submitted by Jim Gustafson for the Democratic View in the Tompkins Weekly, August 2021
One of the most rewarding parts of being chair of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee is meeting people with good ideas and a record of accomplishment, and helping them put their talents to work for the whole community. Vanessa Greenlee, who is running for the Newfield/Enfield (District 8) seat on the Tompkins County Legislature, is one of those people.A former middle- and high school teacher, Vanessa grew up at the opposite end of Appalachia from here in a small town called Dalton, Georgia. She, her husband and their two sons moved to Newfield in 2013 and fit right in. “I really love small towns and rural living,” she told us.
Vanessa’s job at Cornell focuses on agriculture and food security. “I have a small role in a big project,” she says, with typical modestly. “We’re working to ensure that the food system can withstand pressures from climate change, and that food remains affordable.”
She is running for the County Legislature in part because she feels it’s important for the county and the towns to explore how the covid-19 pandemic has changed our communities and individual lives, and how the legislature can help residents and local governments adapt.
Vanessa’s father is an entrepreneur, and she seems to have inherited his gift for identifying needs and working toward solutions. In eight short years, she has:
- Served on the Newfield Library board, helping to hire a new director and raise funds for a new roof;
- Helped found the Mill Park Summer Music Series, securing funding from the Tourism Bureau and Tioga State Bank. Their support inspired the community to restore the gazebo and plant flower beds;
- Started an advocacy campaign on Facebook for families whose children were struggling with online learning during the pandemic;
- Forged a partnership between Cornell and the county to produce the Plastics Challenge podcast, which focuses on the problems raised by single-use plastics like food and beverage containers and other packaging and how we can reduce our reliance on them.
With a record of solid accomplishments, Vanessa can hit the ground running on the county legislature.
As she campaigns door to door, Vanessa listens as district voters tell her their three priorities:
Broadband:The Covid-19 lock-down increased everyone’s reliance on high-speed Internet for schoolwork, e-commerce and telemedicine. But “it’s hard to say which has worse service: Newfield or Enfield,” Vanessa says. Expanding broadband Internet service to rural communities levels the playing field for farms and local businesses, too.
Public transportation:Outlying communities are grateful for TCAT, but there’s a Catch 22. Rural ridership is low, making it hard to justify more routes. But one reason it’s low is lack of options; not to mention routes that a bus can take almost two hours to reach a destination that a car can reach in less than 30 minutes.
Public safety:“The safety of our communities is paramount. I support police having the equipment they need for public safety. The idea that we have to choose between supporting racial justice or supporting public safety is a false choice. We can’t have one without the other.”
There’s more—local taxes, employment opportunities, healthcare—but there’s also a word limit for this column, and I’m starting to bump into it. Suffice to say, the job of a county legislator requires someone with practical ideas for improving the quality of life here, and the skills, energy and commitment to make them happen. Vanessa has all of these qualities and more. I encourage readers in Newfield and Enfield Districts 1 and 3 to vote for Vanessa Greenlee on November 2, and anyone interested in adding Vanessa to the county legislature to consider supporting her campaign.
One more thought before I close: My Republican counterpart claimed in his last article that the Republican Party did not inherit the racist history of the pre-civil rights era Democratic Party. However, from Nixon’s Southern strategy in 1968 through President Trump’s thinly veiled race baiting, the GOP has either been silent about or encouraged the politics of racism. And Dixiecrats, starting with Strom Thurmond, became Republicans. Those are just historical facts, even if many Republicans would prefer to ignore them.