2019 is a big year for change for Rod Howe, Executive Director of The History Center in Tompkins County and a Town of Ithaca board member. Howe announced last week that he will be stepping down from the executive director position at the end of July, and will be running for Town of Ithaca Supervisor.
After July Howe plans to work part-time with the History Center to help with special projects. Since he took the position of Executive Director the job has taken over much of his life. With recent changes in his life, and after realizing his goal to move the center into a new building, he’s ready to step down and try something new.
“To take on leadership for a not-for-profit, if you really are serious about it you can spend all your waking hours focused on it,” Howe said. “And I gave it a lot of waking hours. I saw it as an organization that wasn’t living up to its potential and wanted to raise its visibility, have it be more impactful, more engaging, and I think – in partnership with many folks – that we have done that to a great extent.”
For years Howe has worn many hats and held many leadership positions, often all at once. He could make it work, he said, because he had someone in his life who could help him with everything else: his husband Mark Pedersen. When Pedersen passed away last year, something had to give.
“I was no longer going to be able to do everything that I do,” Howe said. “Even before he died, I had promised him that when we [the History Center] were settled in a new place, [I] would make some decisions to have a more balanced life.”
When current Ithaca Town Supervisor, Bill Goodman, announced that he would not be running for the position of supervisor again, Howe started to consider the idea for himself. Goodman will be running for Howe’s seat, and Howe will be running for supervisor, in the November election, assuming no other Democrats win the primary. Currently, no other Democrats have filed to run.
It was not his plan to step down as Executive Director after only four and a half years, Howe said, but Pederson’s death has changed that. With the History Center settled into a brand-new building, now seems like a good time to move on.
“The pieces started to come together for me in terms of the next phase of my life,” Howe said.
Before Goodman announced that he wouldn’t be running again, Howe said he had never really considered running for supervisor. But if he wins, he feels that it could be a great position for him right now. It could allow for more of a balance in his life when he steps away from the center, and still allows him to give back to the community.
Goodman is willing to job-share with Howe if they both win, and take the position of deputy supervisor. This, along with going part-time at the center, is how Howe plans on finding more balance as he eases into the position of supervisor if he wins.
Before winning a seat on the town board, Howe served for many years on the town planning board. While he never really thought he would become a politician, public service is a passion of his. Even as Executive Director at the center, being able to connect people with the place they live through history, in an effort to help make it a better place for everyone, was a goal of his. And still is. Running for supervisor was a natural next step.
“It felt like a way to still be involved in the community and not be completely starting something new since I was already grounded in the town,” he said. The skills he used as the executive director are skills he believes will also be useful as supervisor: managing people, managing budgets, and working collaboratively.
“I know all the players already and I think I work well in that team environment,” he said.
Many of the issues that the town board is currently dealing with, Howe expects to be dealing with in the future. Much like the City of Ithaca and the rest of the county, housing is a big one. Currently, the board is also working on legislation around local short-term rental properties used for businesses like Airbnb. Developing new zoning to match the comprehensive plan is an ongoing project.
Intermunicipal cooperation is a big part of the job, and that doesn’t just mean working with the City of Ithaca. That cooperation spans all the way to the federal level. He has been impressed with the cooperation as he sees it from his seat on the town board, and that healthy collaboration is something he would like to see continue.
As a candidate, Howe wants people to know that he has a good, diverse background of experience that has given him the needed skill set for the job. If he wins, he plans on being open and accessible as a public official and will be clear about his goals.
Recommended for you