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 6, which covers the Town of Lansing, has been represented by Republican Mike Sigler since 2014; he also served a four-year term for District 6 from 2006-10. Sigler is seeking re-election to his seat, and is being challenged by Democrat Mike Koplinka-Loehr, who is a former Tompkins County legislator, serving from 1998-2009 and as board chairperson during 2008-2009.
Here is what Sigler had to say in response to the questions we asked about the county and the role of legislators.
Tompkins Weekly: What are the top three issues facing Tompkins County?
Mike Sigler: The top issue facing the county is the jail. It’s number one because it’s the issue we are directly responsible for. Should we build a new one, renovate the old one, add a detox wing or a detox facility somewhere else? Add beds? What will the state say if we have a plan other than adding new beds? There are a lot of questions. We just received a report that the county commissioned. I have not supported building a new jail and I’m happy to see this report says we can go forward without adding beds; it’s still up in the air if the state will agree. I do support a detox facility at the jail. The report makes it clear we need screening of incoming people.
A detox facility at the jail could accomplish that, get the person in a state to make decisions about rehab and the potential charges facing them, and lower the number of people in jail cells. Some argue that this facility should be separate from the jail. I don’t see why. This is just detox at the jail, not rehab.
Energy is my second biggest issue as it’s the biggest issue for my town. The Cayuga power plant has been losing value, but we fought to keep it open. Now it has a new owner and a new future. We need the gas moratorium lifted on Lansing. It’s made the playing field uneven for economic development and it costs my constituents almost three times more to heat their homes than those living in the areas with natural gas. I don’t see those advocating for no new natural gas infrastructure turning off their gas. This is also closely tied to taxes. To hold taxes steady and to have them decrease, we need growth.
Support for the Cargill salt mine is also in my top three issues. I was at a meeting recently where folks were asked who did NOT want mining under the lake and 95 percent of the people raised their hands. My opponent helped set up that meeting, a meeting where much of the information given out was either incorrect or not pertinent to the Cargill mine expansion north. If that expansion does not happen, the mine will close and 200 people will lose their jobs, the county’s salt expense will go up $1 million, and its carbon footprint will go up because of the need to truck in salt.
Housing is a big issue and should be included, but while the county can shepherd resources and give guidance, we don’t control zoning making this largely a town issue. Both the village and town of Lansing understand this and I work closely with them to make our town attractive to housing developers.
TW: What skills do you possess that would be an asset as a Tompkins County legislator?
MS: I show up. I always credit Woody Allen with this, but 90 percent of life is just showing up. Events, meetings, discussions, I’m there. I invest in my town, in my constituents.
I also communicate the policies being adopted at the legislature, but more importantly I listen, not to respond, but to understand. There are times when I’m dead set against something, but I’m flexible enough that when someone makes a better argument, I can change. This is not flip flopping to me; I don’t go against my values. But I do listen and if the other side’s argument is better, I can adopt it and hopefully add to it to make it better. My support for keeping the ACA until something better was proposed is a good example.
TW: What is something that would surprise people to know about you?
MS: I studied to be a journalist and was a journalist for about 10 years before running for NYS Assembly in 2002. While at Columbia I worked for CNN and Good Morning America. After graduating I moved to upstate NY for an on-air reporting job at WENY, then WTVH, and finally became an anchor/reporter at WETM. I miss the work, but as reporters can tell you, the pay and hours are terrible. I still love news despite a decline that I see in the national news organizations.
TW: How do you balance the desires of your constituents and your own personal beliefs when making decisions as a member of the Legislature?
MS: I always consider my constituents first. I represent them. There are times when I think I’m correct even though I think my position may be unpopular. At those times I make it very clear how I’m going to vote and why. This has served me well. On at least one occasion it’s elicited a response from constituents where I changed my mind and was able to then explain the rationale for the change.
I freely admit I’m not always right. I recognize that. What I need, though, sometimes is for someone to explain why I am wrong and why I should change my position. If you think you are right, great, prove it; after all, I represent you and I want you to argue your position so that I can do that at the Legislature.
TW: Why should people vote for you?
MS: I’m a fierce advocate for Lansing. There should be no doubt at this point that I’m all in for my town and constituents. When it looked like the power plant would be mothballed, we fought. We circulated a petition that we delivered to the governor, put up billboards, I bought radio time. Now that power plant has a new owner, is putting in an 18 megawatt solar array. Now with some looking to close the salt mine, I’m there fighting for the livelihoods of 200 people and their families.
Aside from these big issues, it’s also the little things. When I get a call about a pot hole, a bridge, and when I see a problem like a kids crossing a busy road, I immediately try to fix it. That takes someone who can work with the town board and supervisor. We’ve built a solid team in Lansing that works together and I’m proud to be a part of it.
To learn more about Sigler, visit Facebook.com/MikeSiglerForTompkinsCountyLegislator.