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Progressive state Senate candidates talk housing, reparations at Ithaca town hall

New York's new 52nd State Senate District covers Ithaca, Cortland and Binghamton.

The two Democratic candidates in that race, running for their party's nomination, faced off at a town hall Tuesday night outside Ithaca’s Southside Community Center. 

Lea Webb is an educator and former Binghamton City Council member. Leslie Danks Burke is a lawyer and political organizer in Ithaca.

Both are running on similar progressive platforms — they want to raise education funding and teacher wages, bolster support for first-time home buyers, and fund transitional programs for people leaving the criminal justice system.

One place where the two differ is how to approach the affordable housing issue. Webb's approach places more emphasis on renter assistance. She said she would support a statewide "Good Cause Eviction" law, which would require landlords to prove a justified cause before evicting a tenant or not renewing their lease.

"[A Good Cause Eviction law] is not designed to penalize property owners. It's really designed to make folks accountable who are bad actors when it comes to housing," Webb said.

Webb also said she wants to incentivize more affordable housing construction by partnering with non-profit housing developers.

Danks Burke’s housing proposals mainly focus on homeowner assistance, like property tax reform and down payment grants for first-time home buyers.

"We're talking about getting families into owning their own homes, and we're talking about stopping this push out of the middle class," Danks Burke said.

One of Danks Burke's signature proposals aims to cut nearly half of property taxes by changing the way New York funds its Medicaid program.

On average, about 40% of local property tax revenue currently goes towards funding New York's Medicaid program, according to the conservative think tank, Empire Center. Danks Burke proposes removing the Medicaid tax burden from property owners. She said the state could make up the deficit by paying medical providers directly from its Medicaid funds, instead of through third-party insurers

When asked, both candidates also expressed support for reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans.

Danks Burke said the state could afford reparations and called for money to be reinvested in Black communities, though she didn't go into much detail as to what that could look like.

Webb said reparations should go beyond investment and needed to include mediation, similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa. She also alluded to possible direct financial support for individuals, mentioning a reparations plan that recently passed in California.

"In thinking about strategic investments where it pertains to reparations, it is also setting up funds and it's also setting up families," Webb said.

Early voting for the primary begins August 13. Primary day is August 23. The winner will face off against the Republican candidate, former Binghamton Mayor Rich David in November. 

You can look up your polling site and a sample ballot for all of the primary elections this summer here