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Ithaca is People: Svante Myrick

The #IthacaisPeople Files

Week One: Mayor Takeover

Last week, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick kicked off #IthacaisPeople, and hijacked our @VisitIthaca Instagram account. In its opening week, Myrick documented his day-to-day life.

Before his takeover, we got a chance to spend some quality time together and get know him a little bit better. Read on for our off-the-cuff Q&A.

Nothing’s off the record. I’m sure you know that by now.

SM: Ok. (laughs)

If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

SM: (long sigh) Oh god. The problem is three words. The problem is that it would be like… verbose, loquacious, and non-brief. So I can’t do it in three words. Now if I have to in three words it would be eager, curious, and um… (laughs) so much pressure! And… dorky?

I like it.

SM: Dorky. But there’s a lot in there. It’s hard to say that in one word, because it’s a specific type of dork.

Well, yes, there’s a nerd, a geek, and there’s…

SM: So that’s it. It’s like, not quite a dweeb, right?

Right. I consider myself a dork, but not a nerd.

SM: Yes, well, thank you! Well you and I need to go a little bit deeper then and say, like these are the things for which… so a nerd is someone who cares about like, Star Trek a lot. Ok. Well I care about Star Wars so… but a dork is somebody who cares about stuff that nobody else cares about. Like I care about sidewalk policy, you know? So I could dork out over sidewalk legislation for a good chunk of time. And I know that people could could care less about sidewalk policy.
And well, my brothers are all good athletes. They used to set records in basketball and all that stuff. And every time they would have a game they would look over at the bleachers and I would be like, reading a book. And they’d be so embarrassed. And even when I was way too old to be sitting at the front of the bus, I’d still be sitting in the front of the bus, because it was easier to read in the front. The back was too bouncy. So that’s the kind of dork. It’s like a very specific kind of dork, you know?

Right. I hear ya.

SM: That’s not going to go into the interview. It was three questions. (laughs)

Nooo… I said nothing’s off the record.

SM: (laughs) I can’t help myself. Ok.

“Dork here!” (Points at Mayor)

SM: Yes.
(laughter)

Ok, Ok. Next question. What does your pre-work morning routine look like?

SM: I’m up pretty early, around six… but I generally don’t get out of bed ‘till about 7:30. I read everything before I get out of bed. I read that day’s news, like the Washington Post, New York Times, the Ithaca Journal, Wall Street Journal, Ithaca Voice, the Ithaca Times if it came out that week, and whatever I can find on blogs. I check through social media and all that stuff, and then answer any emails and texts that came in that morning, or overnight. And then I’m up, I shower and change, and then I am usually out the door and at City Hall around 8:30.

You don’t eat your breakfast?

SM: It depends, it depends. If I have groceries in the house, which is a rarity. And…well I’ll make a smoothie. I got a NutriBullet.

Oh, Ok.

SM: Yeah, so… that’s the degree of difficulty that I can cook.

Oh yeah, me too.

SM: Yeah, so it’s like, you take ingredients, right? Ok. Put them in a thing. And blend. Cool. That I can do. I mean, I worry that I’ll have to peel or cut things up, and it’s like, “No, just throw it in, dice it up, and then it’ll be a smoothie.” And I’ll drink it. And then it’s, “Will it taste good?” and its’ like, “No, it’s not gonna taste good. But it’s good for you.” So I drink it. So I’ll do that. And if I don’t do that then I’ll pick up a coffee and a pastry on my way in to the office. And then I walk to work. 

May I suggest a crock pot?

SM: Well, no. It’s the same concept, except you have to apply heat, cut everything up…

No, you just throw stuff in, and you get home from work, and voila!

SM: I’m pretty sure you’re lying. Because you have to open a can of something, and you have to like, skin a potato, then you have to season it.

You don’t have to. I mean, you don’t put a can in a crock pot. Ok… you might have to cut a carrot… maybe.

SM: See? And then you have to wait for it. Just look at it. Nothing’s appeared yet… still nothing.
(laughter)

But my evening ritual is… it’s complicated. Well, it’s nothing really. There’s no ritual actually. There’s a lack of ritual. I mean, every night… I rarely get home before ten. So like, cooking and planning for the week is impossible, because you have no idea how many times you’re gonna be eating out that week. And you can’t space those sort of decisions out.

Ok. That’s true. I accept that.

SM: Ok, good. (laughs)

Ok so, what is it about being the mayor that excited you? Why did you want to become mayor?

SM: Well, I am driven very much to be useful. You know… I want to feel like I am useful to other people. And I felt very welcomed by the people when I got here - because you know I moved here, I wasn’t born here.

Where were you born?

SM: Earlville NY. It’s a small town, a small village - 800 people. I felt so welcomed here and I was given so many opportunities, that I wanted to feel… I wanted to serve the place. And I think that’s what excited me most. But a close second is how interested I am in the mechanics of government, you know? Like how you can make someone’s life better by making their sidewalks smoother.

Right. Sidewalks.

SM: Again, see? How you can make a small business owner’s life better by fixing the front of their business on the commons. How you can give people a shot at a better life by creating more housing in town so they can walk to school. How you can change the zoning to make sure it’s possible that you can build housing close to schools. Those ideas… since I was a kid those kinds of ideas have always fascinated me and propelled me.

What is your favorite memory in Tompkins County?

SM: (sigh) Oh… good lord. (laughs)

This is the last question.

SM: That’s a doozie.
(laughter)
SM: (pauses)… (…very long pause)… (…still waiting)… Honestly? My campaign, the first time I ran for mayor. I’ve never felt anything like it. I quit my job three months before the election. I was working at Cornell and I spent 14 hours a day just knocking on people’s doors. Stranger’s doors. And fending off their dogs, and playing with their kids and just talking to them about what brought them to Ithaca, and what they cared about, and what they wanted to see done. And I knocked on every door in the city three times. And by the end of it I felt like a spider in a web. I just never felt so immersed in a place. I felt like I was an actual part of that place, the same way your arm is a part of your body. I mean, I knew what the people on Wood Street were worried about and were thinking about, and I knew what the people on Madison were worried about and thinking about, which is two different parts of town. But I knew also what they had in common. And that feeling of community connection, that feeling of knowing your neighbors, I mean it’s the closest thing to familial love. That sort of love you feel in a family unit. But at a scale of 30,000. I mean, I’ve never felt that way before. I think the last two weeks of my campaign were… yeah, the best moments of my life.

That’s fantastic.

SM: I don’t know if I would have felt that way if I would have lost! I mean then I would have felt like I had been lied to the entire time, you know? (laughs)

You would have been like, “Can I have my job back? PLEASE?”
(laughter)

SM: No, I would have had to… I timed it exactly so that so that my savings ran out the day I would have been sworn in. Well not exactly, like nine days before I was sworn in. And I was like, “Well if I don’t win I’ll just go live with my mom.” I mean, that’s no big deal, I lived with my mom for a long time. I could have just done that again. And then it was, “If I do [win], then I’ll be able to make the rent soon.”

Yeah. Well… hopefully, as the Mayor.

SM: Yeah. It’s not easy in this town. It’s not easy.

What a gamble.

SM: Yeah. Well it’s kind of funny. You ever have one of those things where you look back to when you were younger and you’re like, “What was I thinking?!”

Oohh, yeah.

SM: (laughs) You’re like “Why did I think that was a good idea at the time?”

Right. But life’s about taking risks, you know?

SM: Exactly. So true. So true.

You can’t move forward unless you risk something.

SM: Amen.

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