The following was written, and submitted, by Ann Sullivan, who has lived in Ithaca since 1981. For 30 years she worked as a librarian at TC3.
Last year, Martha Robertson’s hard fought, grueling sixteen month campaign against Tom Reed attracted national attention and early hopes for a Democratic takeover of the seat. It
was not to be. Reed rode a national Republican wave and district wide anger against
Cuomo’s Safe Act to a decisive victory. His campaign also employed an attack strategy that proved lethal to Robertson. Making effective use of her Tompkins County roots, Reed effectively (albeit unfairly) cast his opponent as an out of touch Ithacan, a tax raising, Nancy Pelosi loving, one time hippie hopelessly out of touch with anyone outside the Tompkins County lines. The margin of victory was devastating. Reed out polled Robertson 58% to 36%. November 4th 2014 proved a very long election night for Democrats and progressives.
Shortly after the dust settled, a meme soon bubbled up, gained strength and rapidly spread throughout the District. Never, never again should a Tompkins County Democrat be a candidate for the congressional seat. He/she would simply be too liberal, too out of touch — well “too Ithacanish” – to appeal across the 23rd. In 2016, we Democrats, the meme insists, must look elsewhere – someone from a town or city in Chautauqua, Yates or maybe Seneca counties, anywhere that is not in Tompkins County.
I have no desire to denigrate candidates from outside Ithaca and will stand in line to support any candidate who can beat Tom Reed. Still, to the “anyone but an Ithacan” meme. I say hogwash!
Tom Reed brilliantly played the out of touch Ithacan line, but too many Tompkins County candidates have performed well outside the county to write off aTompkins County candidate. Ithacan Matt McHugh won five elections before he retired from Congress in 1993. Our very progressive Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton carried conservative Cortland County in 2014 despite her unapologetic support of the Safe Act. Ithacan Nate Shinagawa came very close to beating Reed in 2012 and carried counties in the western part of the 23rd . Other factors contributed to the margin of Reed’s victory, including ironically a lack of enthusiasm among voters in the Democratic stronghold of Tompkins County. In 2012 Shinagawa won Tompkins County with 26,976 votes to Reed’s 11,111. Last November, Robertson only drew 17,870 votes to Reed’s 8,100. I believe that the force of the 2014 Republican wave and Reed’s money would have defeated any Democrat in 2014 and admire and thank Martha Robertson for her grit and determination. Still, we must be honest. The campaign was not flawless. The well regarded political strategist Stu Rothenberg ranked it among the worse five of the cycle.
It is March in the Southern Tier. Across the 23rd, wiser political heads than mine are huddling and hashing out who can wage a winning campaign against Reed. I do not tilt at windmills and will work hard for whomever that person is. Still, it is questionable strategy and bad politics to write off an entire geographical area. Democrats in Tompkins County will donate money and bring enthusiasm and passion to any viable candidate who can beat Tom Reed. But do not dismiss Tompkins County as a source of candidates for any office. We have a great bench here– folks like Mayor Svante Myrick of Ithaca, former 23rd primary candidate Leslie Danks Burke whose work for Planned Parenthood and Democratic women candidates has won her respect across the district and numerous city councilors and town selectmen. To write any of them off them off is not only disrespectful. It is foolish.
Point of Interest: Stu Rothenberg also wrote an article entitled, “The Most Divided House District in New York.” Which one he was talking about? (rs)