Candidates For Assembly Seat Meet With Black Leaders In Online Community Forum

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Updated: 6/12/20 – 3:10 P.M.

TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY (WSKG) – There are seven Democratic candidates in the race to replace Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton. On Thursday, evening all seven attended an online forum sponsored by the Southside Community Center in Ithaca. Southside is a mostly black neighborhood in downtown Ithaca.

Lifton retires at the end of this year.

Screenshot of forum. (Celia Clarke/WSKG)

The district includes all of Tompkins and part of Cortland County.

One of the longest portions of the forum involved questions about housing and homelessness.

All the candidates agreed that discrimination against people who receive government rent assistance must be addressed.

Lisa Hoeschele is one of two candidates from Cortland County. She described the effect of income discrimination in housing on families.

“They’re constantly being evicted and then they’re having their children taken away from them because they have no home. So I think we really need to make sure that we’re working to support higher reimbursement for Section 8 housing,” Hoeschele said.

“We need to give DSS [ county departments of social services] and others who work with those individuals with Section 8 more options for funding.”

Hoeschele is currently head of Family and Children’s Counseling Services in Cortland County.

She said the public should be educated to respect that everyone deserves safe, decent housing regardless of their need for Section 8 rent assistance.

At different moments, Hoeschele and Sujata Gibson challenged Seph Murtagh over votes he had made as a member of the Ithaca Common Council. They challenged his support of luxury housing projects in the center city area. Gibson also challenged him to justify his recent vote, that included reduced funding for community organizations like the Southside Community Center.

Murtagh said the cuts were unavoidable because the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically reduce city revenue. Ithaca chose to furlough over 80 staff members and made cuts throughout the city budget.

Both Murtagh and candidate Jordan Lesser served on Assemblywoman Lifton’s staff. Just hours before the forum, Lifton endorsed Lesser.

During the forum Lesser described the governor’s economic development program as flawed.

“Some of these projects might be great. But here’s no follow up on whether the actual jobs that these projects said they would create actually came through,” he said.

Lesser said there should be clear accountability, and where projects don’t fulfill their commitments, the state should take back its money and increase spending on other social services.

The Democratic primary is June 23. Meanwhile, Matthew McIntyre will be the Republican and Libertarian candidate in November. Anna Kelles has been endorsed by the Working Families Party.*

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the winner of the primary would run unopposed. The updated version includes all candidates on other party lines.