Rob Gearhart, interim associate dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications, has worked at Ithaca College for the last nine years and is now running for Common Council in the local elections, which will take place Nov. 3. Gearhart is running unopposed and will replace Ellen McCollister in the 3rd Ward.
Opinion Editor Natalie Shanklin spoke with Gearhart to discuss his reasons for running for local office, what he plans to do once elected and the issues he cares about.
Natalie Shanklin: What made you want to run for Common Council?
Rob Gearhart: I am running for Common Council because I want to give back to my community, one that I have called home since the 1980s after graduating from Ithaca College. The City of Ithaca faces complex issues, and I feel I bring the appropriate experience and attitude to help address those issues.
NS: What platform are you running on?
RG: I don’t have an agenda in running for Common Council. My platform hinges on my commitment to listen to the constituents in my ward and do my best to reflect issues important to them. My campaign cards sum it up this way: Elect Rob Gearhart for a Commitment to represent Community, foster Collaboration, and Communicate effectively — my 4 C’s. I will commit to listening to all sides in a discussion and then do my best to synthesize the issue and make the right decision. Even though I am uncontested in the race, I am still working to meet with voters in our ward. I tell them I am not “running,” but “walking” from door to door to introduce myself and get to know their concerns.
NS: How does your experience in working in higher education affect your campaign or your desire to run for local office?
RG: I plan to bring effectiveness as a collaborator and communicator to my public service. I’ve gained that experience through leadership roles in my higher education and my volunteer activities.
NS: Can you talk about your thoughts on the “housing crisis” in Ithaca and how you plan to address it?
RG: There does appear to be a housing crisis in Ithaca, and it appears to be across a spectrum of housing types. We need to consider smart ways to meet that demand, creating a small city environment that fits with the character of Ithaca, and also does so in ways that will alleviate the growing financial burden of housing for all residents. This requires a bit of a leap of faith. For example, allowing dense development in our city core should “eventually” help bring supply up to meet demand and therefore bring prices down while also building a greater tax base. Common Council will need to continue to lead the city on this issue, but also keep a balance on what’s best for all involved. It will be crucial for the city to do its best to understand those needs and then do what we can to meet them. Strategies for smart growth and development are important, such as creating more density in some areas like downtown will help, as will providing appropriate incentives, such as tax abatements that bring the right type of housing opportunities to our community.
NS: What do you believe will make you a great local official?
RG: I love Ithaca. I chose to make this my home before we started making all those top 10 lists. I have lived in the City of Ithaca for 30 of the last 36 years, including the most recent 16 years in the 3rd Ward Belle Sherman neighborhood. I have been an active community member, serving on several nonprofit boards – most recently the State Theatre of Ithaca Board, as well as many years on the Ithaca Festival Board. I have served on the Belle Sherman PTA Board and coached youth sports through the Ithaca Youth Bureau. I have been active in the Bryant Park Civic Association. In my professional life, I have been in educational leadership roles within Educational Affairs at Ithaca College since 2006, and with Concept Systems Inc., eCornell and Cornell University prior to that. While these experiences haven’t been in a “political” environment, I believe that my community connections and leadership experience qualifies me to be a good candidate and council member. I have homework to do, but I am willing to commit to that in the same way I have committed myself to this community.
NS: What are your goals and what are you most excited about when it comes to this Common Council position?
RG: Through my work, volunteer and social activities, I already know many people in the Ithaca area, but I have been enjoying the opportunity to meet more through this process. My goal is to work collaboratively with the mayor and my Common Council colleagues to do what’s best for the City of Ithaca. In the process, I hope to encourage more of our community to get engaged in the many ways citizens can have an impact.