PAUL GLOVER ESSAYS: community control of food, fuel, housing, health care, planning, education, finance.
Ithaca's New Mayor

by Paul Glover        November 1995

Half of the half of registered voters who voted have elected Alan Cohen, who presented himself as an independent social liberal and fiscal conservative, committed to inclusive government and Total Quality Management.

Cohen now has the opportunity, with the help of all Ithacans, to show that social liberalism and fiscal conservatism can serve one another, and that political party cliques are arbitrary. He takes office during tough times and he knows, through his volunteer work, that an increasing proportion of citizens are being squeezed for food, housing, day care, medical care, and the paid labor with which to obtain these.

He thus has an opportunity to give a good name to the term "fiscal conservatism," by subsidizing job development, youth programs, neighborhood centers and child care. These exemplify both social liberalism and fiscal conservatism that conserves, by reducing the greater expenses of crimefighting, courts and jails. Nationally, "fiscal conservatism" has become code for 'enrich-the-rich-and-screw-the-poor.' Tax-and-spend "conservatives" eagerly cut tiny budgets that teach and feed poor children, while voting giant pork contracts for weapons, highways and prisons. They raise taxes on the poor, and lower their own. They unite to break unions. Some of the people who endorsed Alan are so inclined, and will need restraint.

Real fiscal conservatism should begin locally with focus on the two-thirds of this city's budget and debt which directly or indirectly subsidizes automobiles. Dependence on cars creates little local employment beyond City Hall, and bleeds millions of dollars from the city yearly. To Alan's credit, he has endorsed revival of a heritage trolley system (first linking Cornell and Commons), which can be installed with little government funding. The trolley would recapture some of these lost millions as sales taxes for the city, while cleaning our water and air. Cohen can likewise push the proposed bikeway system, which would allow thousands of families living near the Commons to bike safely and easily downtown, rather than drive to malls

There are hundreds of related creative U.S. projects which feed, fuel, house, transport and fund cities with least dependence on government or distant corporations (see cover story: "Growing Jobs"). They are proven practical and economical. The new markets that are opened with dollars retained locally by these innovations will be the single largest source of new job creation, and will be the primary measure of Cohen's success as mayor.

To enact them he will need to take charge at City Hall, where various department heads have tended to resist dynamic ideas, and even pocket-veto mayor/council decisions. Alan's proposed Total Quality Management, which gives more authority to line staff, should be implemented with this caution. We recommend a book on Total Quality Environmental Management (Competitive & Green, by Dennis Kinlaw).

Ithaca is rich with talent determined that Ithaca should be a model of grassroots job develop-ment and ecological urban design, rather than another victim of dreary urbanization. The new mayor can rely on our cooperation for the best of his aims, and can expect challenges to any less. Dozens of local organizations dedicated to social benefit would do well to establish a Community Congress, and be present at all council and committee meetings. By welcoming these groups at City Hall, and respecting their leadership, Mayor Cohen can win Ithaca's gratitude, and show the nation how to do more with fewer dollars.

A history of Mayor Alan J. Cohen's administration of Ithaca, NY 1996-2002: Or why your taxes are going up and up, by Joe Wetmore