Seph Murtagh is a known face around Ithaca, having spent the last eight years serving on the city’s Common Council while working a day job with New York State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton as communications manager.?
Now he’s vying for Lifton’s seat, who announced she will retire rather than seek a 10th term. Murtagh has fared well thus far, ranking second in fundraising, and his message of equitable economic development has seemed to resonate. Murtagh has picked up endorsements from Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, the Ithaca Firefighters Association, Tompkins County Legislator Rich John, the local IBEW, 20 current and former Common Council members and former county Democractic Committee Chair Irene Stein.?
With coronavirus devastation still lingering, Murtagh believes his time at the helm of the Planning and Economic Development committee would serve the state well; in fact, he views his first legislative priority, if elected, to guide the state back from the outbreak’s decimation of the state budget.?
“The Governor is now talking about a $15 billion budget gap, and without federal aid, we will likely be seeing proposed cuts that will fall very heavily on schools, nursing homes, and other critical services,” Murtagh said. “I believe that we need to push very hard to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to stave off the worst of these cuts, as well as continue to work with our congressional delegation to secure additional federal aid. Ultimately, we need a structural change in our tax system that will replace regressive property taxes with progressive income taxes so that the cost of running the government isn’t borne by those who are least able to pay.”
As for other policy areas he’d focus on, they too are tangentially related to the outbreak: universal healthcare, which he said he’d prefer to see at a national level but would “sponsor and champion” the NY Health Act, and an emphasis on not allowing the state’s climate goals—as outlined in the Community Leadership and Community Protection Act—to fall behind during the COVID-19 recovery effort.?
Murtagh also has a local track record of affordable housing advocacy, one that can be seen with the relative boom of affordable housing locally. He touted his work on INHS projects Stone Quarry and 210 Hancock Street, as well as the impending Green Street Garage redevelopment, Asteri Ithaca, which will bring over 200 affordable housing units to downtown Ithaca. He also pushed for infrastructure reform while on the Sidewalk Task Force, resulting in a new way to fund sidewalk repairs around the city and the eventual construction of miles of new sidewalk.?
The step up from city to state government is a large one, where policies will immediately impact thousands more people in the district than anything the City of Ithaca passes. Murtagh’s main regret from his time on council, if he is elected, would be the potential that he wouldn’t be able to see his work on securing a permanent home for the Community Gardens all the way to fruition. Still, he said during his time on council and on other local boards, he’s learned enough skills and strategy, and absorbed and felt enough of the issues central to the district, to make the step up to the state level while maintaining a connection here.?
“It’s not enough to just have good policies; you also need to have the skills to be able to work with people to put those policies in place,” Murtagh said. “In fact, some Ithacans who have disagreed with me the most vehemently over the years have donated and are volunteering in my campaign. And I think those skills of collaboration are even more important at the state level than at the local level, where, as you say, the stakes are so much higher, and where it’s critical to form functioning coalitions, particularly so our upstate Assembly district doesn’t get overlooked.”