It is with the heaviest of hearts that the Executive Committee of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee announces that our dear friend and chair, Jim Gustafson, passed away peacefully yesterday, December 21st, 2021, at home surrounded by his loving family.
Jim was elected as interim Chair of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee on February 25th, 2019, by the Tompkins County membership to take over a partial term vacated by former TCDC Chair, Irene Stein. In June of 2019, Jim ran for a regular two-year term. Strongly leading our committee through the difficult days of COVID, Jim’s tenure as Chair was extended by the NYS Democratic Committee until September 2022. Jim Gustafson sadly resigned because of ill health in early December of 2021.
Interim TCDC Chair Stacey Dimas was quoted this morning:
I am deeply saddened to hear the news that Jim Gustafson has passed away. As the Chair of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee, Jim was a wonderful mentor to me and to so many others. 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 myself and making sure we have a seat at the table. I will always be grateful to Jim for his friendship, his mentorship, and his commitment to our community. His dedication to service will be passed on and his light will shine through.
Jim chaired the Dryden Democratic Committee prior to his appointment as chair. He also worked as the county representative for the Barack Obama campaign and was co-chair of the Tracy Mitrano campaign spearheading phone banks and other grass-roots political activities. During his membership on the TCDC, he served on the TCDC’s Issues Committee and the Political Action Committee.
Jim’s legacy remains grounded in his deep belief in the power of grassroots politics. He often reminded us that our mission was to identify and encourage strong Democratic candidates whose values and political philosophies would represent the broadest spectrum of the population. It was our duty to knock on doors, make phone calls, get signatures, register democratic voters and do the leg work to make their candidacy a reality. Many of our membership will recall his recent call to that mission in a Facebook video announcement he made to all of us this past summer from his porch: https://www.facebook.com/TCDemocrats/videos/737953126777980/.
Jim’s legacy also included the mission to diversify our committee. Not only did he encourage Democrats of color but those from diverse backgrounds to become involved to join our community. His lifelong work was dedicated to labor and workers’ rights.
Jim Gustafson was born in Jamestown, NY and went to Falconer Central School. He studied philosophy at Binghamton University. Jim described himself as a “grandpa, a golfer, a gardener, a political junkie, a farmer philosopher, and a red neck liberal.” We knew him as a gentle soul with a very endearing sense of humor who knew how to cut through the nonsense.
An obituary and further information will be released by the family.