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Recap: Candidates for New York's 52nd state Senate district debate on WSKG News

Democrat Lea Webb, Moderators Vaughn Golden and Phoebe Taylor Vuolo, and Republican Rich David in WSKG's Vestal Studio. (Alyssa Micha/WSKG)
Democrat Lea Webb, Moderators Vaughn Golden and Phoebe Taylor Vuolo, and Republican Rich David in WSKG's Vestal Studio. (Alyssa Micha/WSKG)
Roundtable web

New York's newly redrawn 52nd state Senate district covers Cortland and Tompkins counties and parts of Broome County. It includes the cities of Binghamton, Cortland and Ithaca. You can listen to the full debate here.


MEGAN ZEREZ, HOST: This is WSKG News. I'm Megan Zerez. Earlier today WSKG hosted the candidates in the 52nd state Senate district in New York for a debate right here in our Vestal studios. That's Democrat Lea Webb and Republican Rich David. Right now I am here in the Vestal studios, again with WSKG own Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo —


ZEREZ: — And special guest from the Ithaca Voice, Matt Butler.

MATT BUTLER, REPORTER: Hey there. Thanks for having me.

ZEREZ: So we just watched the state Senate District 52 debate between Democrat Lea Webb and Republican Rich David, and we're here to bring you some of our takeaways. So let's just get right into it. I think one of the first questions that we addressed in the debate was gun violence, there is a statewide increase in gun violence. It's not necessarily clear if it's affecting our areas in some of these smaller towns. But let's listen to a cut from Rich David.

RICH DAVID: Several of the reasons why [crime is increasing] have to do with the bail reform and cashless bail that's been passed recently by the New York State Legislature. If you look at some of the larger cities, you see a significant number or increases in gun violence.

BUTLER: Yeah, I think we should emphasize that those larger cities are the places where you might see a rise in the violent crime rate recently, but in Tompkins County and Ithaca, at least, you know, maybe even the extent of upstate New York, it's far less clear. Tompkins County District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said as recently as April of this year, that cash bail reform hadn't really have that much of a tangible impact on increasing violent crime in Ithaca.

ZEREZ: And one of the other issues of course, related to gun violence is the racist mass shooting in Buffalo earlier this year. Of course, the shooter hails from Conklin, which is just south of Binghamton, so solidly in our area. Phoebe you covered that a lot. I mean, what was your takeaway from from what the candidates had to say here?

TAYLOR-VUOLO: Yeah, I mean, I think that Rich David, I think he used the term "fell through the cracks." So his his stance is very much that this is a mental health issue, that the warning signs that this person was expressing at school or you know, in his life or weren't picked up on. He mentioned a need for more mental health resources. Lea Webb pointed out the underlying racist ideology that the shooter subscribed to that motivated this violent attack. Let's let's hear a cut from her.

WEBB: Mental health and having funding for it is important. But we also have to address the ideology that exists around this particular person. And that didn't just come from nowhere.

ZEREZ: Let's move on to homelessness. Matt has been covering a lot of that, especially in Ithaca, Matt, what was your takeaways from what the two candidates had to say here?

BUTLER: Well, in Ithaca, particularly, officials talk constantly about sort of meeting that homeless population, where they are, meeting them the middle, particularly when it comes to the homeless encampment called "The Jungle" in Ithaca. But there's little clarity about what the extent of that can be and how it intersects with actually policing that population and enforcing laws on them. So I thought was interesting that neither of them really directly addressed where they think that line is.

ZEREZ: For housing more generally, I think both of them had a similar approach. They have a similar approach that they took when they were both in Binghamton's city government both want to foster more affordable housing. There were a couple of slight differences. Phoebe, do you want to talk a little bit about those?

TAYLOR-VUOLO: They pretty much fell along the same lines. You know, I mean, Webb talked about expanding [the] section 8 [housing voucher program]. But I would say that for the most part, what each of them did was sort of talk track record. Rich David talked about his two terms as [Binghamton] mayor and about money he's gotten allocated to different projects to do with homelessness or affordable housing. Lea Webb talked about her time on the [Binghamton] city council, like you said, and also she referenced her work community organizing. But we're still sort of missing some of the meat of that policy substance. You know, it's it's hard. It's a tricky issue. I think that they can both agree that they want affordable housing, but it's a huge issue here. The question really is, you know, how you're gonna get that done.

ZEREZ: And a huge part of that problem, well, you know, not necessarily problem but there is all three of the cities in this district have large universities, Binghamton's got BU BCCC, Ithaca, of course has Ithaca College, Cornell. Cortland's got SUNY Cortland. All of these major municipalities, they're kind of dealing with this relationship between the college and themselves. And that can definitely place a strain on the housing market. And I think both of the candidates they say that they want the colleges to be a little bit more involved. Let's listen to a cut from rich David.

DAVID: So there's a whole host of things that universities and municipalities can do to work together. I know Cornell provides I believe it's a million dollars to the city of Ithaca, which probably should be more frankly.

BUTLER: Yeah, Rich is right that Cornell gives over a million dollars a year in contributions to the city of Ithaca. And that most Ithacans would agree that should be higher, given that their property is all tax exempt. But neither really hit about how they could get more money out of the schools. They both sort of talked about the back end housing needs. Webb talked about using a zoning approach to defend student housing creep, while David focused on new development with local builders and nonprofits.

ZEREZ: Right. And just to wrap us up a little bit here, in their closing statements, both candidates sort of came back to this mainstream Democrat, mainstream Republican platform. Rich David, the Republican, you know, wanted to brought back crime, inflation, sort of emphasize that if you don't like those things, vote for him. And I think similarly, Lea Webb, she was trying to bring it back to hammer home these really powerful issues that have been effective for Democrats on the national stage: abortion, climate change, stuff like that. But ultimately, because this is the general election now, everyone's trying to come back to the to the middle here. We do have a really a politically diverse district in State Senate District 52. So it'll be really interesting to see how everything shakes out.

Once again, I'm joined here by WSKG's own Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo and Matt Butler of the Ithaca Voice. If you missed the debate at noon, you can catch it again at eight o'clock tonight. We'll be re-airing that on WSKG News. Early voting begins October 29. If you can, go vote. I'm Megan Zerez. This is WSKG News.

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