October 23, 2021

City draws diverse candidates for council races

Two Black people, an LGBT advocate and an organizer of Cortland’s Back the Blue movement are among the 14 people who have declared their candidacies for Cortland’s Common Council. And if elected, they would make one of the most diverse councils the city has seen in a long time.

Melissa Kiser, Sam Adams and Seth A. Thompson are running as Democrats in the 8th, 1st and 5th wards, respectively. Kiser, an organizer for Cortland’s Black Lives Matter movement, and Thompson, the senior diversity officer at Tompkins Cortland Community College, are Black. Adams is a project coordinator with Cortland Prevention Resources’ LGBT Resource Center.

William “Bud” Diescher, the leader of Cortland’s Back the Blue group, which supports police and first responders, is running as a Republican for the 3rd Ward seat that Democrat Bruce Tytler holds. Tytler announced earlier this year he is seeking to become mayor.

Diescher did not respond to a request for comment.

Kiser, the lead organizer of Cortland’s Black Lives Matter group, said police accountability and continued reform, community engagement and addressing national issues at a local level will be key components of her platform.

“I’m doing it because I’m staying involved in my community and that all members are being heard, not just a select few,” Kiser said.

Kiser owns a business that helps make sure people with disabilities get state funding they’re entitled to, she said. She also helps people get connected to support services like therapy.

Kiser, who was a part of the state-mandated community task force to bring insight into police reform in Cortland following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, said plans approved in April were realistic, but work remains.

“I know this isn’t going to be the end of it,” she said. “We still have a long way to go for our police department to be the absolute best it can be.”

Adams said she also wants to continue the work of giving voices to underrepresented groups, focus on improving city roads and improve accessibility and understanding of Common Council meetings to citizens.

Adams said she wants to help translate what happens at meetings for residents to better understand what’s happening in their government.

“I want to make it accessible so people can feel connected to what’s happening in their town,” she said.

Adams noted how she was part of the process to make the city charter gender-neutral to improve inclusivity and by running, she hopes she can help “make this a place people can feel safe calling it home.”

Thompson, who serves as the associate vice president for student services and senior diversity officer at Tompkins Cortland Community College, said staying connected within the community will be a platform item as he wants to hear the needs of the 5th Ward and also address issues such as poor road conditions and inadequate broadband connectivity.

“The more connected we are as a community, the better we are,” he said.

Thompson said he believes his job with the college, which requires lots of listening to students and faculty and making sure to follow up on concerns of students and faculty, will help make him a strong candidate.

“I believe I can deliver on that because of those skills,” he said.

The seats Kiser, Adams and Thompson are running for are held by Republican Tom Michales, Democrat Kat McCarthy and Democrat Jacki Chapman, respectively.

Terms for Common Council are two years. Election day is Nov. 2.