DRYDEN — Assembly Member Barbara Lifton will not seek re-election this November, she announced Friday at Dryden Town Hall.
Lifton (D-Ithaca), who won election to a ninth term in the state Assembly in 2018, said she “had to wrestle with this decision,” because important work remains to be done in Albany, “but I’ve decided that the time has come to put down this work.”
A former English teacher for Geneseo and Ithaca public schools, Lifton increasingly became involved in political activism in the mid-1980s with the Tompkins County Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign. Her activism then led her into a political career, in which she served as chief of staff for Assembly Member Marty Luster for 14 years before running for office herself when Luster stepped down.
Lifton said she was a reluctant politician who came to elected office a self- effacing policy wonk so accustomed to expressing her employer’s opinions that “the word ‘I’ had almost disappeared from my vocabulary.”
Lifton’s career has spanned a number of significant state issues — election security, midwifery, fracking and climate change — on which she left a mark.
Election security and fracking, for instance, were issues she had not anticipated having to deal with, yet both required a great deal of research and work over the years.
Walter Hang, founder of Toxics Targeting, an Ithaca-based environmental consulting company, credited her work on fracking as being crucial to stopping the practice in New York.
“Without you, our state would have been fracked — it’s as simple as that,” Hang said.
Lifton also talked about her work on education issues and said the state needs to do more to reduce student debt.
“Great states and great countries should not burden their students in this way,” she said.
Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin said Lifton exemplified “what is right about government and what is right about elected officials.”
“She’ll take a stand,” Tobin said. “She stands up for what she believes in.”
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick said Lifton was his mentor when he started in politics.
“Barbara is a teacher through and through,” Myrick said.
Lifton would not comment on who she might support to succeed her.
“I’m sure there will be a number of people stepping forward, and it’s going to be interesting to see,” she said. “I feel certain that we’ll have strong people running, and a great person selected by the people of this district.”
“It was time to step away,” Lifton said. “Forty years of public service — eight years of teaching, 14 years chief of staff for my predecessor, 18 years as assembly member, and, you know, I’m a little tired honestly.”
She said her immediate plans after retiring next year are to relax. Beyond that, she was uncertain.
“I’ve got a year of work ahead of me. I’m in office until Dec. 31. I will continue to be working hard during the session and beyond,” she said. “I have no definite plans. I’ve brainstormed a list of things I want to do. I think I’m going to do as close to nothing as I can for a while and putter and smell the flowers.”