By Rob Montana
With at least 20 people announcing their plans to run for Tompkins County Legislature in the fall, Tompkins Weekly will be offering readers an opportunity to learn more about the people who will be appearing on ballots in September and November.
District 1, which covers a portion of the City of Ithaca, has been represented by Democrat Leslyn McBean-Clairborne since 2001; to date, she is the only person who has announced plans to run for the seat. Here is what she had to say in response to our questions.
Tompkins Weekly: What are the top three issues facing Tompkins County?
Leslyn McBean-Clairborne: In my opinion, the top three issues are affordable housing, jail expansion and meeting the shared services mandate. However, it goes without saying that trying to keep property taxes down while providing necessary services for those most in need continues as a mission critical issue. This is especially challenging when having to respond to the New York state-imposed tax cap.
I have personally been dealing with too many of our citizens who have to find housing outside of the core of the city because they cannot afford to live here. This has a serious domino effect on their economic status. For many, having to move out of town because of housing needs often jeopardizes their jobs because they lack reliable transportation to get to work. It may also jeopardize services they might receive because they are unable to get to appointments. This is a recipe for perpetuating poverty and oppressing certain citizens even more.
In relation to the jail expansion issue, as a county we find ourselves in the conflicting position of having to respond to the demands of the Commission on Corrections, the court system and the residents of the county. We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in alternatives to incarceration programs and will undoubtedly invest more. However, as long as we have a jail, we have to abide by the regulations and we know that we can’t always rely on the presence of variances.
TW: What skills do you possess that would be an asset as a Tompkins County legislator?
LMC: For me, continuing to work to build an inclusive and safe county for all is important. My skills as an organizer, mediator and facilitator are essential to the decision-making processes in which we are involved. My experiences as one who dealt with issues of poverty, immigrant status, single-parenting, homelessness, racism and incarceration, among others, help to inform my decisions and votes on the Legislature.
TW: What is something that would surprise people to know about you?
LMC: Surprise! I am very shy. I am not someone who gravitates to the spotlight nor do I know how to mingle well at a party (smile). I suppose this is not a very good attribute for a person in politics whose very job relies on the ability to connect easily with citizens.
TW: How do you balance the desires of your constituents and your own personal beliefs when making decisions as a member of the Legislature?
LMC: Interesting enough over the course of my tenure on this Legislature, the desires of my constituents more often than not align with my personal beliefs. I represent a district that I feel is the heart of compassion. I would venture to say that the residents of District 1 run the full spectrum on the economic scale. However, when those beliefs and values conflict, I do yield to the desires of my constituents because, after all, I am there to represent them. For me, it is important that such decisions are made not because of one person’s concern but because I have heard from an overwhelming number of people.
TW: Why should people vote for you?
LMC: I appreciate the confidence the residents of the 1st District have placed in me for the last two terms. I believe that my record of votes and representation, my experience and my connection to community have been unquestionable. I believe that I bring a unique perspective to county government and that my integrity, honesty and down-to-earth attitude make me very accessible to constituents. I am keen on the issues facing county government as well as those other fundamental issues such as valuing employees and building an inclusive work place environment that would make Tompkins County an even greater place to live, play and work. I am not serving as a legislator because I have aspirations for higher office. I am there simply to represent the people of Tompkins County and I humbly ask for your vote to allow me to continue to to do so.