neither are new to local politics. Winn, who grew up in Ithaca and works in the food service industry, ran for mayor of the city in 2022 as a Republican and in 2007 as a member of the “Anti-Death Party,” an independent party of his own making. Winn, now the co-chair of the City of Ithaca’s Republican Committee, describes himself as “anti-establishment,” an “anarchist,” and a member of the “new right.”

Kelly ran for mayor in 2011. A medical journalist by trade, Kelly has been an active member of the Ithaca Republican Party for years. She grew up in Texas and moved to Ithaca to attend Cornell University in the late 1960s, where, she proudly states, she was a founding member of the university’s first gay student group.

Kelly and Winn are building their campaigns on addressing crime, bringing an end to the homeless encampments on Ithaca’s West End, known as the “Jungle,” and increasing support for the Ithaca Police Department (IPD) as it struggles under short staffing levels. 

Kelly and Winn both told The Ithaca Voice that they’re running to win, but support for Republicans has remained thin in the city for decades.

According to voter enrollment data from the New York State Board of Elections reviewed by The Ithaca Voice, as of February 2023, only 6% of registered voters in the city of Ithaca are Republicans, while 70% are Democrats.

The First Ward is not much different. About 8% of registered voters are Republicans, while 65% are Democrats. 

Kelly and Winn announced their campaigns months ago, but on Sunday, they presented their case to voters at a community conversation at the Fraternal Order of the Eagles’ Ithaca Club. The event attracted about 15 people in total, including the two candidates themselves, at least two journalists, and two officials from the local Republican party.

Concerns about crime in the city’s homeless encampments took center stage, as well as fears about what may happen to the City of Ithaca if the Solidarity Slate, a socialist bloc of candidates, continues to gain ground in local politics. 

Winn strongly criticized the slate and local leftist organizers. The local political movement has elected two members of the slate to the city’s 10-member council. A third member, Kayla Matos, won the Democratic primary against Alderperson Cynthia Brock, who is now running on the third-party Ithacans for Progress line to retain her seat. 

“Democrats are being cannibalized from within by Marxist socialist communists who are intent on seizing ultimate power,” Winn said on Sunday. “I don’t know if they’re going to reset the year to zero and kill everyone with eyeglasses; I hope not. But those people are capable of anything.”

Leftists in the city have been at loggerheads for years with Winn, one of Ithaca’s few right-wing activists — although he rejects the label of activist.

Winn, who writes about crime under the name “Chip Daley” at, has been accused of “fear mongering” by the group, and is regularly decried as a “fascist” by local leftists. 

But Winn maintains that these criticisms don’t mean anything to him. “I do not care what communists think, say, or believe,” Winn said.

Brown, Winn’s opponent, is a member of the slate. He played a clip for the small crowd on Sunday of Brown explaining in a public meeting her desire to see funding from the Ithaca Police Department reallocated to community organizations. 

It’s a position that Kelly and Winn oppose.

Brown told The Ithaca Voice that she and Winn “are definitely coming from two different backgrounds, and two different philosoph[ies] of the way we see the world.”

Brown said she wants to see the police department’s staffing levels increase from where they currently are, but would like to explore reallocated funds from policing. 

Certain actions of Winn’s have “hurt,” Brown said, specifically mentioning an incident in which he burned a Black Lives Matter flag during a Back the Blue rally in 2021. Nonetheless, Brown said she is “looking forward to the race” against Winn out of the belief that it is important for voters to have choices.

Currently, IPD has 38 officers, according to the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association. In the late 1990’s, the department had over 80 officers.

Both Kelly and Winn place much of the blame for the police department’s staffing woes on Ithaca’s Reimagining Public Safety plan, which initially called for the restructuring of the department in a version released in 2021. Common Council adopted a revised plan in April that removed the proposed structural changes.

The staffing situation at the department is “not acceptable,” Kelly said. She added that in order for the department to be repaired, “we’re going to have to change the way the city has been run for the last five or seven years.”

Both Winn and Kelly staked out the position for emptying the homeless encampments on Ithaca’s West End and prohibiting camping, citing concerns about criminal activity that have been raised by residents of the West End and local businesses.

A tragic spotlight was placed on the Jungle after the disappearance of Thomas Rath from the encampments in May evolved into a kidnapping and homicide investigation. State Police announced 10 arrests in relation to Rath’s murder on Aug. 28, and confirmed an eleventh on Sept. 1. 

The incident was highlighted Sunday by Kelly and Winn as a sign of the lack of safety that exists in the encampments.

Currently, a policy that would allow individuals to camp in a “green zone” on city land is being drafted and revised in council. 

It’s a plan that Winn called “completely flawed.” Kelly and Winn advocated for an expansion of shelter services rather than permitting homeless individuals to camp outside.

The residents of the Jungle are “down on their luck” Kelly said, citing mental health issues, and substance abuse problems as compounding difficulties upon living in the homeless encampments. 

Kelly said individuals who are unable to stick by sobriety rules that would come with a stay at emergency shelters should either be sent to a detox facility, or jail.

Cantelmo, Kelly’s opponent, said in response to a request for comment on the mayoral race that he is “committed to working together with our residents council and city staff to build an Ithaca that is inclusive, affordable, vibrant, and sustainable.”

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