Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick on Committing to Community Involvement

20 Sep

By Eli Anderson, Caz. College Senior

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick says three qualities are needed to spark positive action in a community: energetic enthusiasm, creativity, and moral authority.

His lecture Friday, September 12, titled, “Committing to Community Involvement,” was delivered at Cazenovia’s Catherine Cummings Theater, on Lincklaen Street. It was open to all, courtesy of The Cazenovia Forum, a public affairs lecture series with regularly scheduled nationally and internationally known speakers.

In 2012, Myrick, a Democrat, gained national recognition when he was sworn in as Ithaca’s youngest mayor and the first person of color to hold that office. He was 24, making him one of the youngest elected mayors in United States history. Now 27 and in his third year as mayor, Myrick admits he still has trouble convincing other politicians who he is. “Everybody in the city was used to the idea, especially the staff, because I’d been on the city council for four years,” Myrick said before his speech. “But when I travel to Albany or D.C., it’s very funny. I’ll say, ‘Oh I’m the mayor,’ and they reply, ‘Hah! Yeah that’s pretty funny.’ It doesn’t bother me.”

Myrick is used to being one of the youngest politicians in a room. He was elected to Ithaca’s Common Council at age 20, while still a junior at Cornell University.

Yet, Myrick’s childhood was drastically different from his time in college. His father struggled with a crack cocaine addiction and ultimately left his mother to raise four children on her own.

“I spent my first nine years in what you call housing instability,” Myrick told the audience. “Bouncing between shelters, living with friends, family – sometimes living in apartments of our own, and sometimes out of our car.” Now he is in charge of a $63 million budget.

Since his election as mayor, Myrick has led a successful effort to overhaul city government, effectively closing a $3 million budget deficit. Ithaca is now a state leader in job creation and it has the lowest unemployment rate in New York State. He also turned his reserved parking space at city hall into a public park and brought Fourth of July fireworks back to Ithaca after a half-century hiatus, two accomplishments he shared with Friday’s audience to illustrate creative, enthusiastic leadership.

“We didn’t fix our budget deficit that night,” Myrick said of the fireworks show. “But what we did was show people that even though these are hard times, they aren’t the end of times. And that kind of energy and enthusiasm is essential.”

However, Myrick is the first to give credit for his accomplishments where it is due. He claims that it takes a community to look after its people, and vice versa – something he calls moral authority. “All of my success is a community success,” Myrick said near the end of his speech. “It was the power of the collective. If you can tie that sense of moral authority – that duty – to your creativity, if you can tie it to a youthful, energetic enthusiasm, if you can do that, you’ll change your community, your community will change your state, your state will change your country, and together – we’ll change the world.”

Myrick’s lecture was well received by the audience, which consisted of listeners both young and old. Cazenovia’s mayor, Kurt Wheeler, was also in attendance and provided Myrick’s introduction. The 45-minute speech was followed by questions from the audience and an open recession with refreshments.

One questioner asked Myrick how long it would be before his energy and success took him elsewhere. The mayor said he plans to stay local, despite receiving offers from high levels of government in Washington.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Myrick answered. “I’ve had some pretty attractive offers. But there’s no pay raise in the world that can replace being near my family.”

The Cazenovia Forum’s next speaker will be former NFL quarterback and Syracuse alumni Don McPherson, who will address the topic of bullying. The lecture will take place Thursday, October 16.

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