From Gown to Town Mayor
Last November, Svante Myrick was elected Ithaca, N.Y.’s youngest mayor at 24. Here’s how he managed his own finances, and how he plans to deal with the city’s.
As told to Michael Stratford
Were you financially ready to run for office? I graduated from Cornell University in 2009 with only about $15,000 in student debt, and I had already started to pay it down aggressively. Once I made the decision to run for mayor of Ithaca, I started saving as much as I could while working full-time at Cornell as assistant director of student and young alumni programs, and part-time on the city council. When I left my job at the university last August to campaign full-time, I used my retirement account and savings. It was a bit of a gamble. As mayor, I will earn a salary of $53,561 in 2012.
How did you raise money for your campaign? We did direct phone calls and online solicitations on Facebook and Twitter. My angel investors were family and friends. Support also came from Ithacans who agreed with my policies.
How much did you raise? We calculated that we would need about $40,000 to get the votes we needed, and that’s exactly what we raised. My campaign strategy was based mainly on face-to-face contact. That required a ground-floor office space that people could walk into and a small staff.
What are the financial challenges facing Ithaca? Like many municipalities and states, we have a recurring budget deficit. Pension and health care costs are rising. The deficit is $3 million in a $60 million budget.
What's your plan to tackle that deficit? We've got to get a handle on our personnel costs. We've stripped everything else to the bone. Seventy percent of our costs are personnel, and 40% of that is benefits—mainly pensions and health care. Step one will be working with our collective bargaining unions to find the best ways to bring down those costs. Then we need to expand our tax base in the city by increasing the number of housing units, and we also need to consolidate services with other municipalities.
Your term as mayor lasts four years. What are your plans after that? I have no idea. I'm just trying to get my head around this. The campaign was so exciting, and I'm thrilled by the prospect of what we can accomplish in the city. I love this form of service.