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 7, which covers the towns of Caroline and Danby, and a portion of the Town of Ithaca, has been represented by Democrat Dan Klein since 2014; prior to that, Klein had been a member of the Danby town board for six years. The legislator is seeking re-election, and will be unopposed in his bid.
Here is what Klein 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?
Dan Klein: Like all the other candidates who have responded to this question, I think housing is one of the biggest issues in Tompkins County. Housing is really expensive here and is in short supply. The lack of affordable housing has implications for jobs, taxes, traffic, demographics, and general quality of life.
An issue facing us that concerns me a great deal but is all speculation at this point is what might happen with the federal government’s budget and money that Tompkins County receives. We received $33,000,000 in federal money last year, approximately 20 percent of our budget. If there is one thing about Donald Trump’s presidency that we know to be true, it’s that he has broken all the rules and we cannot assume we know what will happen next. Therefore we cannot continue to count on receiving vital federal funds that contribute to the support of our buses, healthcare, social services, public safety, roads, and all the other services that help make Tompkins County a place where people want to live. Losing federal funding could have a huge impact, and even the uncertainty is not a good thing. County government could potentially look so different in three years that we won’t even recognize it.
TW: What skills do you possess that would be an asset as a Tompkins County legislator?
DK: I believe I am a good communicator. I listen to what people have to say and I let people know what I am thinking. I write a monthly column for the Danby and Caroline community newsletters.
I have good focus and good follow-through. I am a patient person, an important skill to have when dealing with the legislative process.
I was on the Danby Town Board for six years, so I have a good understanding of what our local governments face and how that interacts with county government.
TW: What is something that would surprise people to know about you?
DK: In the summers I teach a gardening class in a New York state prison. I find this experience extremely rewarding. I enjoy talking with the inmates and learning about their lives, which are so different than mine. I ask them about their stories and how they ended up where they are. And I ask them about their views on some of the issues facing the Tompkins County Jail.
TW: How do you balance the desires of your constituents and your own personal beliefs when making decisions as a member of the Legislature?
DK: I am always thinking about what it means to “represent” people. Do I represent the people who voted for me? The people in my legislative district? All county residents? The 700 employees of Tompkins County?
The obvious answer is “all of the above.” But sometimes the desires of one constituency contradict the desires of another. I don’t have an exact formula of how to weigh every contradictory point of view, but I do try to understand all sides of an issue.
I try to keep in mind that I don’t own my legislative seat; I am the temporary caretaker of it.
Recently, we have been discussing the idea of whether members of the public should be asked to provide their name and municipality when speaking at our meetings. My personal belief is that, in the spirit of transparency, people absolutely should be required to identify themselves. However, I have heard from numerous constituents that think otherwise, so I will likely be supporting the anonymity option, despite my personal beliefs.
TW: Why should people vote for you?
DK: I am interested in being a public servant and helping with good government. Often, this involves the less flashy issues, and that is fine with me. I am sometimes “accused” of not being a visionary. I believe that there is more than enough vision in Tompkins County to go around. I don’t think we need more vision. But what we do need is more people to help implement the good ideas. That’s what you get when you vote for me. I do not take up public meeting time making speeches. I do not aspire to higher office. I am someone who keeps his fingers on the pulse of what is going on, helps sort out the workable ideas, and quietly endeavors to help implement them.