submitted by Renate Ferro for the Democratic View published in the Tompkins Weekly, January 2022
Jim Gustafson, A Legacy to Celebrate: “All hands-on deck…mobilize…Let’s Get to Work”
It is with the heaviest of hearts that we learned of Jim Gustafson’s death on December 21st, 2021. We appreciated Jim within the Tompkins County Democratic Committee as a gentle soul with a very endearing sense of humor who knew how to cut through nonsense. His legacy as the Chair of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee centers around his dedication to grassroots politics, the cultivation of a diverse set of active voices even through the challenge of the Covid pandemic, and his commitment to labor issues.
Jim Gustafson was elected as interim Chair of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee on February 25th, 2019, to finish a partial term. In June of 2019, Jim was elected to a regular two-year term. Strongly leading our committee through the difficult days of COVID, Jim’s tenure as Chair was extended by a NYS Democratic Committee mandate through September 2022. Jim sadly resigned because of ill health in early December, 2021.
Jim’s commitment to Democratic politics is also reflected in the work he did in Tompkins County as the Chair of the Dryden Democrats. During Jim’s tenure as Chair he helped to lead a successful statewide effort to ban hydrofracking. Additionally, Jim was the county representative for both the Mobilize Presidential Campaign for Biden in 2020 and Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He co-chaired Tracy Mitrano’s congressional campaign spearheading phone banks and other organizational activities. During his membership on the TCDC, he served on the Issues Committee and the Political Action Committee.
Jim was a staunch believer in the successful outcomes of organized grassroots Democratic politics: knocking on doors, speaking to residents about their views, identifying and registering unregistered voters, making phone calls or texts on behalf of candidates, poll watching, and so much more that goes into the successful election of strong Democratic leaders. In his numerous messages during meetings, monthly Chair’s letters and even a video chat to volunteers on his porch during summer, the messaging was the same: mobilize the constituency.
Jim’s legacy also included the mission to diversify our committee. Not only did he encourage Democrats of color but also those from diverse backgrounds to become involved by joining the community. Under his leadership, the TCDC conducted a series of diversity initiatives and events in the summer of 2020. In the words of Acting TCDC Chair Stacey Dimas, “…As a leader and a friend, he encouraged, inspired, and believed in our power to work together to fight for a stronger democracy. For women of color like myself entering politics can be challenging but Jim welcomed me and helped me to grow and find my place as a party leader here in Tompkins County. Jim was true to his belief in lifting up people of color like and making sure we have a seat at the table…”
Jim was also dedicated to labor and worker’s rights. After Jim retired from a career in sales, Board of Elections Commissioner, Steve Dewitt, asked Jim to work part-time for Tompkins County. From 2012 to 2016, Jim served as the Democratic Senior Voting Machine Technician for the Board of Elections. He was diligent and hardworking and was committed to making sure that any equipment to be deployed in elections was set up correctly and to accurately count every vote. Dewitt appreciates Jim as “certainly one of the best people I have ever had the pleasure to know and work with.”
Jim Gustafson’s legacy will remain clear as we move through the important election cycle of 2022. “All hands-on deck…mobilize…Let’s Get to Work.”
Biography: Renate Ferro has been a TCDC member since 1995. She is the former Vice-Chair of the TCDC, former Chair of the Caroline Democratic Committee, and currently Director of TCDC Communications. .