Installment I: Me and our County Legislature
Posted Saturday, October 23rd; through November 4, 2021:
On April 7th of this year, I announced my candidacy to succeed Dave McKenna on the Tompkins County Legislature. I believed at that time I had the depth of knowledge and the wealth of experience to best represent those of you in the Great Tompkins-Southwest District, District 8, Newfield and southern Enfield. I still do.
Events did not proceed as I had hoped. On June 22nd, I lost the Democratic Primary to another candidate. Two days later, addressing the Newfield Town Board, I suspended my campaign. I told that Town Board—and you—that District 8 voters deserved head-to-head competition between the Democratic and Republican nominees “without confusion.”
But I also informed you that night that “I will remain on the ballot. I’ve labored too long, going road-to-road, door-to-door, to surrender those 151 [Independent] nominating signatures on a whim. And I would betray the trust of those who’ve signed for me by canceling their preference with my one stroke of a pen. They have the right to vote for me—should they choose.”
Contrary to what one local media organization has reported—for which I have now lost great respect—it is not true that I have “no further plans to succeed McKenna.” I have not folded my cards and walked away. I remain on the ballot. You can still vote for me, should you choose.
But some have told me they’d prefer I remain on the Enfield Town Board and “fight the good fight” on their behalf. Recent developments of these last few weeks have made it increasingly evident that Enfield Democracy hangs by a fragile thread. I cannot serve on both the Town Board and the County Legislature. And I fear that should I resign the Town Board to accept a “promotion,” the Board would then recruit one of the “favored few,” one of its ideological allies, to provide Amen affirmation of the prevailing majority’s world view.
Therefore, I leave the choice for County Legislature solely in your hands this November 2nd. Vote your conscience. Vote what you believe is right for you and right for Enfield.
But as a candidate for the County Legislature, I must still speak as that candidate. Another online publication, The Ithaca Voice, asked each candidate in District 8 a series of eight key questions. I have answered each. I’m sure my competing candidates have done so as well. All eight answers are too long to post on this Home Page. I’ve placed them under the Campaign 2021 tab, accessed at the top of this website. I encourage you read my answers before you cast your vote.
But on this page, I will answer a few of the questions, the answers I believe most meaningful. Please read them. Then, please vote.
Here are the questions and answers:
The Ithaca Voice: What would you deem your 3-5 top legislative priorities if you are elected?
Robert Lynch: Priority one, for any candidate; for any office; in any election; local, state or national, is to get COVID-19 behind us. We’ve lived far too long with this deadly monkey on our back. We must do all that we can, at every level of government, to fight this invasive virus and to pull together as a society to accomplish our mission.
I do not just talk about fighting COVID. I act. The record will show that as far back as August 2020 I took the floor before the County Legislature and advocated for universal COVID-19 surveillance testing at County (and later, federally-reimbursed) expense. It happened. Last winter, when my Enfield constituents were clamoring for a vaccine registry, I authored a Town Board Resolution asking both Tompkins County and New York State to make that registry a reality. Again, it happened. And most recently, I moved for our Enfield Town Board to put in place a vaccine-or-test mandate for its employees. No, that didn’t happen; but only because a Town Board majority opposed me. But I tried. I will try again. I’m willing to “take the arrows” when I know I have right on my side.
Priority two for me is governmental transparency. For two years, our County Legislature and its administrative arm kept a big secret from the rest of us. They negotiated the purchase of $2.8 Million in pricey real estate next to our Courthouse as their now-preferred site for a $30 Million office building. The purchase only became public this summer when legislators quickly approved the deal. They invited little public discussion.
I think legislative secrecy is wrong. We who pay the taxes and elect our leaders have the right to know how those we elevate to power exercise their precious franchise. Here in Enfield, our Supervisor recently decided to close our Advisory Committee meetings to public attendance. She’s said having “uninformed” residents attend “is not appropriate as it is more disruptive than productive.” She could not be more wrong. Democracy is meant to be messy. It’s autocracy that is easy. Then all you need is a 20-pound sledgehammer and a few willing accomplices. We must demand Open Government. As County Legislator, I will insist upon it.
Priority three for me must be safety. I see with increased frequency on this website’s pages stock footage of a police car accompanied by a report of “shots fired,” or “victim stabbed,” or “man assaulted during home invasion.” The Interim County Administrator recently warned a legislative committee that her staff at the Human Services Building no longer feels safe. While we strive to achieve racial justice, we must also realize that no one can freely exercise her rights while living her life in fear. Violent crime, I suspect, is invading our community from places far away. We must recognize it and address it with intelligence, reason, and courage.
The Ithaca Voice: What do you view as District 8’s role in Tompkins County?
Robert Lynch:District Eight—I prefer to call it the Great Tompkins-Southwest—is a rural district, comprised of Newfield and much of Enfield. It’s been my home for 52 years. I feel its pulse. I cherish its uniqueness. I vow to protect its interests.
Too often, outsiders, and even many local residents, equate Tompkins County with urbanized Ithaca. They think Cornell, the Downtown Commons, Moosewood. But as an Enfield lawmaker, I see a different Tompkins County. I see the aging woman living in a rundown mobile home; proud, a salt-of-the-earth citizen, who makes ends meet by journeying weekly to the Enfield Food Pantry in the same tattered attire, and whose yard may sprout junk only because her budget fails to carry a line for solid waste fees. I talk to constituents who can’t understand how our County Government has need to spend $30 Million on new offices or creates fancy administrative jobs with titles hard to comprehend. I see a County swimming in cash, while we in Enfield struggle to bring our Town Clerk up to a respectable wage.
We in the Great Tompkins-Southwest deserve a person who gives our rural values a voice. Three people compete this fall for your vote to provide that voice. Think wisely as you make your choice. The person you elect must have the reasoning—and the seasoning—to counter the urbanized and more affluent influences that often have our County Legislature spend too much cash and wander off in uncharted directions. There’s something about this aging country boy. He can peer through an elitist fog to find the path of common sense.
The Ithaca Voice: Looking beyond Newfield/Enfield, though you will be representing those constituents, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the county as a whole? Are there county-level initiatives that you view as viable solutions to things like climate change, lack of affordable childcare or broadband access (such as the Town of Dryden’s plan)?
Robert Lynch:This question first hit me as a tough one to answer. What’s “the most pressing issue?” There are so many. And then it hit me. And it happens to be one I had the courage to address in a Privilege of the Floor remark before the County Legislature July 20th.
The Federal Government has assigned Tompkins County Government nearly $19.9 Million under the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). In an objective sense, we probably don’t deserve the money. The fed’s “counterfactual” (yes, that’s really a word) calculation claims the County treasury lost $27 Million during the pandemic. Actually, our fund balance grew. It doesn’t matter. It’s free money, and we must find the best way to spend it.
Contrary to my advice in late-July, the County Legislature directed all the ARPA funds into “government operations,” with three-quarters of that total reserved as “Cash for Capital,” liquidity that reduces future bonding needs for projects like a new office building.
I told the Legislature that to spend the cash on bricks-and-mortar betrayed ARPA’s intent. The funds should be “Purposed for People,” as I termed it. As for earmarking it toward a building, I warned my potential colleagues, “That’s not a rescue plan. That’s a want. And you should know the difference between wants and needs.”
I’d like to think my admonition hit home. Two months later, the County Legislature carved out a back-door path toward spending at least part of Uncle Sam’s money as it should. The Legislature now plans to tap up to $7 Million, maybe more, from its massive Fund Balance to assist a variety of human service programs that would truly purpose that big relief check toward people needs.
My first priority for the people-purposed money? How about helping our Enfield Food Pantry get out of its cramped quarters and build itself a new home? And you know what? I went before the County Legislature September 7th and told them just that. It’s how I lead. It’s how I serve. Whether on the Enfield Town Board or maybe someday in Legislative Chambers, I govern this way: I spot a problem. I see an opportunity. I seize the moment, and I speak out. Win or lose this election, I won’t stop doing so.
The Ithaca Voice: This is the most crowded race for county legislature. What do you think makes you the best choice between yourself, Vanessa Greenlee and Randy Brown?
Robert Lynch: From the start of my campaign, I’ve promised myself never to “go negative.” It’s too common elsewhere. Voters don’t like it. Neither do I. But since I’ve been asked to compare and contrast, let me hold true to the facts:
I do not believe one wins an election without hard work, preparation and sacrifice. Some 50 years ago, when the County Legislature was known as the Board of Representatives, I began covering Tompkins County Government as a broadcast reporter. I knew and reported on the titans of that era. Through my reporting, I acquired the unspoken spirit of the place; the gravitas inherent in this county’s governance; the solemn, awesome duty one assumes with the office to which he’s elected; the obligation to represent constituents’ best interests and to place each constituent’s needs above partisan politics or the limited perspectives of those who may carry the largest megaphones. I respect the Legislature’s Tradition of Transparency, an attribute I fear has been lost in recent years in the drive toward efficiency and expediency. Knowing an organization’s true cultural heritage is not learned overnight. I am no newcomer. I’ve learned it.
But knowledge requires review classes to keep one relevant and fresh. And just as I did a “deep dive” into Enfield governance before I took my seat on its Town Board—I attended almost every Town Board meeting for nearly a year—I adopted the same tutorial discipline in seeking this seat on the County Legislature.
Please allow me this one moment to criticize. And yes, for me, it touches a nerve. While my competing candidates may have basked in the Good Life evenings last summer, I sacrificed my time to attend each of the County Legislature’s long, twice-monthly meetings. I was often the only aspiring candidate from any district in Chambers. But not only did I listen and learn; I also, as any good reporter should, recorded key discussions with pen and paper. I then went home and labored into the night, chronicling legislative business through stories posted on my website, bob-lynch-tompkins.com. Yes, it’s work. But no one seeking office should expect to be handed authority on a silver platter. I do not.
More than once, I brought urgent matters to legislators’ attention in my Privilege of the Floor statements. I studied the issues that confronted our County’s lawmakers. I formed opinions. And I acted on those opinions as conscience dictated I should. In voice and in writing, I expressed my concerns about COVID-19 and about the Legislature’s $2.8 Million downtown real estate purchase. I kept informed. I kept others informed.
My work did not end there. More often than others—way more often—I attended meetings of the Newfield Town Board. By doing so, I learned of the issues and the players of a new town I sought to represent. And, of course, I’ve regularly attended and actively participated in our Enfield Town Board, where I sit as Councilperson.
I am ready. I believe I’m ready more than others. I’ve done my homework. I’ve paid my dues. And I’m prepared to serve.
There, You can read the answers to all eight questions under the Campaign 2021 tab. Click “Eight Questions in October.” And please remember to vote.