Inaugural State of the City Address
Mayor Robert G. Cantelmo
January 3, 2024
Members of the Common Council, Governor’s Regional Representative Weiss, Mayor Lewis, distinguished former colleagues and guests, members of the press, and residents of Ithaca.
I am honored to appear before you as your new mayor and humbled to have the support of our community as we embark on this new chapter for our beautiful city. Today, we welcome a new Common Council, a new city manager, and a new government structure. Our city has turned a major corner, and we are poised to usher in a new era of efficient government, of responsive government, of transparent government. Our city manager and administration have my full support and I am eager to partner hand-in-glove with them on advancing the interests of our community.
Over the last year, the city has made major investments in our most important areas: our people and our infrastructure.
For the first time in over a decade, the city has concluded labor negotiations for all lapsed contracts. We have heard the needs of our workforce and responded with better wages, filled vacancies, proactive recruitment, and a new model for labor negotiations. In addition to our inaugural city manager, we also secured new permanent leadership at the Fire Department, Police Department, and Youth Bureau, as well as outside expertise to help establish our peer support co-response team.
We have also worked diligently to meet the demands of our aging infrastructure with new streets, sidewalks, and water infrastructure. Critically important to the heart of our city, we have secured $800,000 in federal funds to design flood mitigation efforts in response to the draft FEMA flood maps. I am proud to have supported a capital budget last year that continues investment in needed infrastructure and puts an end to days of deferred maintenance.
As we look to the future and the coming year, it is also crucial that we tackle the critical work that is yet to be done. Ithaca is currently rated as the second most expensive city in New York State. Working families, young professionals, and retirees struggle to make their rent or mortgage payments. And prospective residents struggle to find an affordable place to live.
With the demand for housing comes a demand for transportation. Our transit system endured immense strain during the pandemic and requires renewed investment in promoting micro-mobility and car alternatives to meet both our sustainability, economic, and social objectives.
We must also capitalize on this historic moment to commit to delivering on a Green New Deal that serves all. Sustainability and economic opportunity must work in harmony to support our existing business, while expanding investment and opportunity to historically marginalized communities – especially those negatively impacted by climate change. Just as Ithaca needs housing at all levels, it needs job opportunities at all income levels to increase the dynamism, inclusivity, and sustainability of our city. Opportunity to improve quality of life, yes, but also to attack the root causes of inequity, injustice, and insecurity.
These may sound like big challenges, and they are, but they also hold the potential to evolve our city for the better.
To address the housing and affordability crisis, we need bold and decisive action to simplify our zoning codes to legalize the “missing middle,” and promote accessible, sustainable, and vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods. The nation’s leading housing scholars have helped diagnose this problem, now it is our time to act. I call upon my colleagues to work with me to expand the stock of housing in our community so that housing affordability and homeownership are achievable for all Ithacans. Placemaking must be a core element of this effort, to ensure every neighborhood has welcoming and inviting public space.
Our housing-supply efforts must also be complemented by thoughtful policy and care for our most vulnerable residents. This includes strengthening our protections for working families and low- to middle-income earners looking to stay in their homes. We must also work diligently with our colleagues in the County Legislature to address the plight of the unhoused community. Housing is a human right and Ithacans deserve our support in securing it.
Strategic density and addressing our housing crisis will also help shift the economics of transit in our favor. Together with our public and private partners, we can capitalize on this to reinvest in new transportation infrastructure, micro-mobility, and increased service reliability.
As we look to future economic opportunity for all, we must be guided by a clear vision. I ask my colleagues to work with me to develop an economic development strategy for the city to build an inclusive, affordable, sustainable, and dynamic Ithaca. We must also apply for and win a NYS Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant to promote redevelopment and job creation, attract diverse businesses, and support community vibrancy.
Ithaca has always been a unique community, full of promise and potential. The charge before us is to steward this community through this time of change toward a future that delivers on that promise for us and for posterity.