There’s Something about Ithaca

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
Political ChoicesCuomo’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)

About pystew

Retired Teacher, political science geek, village trustee. I lean a little left, but like a good political discussion. My blog, the New NY 23rd (http://newny23rd) is about discussing the issues facing the people of our new congressional district. Let's hear all sides of the issues, not just what the candidates want us to hear.
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8 Responses to There’s Something about Ithaca

  1. Deb Meeker says:

    Point of order. Tom Reed is not “brilliant” in any sense. Nor was his campaign. He used bullies at the so called neutral debates, he used many tens thousands of out-of-state corporate dollars, he used his incumbent position in photo op extravaganzas, and most of all – he used lies.
    2014 was a very off year, all over the country, and it certainly didn’t help any of the Democratic candidates that 1) the DCCC made a very public announcement that they were pulling back in their funding from some candidates from advertisements (Martha was one of those), “to help the ‘weaker candidates in tough races’. And, 2) some Democratic candidates RAN from our President’s accomplishments. Martha was NOT one of those.


  2. whungerford says:

    I agree with Ann–political strategists will find and seize on something to attack wherever the candidate may reside. It is a shame when the outcome is determined by focus on anything but the candidates competence and political views, but voters have themselves to thank for that..


  3. Ann S. says:

    I am glad people read this. First, I never
    said Tom Reed was brilliant. He was,
    however, canny enough to hire smart
    strategists who, yes, played the
    Ithaca meme brilliantly. As for the lies,
    bullies, etc. I say — what did you expect?
    Political elections are wars fought
    without bullets. Whining about unfair
    tactics never won an election.
    As for my main point, please do not
    let Reed set the terms for the contest. A TC
    Resident can win — but he/she will
    have to be smart to bring a
    metaphorical knife to this fight.


  4. Deb Meeker says:

    Well, Ann, I would expect the legislator that says he/she “represents” me – to not lie, cheat, and steal elections; we all seem to be all too accepting “well they all do it – what do you expect?”. Beyond that, there were plenty of knives thrown at Tom Reed, and his teflon coating ( never had to answer for his Ethics investigation), his mega money, his political machine, – all those knives bounced right off.
    I’m not disagreeing with you or anyone else that perceives to beat out Reed will take a pit bull attitude, but it will also take a constituency who is far more concerned about realities – than “Obama taking their guns”. I believe I was merely stating fact, not whining.
    To sway to the right to compete with Reed seems to me to be illogical, but to stand for a Progressive platform was, in 2014 at least, an equally dismal result.
    What besides “speaking truth to power”, and bringing weapons with sharp points, do you suggest for the next opponent against Tom Reed?


  5. Ann S. says:

    Hi Deb. We should have coffee soon and talk about the next election. As my sister Kathy who lives in NH says — grassroots, grassroots, grassroots. It took her and other Democrats years to turn a red state into a purple one. We need to think about the next election and start planning for 2016. I actually have a lot of faith in the people of the 23rd who, as they have shown, will vote for an attractive Democratic candidate and believe a smart campaign that highlights local issues can be effective. First, however, we need a candidate. I am mainly concerned about the voices writing any of our very good TC folks out of the equation which was the gist of what I wrote.


  6. solodm says:

    Coffee sounds lovely Ann, and we can also discuss what is meant by “an attractive Democratic candidate”. I understand grassroots movements, and I believe they are what got the President into office twice. My money and time will be going to the candidate that stands for a Progressive platform, can equate honesty with service, and call Reed’s spade a spade. First of course, such a candidate must come forward, to begin the arduous journey of gathering us – the grassroots team together.
    I have a Facebook page under “Deb Meeker” please feel free to message me for that coffee date.


  7. Anne says:

    I’m seeing some movement over on the Primary Tom Reed page, and a growing dissatisfaction with him from that quarter (who were never big fans to begin with) along with a call to oust Boehner, for whom Reed voted. I think one of the best things that could happen would be for a challenger from the right to make it onto the ticket…split Reed’s vote, drain it away, and with a strong Democrat on the ticket, that seat should turn blue again. (And incidentally, I lived in NH the year Democrats won big–my daughter, who was 13 at the time, had spent a lot of time doing the door-to-door thing with moveon. It’s a tactic that works well, and perhaps is one we should resurrect hereabouts.)


  8. whungerford says:

    A Republican challenger seems unlikely, and even if there were a challenge, Tom would likely prevail as Richard Hanna did last year in NY-22. Tom has done well at convincing Republicans of all stripes that he has their interests at heart. Republicans who consider Tom too moderate are unlikely to do anything to boost a Democrat.


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