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Svante Myrick reflects on 10 years as Ithaca’s mayor

Celia Clarke
Myrick appointed Alderperson Laura Lewis as his replacement at a Common Council meeting last month.

Former Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick gained a reputation as a rising star in progressive politics since he was elected at age 24. He stepped down as mayor this past weekend.

Myrick has broken a lot of barriers. He was Ithaca’s youngest mayor, its first Black mayor, and also the longest serving.

But arguably, it’s Myrick’s progressive policies that have earned him the most attention throughout the region.

“They look at us and say, ‘Geez, wow, those radicals in Ithaca, good luck with that experiment on your drug policy, or good luck with that public safety experiment,'” Myrick said.

Myrick has supported policies like supervised drug injection sites and police reform. He has passed bills to incentivize affordable housing developments and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the “Ithaca Green New Deal” bill.

“I want to take our friends by the shoulders and say, ‘Look, try out some of our experiments, these loony crazy experiments that they are, they’re working,'” Myrick said.

Myrick made national headlines last year after he proposed replacing the Ithaca Police Department with a new agency comprised of both unarmed and armed public safety officers.

But some advocates said they aren’t optimistic about the future of police reform in the city.

Most 911 calls are still handled by conventional armed police, though the city has begun dispatching unarmed responders in limited cases. Last year, Myrick and the Common Council voted to pass a city budget that increased the size of the Ithaca police force.

Acting Mayor Laura Lewis, who was sworn in last month, said she is committed to Ithaca’s “Reimagining Public Safety” effort.

“There’s need to really reimagine how we deliver public safety so that there is equity, so that the lens we are approaching it through is that of racial justice,” Lewis said.

Lewis said she has several police officers in her family, and while she may not have the same experience with police as Ithaca’s Black and Brown residents, she said she wants all people to feel safe in the city, regardless of their background.

Myrick said he’s confident Lewis and other leaders will see the Reimagining Public Safety effort through, and that he will continue to support police reform as a private citizen.

Myrick said he’s learned there are some limitations that come with public office.

“You know, I’ve spent my entire adult life inside City Hall,” Myrick said. “I started there, started volunteering on committees when I was 19 years old. And I’m 34 now and really interested in seeing how else I can help.”

Myrick said he will remain in Ithaca, but will head People for the American Way, a progressive think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. Myrick has been involved with People for the American Way since 2012.