The meet-and-greet, hosted by BU's College Democrats, aimed to connect students with Webb in lieu of the upcoming senate elections.
Webb, '04 New York State Senate Candidate Lea Webb fielded Binghamton University students’ questions this past Wednesday.
Lea Webb, the Democratic candidate for the 52nd district, was featured in a meet and greet held by BU’s College Democrats. The event was held in Lecture Hall 7, and students were invited to ask Webb questions in an open Q&A format.
Webb currently serves as a diversity education coordinator at BU’s division of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Webb began by discussing her start in politics at the age of 15, when she volunteered as a community organizer and worked on issues such as health care reform, affordable housing and racial and social justice. She explained her initial hesitation in running for office, primarily because of her status as a female minority candidate.
“What often impacts diverse candidates running for office are financial barriers and questions of electability,” Webb wrote in an email. “There is research that demonstrates that, although women make up the majority of the population, we are still underrepresented in elected office at every level. You have to raise significant funds in order to run for office, [and] in addition deal with implicit bias that often drives perceptions around ‘electability’. It is my hope that, with my campaign, that it will encourage other community leaders to not only run for office but also become more involved with government.”
Webb said the continued support of Binghamton community leaders is what eventually convinced her to run in the election. In 2007, Webb became the first African-American and youngest person ever to be elected to the Binghamton City Council. Since then, Webb has led initiatives to ban fracking in the City of Binghamton, worked with nonprofit organizations to establish more housing and supported the passage of the New York Health Act, among other efforts.
One frequent query at the Q&A session was how Webb planned to engage with the Binghamton community and encourage them to vote for progressive issues. Webb explained that having conversations with people, and meeting them where they are, is what can gain support in working toward solutions that help everyone.
“When you see such efforts from people in certain positions of power to repeal and push back rights, they are hoping you stay home,” Webb said. “They are hoping you feel apathetic and powerless in your situation — but you’re not.”
Policies that Webb planned to enact also came up, and how they would affect BU students. Many students expressed concern regarding access to health care, housing and work in the Binghamton area.
Webb explained that many of the policies she prioritizes have the ability to directly impact the welfare of students, such as affordability, job access and environmental justice. She also stated that New York state needs to strengthen its protections for reproductive rights. In addition, Webb said that while reproductive health care is an essential health care service for all, it is an issue that especially impacts marginalized communities.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York state constitution currently only protects an individual from religious and racial discrimination. The New York State Equality Amendment aims to prevent any discrimination on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, ethnicity, age, national origin, pregnancy and sex. The amendment would also prevent any government involvement in an individual’s reproductive health care autonomy.
Students that attended the meeting expressed agreement with the positions and stances Webb took on many issues. Nadia Nabeel, a freshman double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law, said she particularly agreed with Webb’s stances on community engagement.
“I think it is very interesting that she is actually part of the community,” Nabeel said. “And that she grew up here so she has an invested stake in what happens here.”
When Webb was a health care organizer at Citizen Action, she successfully gained support for the Affordable Care Act, expanded health care insurance. In addition, Webb played a large role in passing equal pay legislation in Binghamton.
Leo Katzman, a member of BU’s College Democrats and an undeclared sophomore, wanted to hear from Webb to become better informed on his positions. With the upcoming election in November, he said it was necessary for all people to educate themselves on the various candidates.
“When she talked about the relationship between the students and the University, and its economic influence and then the residents of the area when balancing that, that’s especially important,” Katzman said.
Chance Fiorisi, president of BU’s College Democrats and a sophomore majoring in political science, expressed hope that people will be inspired to vote for Webb due to her progressive platform.
“Lea Webb has been an astounding and historical figure in the Binghamton community,” Fiorsi said. “I’m hoping her progressive run will inspire a lot of students to get involved and start to give back to the community. For those who think that voting is nothing, let the last few months be a reminder that voting means literally everything.”, and a BU faculty member, will run against former Binghamton Mayor Rich David, MPA '02, in the general elections.
15 years ago, Lea Webb, ‘04, became the youngest person to join the Binghamton City Council. Now, she may be closing in on the state senate.
Webb, a diversity education coordinator at Binghamton University’s division of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), won last week’s Democratic primary for State Senate District 52. She defeated Leslie Danks Burke, an Ithaca-based lawyer, by over 20 points.
Webb will now face former Binghamton Mayor Rich David, MPA ’02, in the general elections, both vying for a district that includes parts of Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Tioga Counties. If elected, she would be the first Democrat in over 100 years to hold the position.
Though she began her career as an activist in college many years ago, Webb said her campaign is just getting started.
“I was born and raised here in the Southern Tier, specifically in Binghamton,” Webb said. “I’m always asking myself, ‘What can I do to be in service?’ And so, when this opportunity presented itself to run for state senate, I pledged to pass my proverbial hat in the ring. But I didn’t do it by myself.”
She stressed that her campaign is a “people-powered” movement — one that engages with the voices of working families. Specifically, many of Webb’s campaign goals have centered around affordable housing, equitable health care and “reproductive justice.”
The 52nd district has seen a Democratic advantage from 2016 to 2020, according to Jonathan Krasno, a professor in political science. However, with a Republican wave initially on the forecast for 2022, Krasno said its future is unclear.
“Now that wave seems very uncertain,” Krasno said. “The votes are there for Webb to win if Democrats turn out. They are also probably there for David to win if it’s a good Republican year or possibly an even year. [It’s] so hard to tell.”
As the results rolled in Tuesday night, Webb said the show of support spurred her forward.
“What that said to me was that voters agree that that is something that they do believe in,” Webb said. “And so it just provided me even more motivation, inspiration — and other folks as well — to become more involved. So it was very inspiring and exciting.”
David, Webb’s upcoming opponent and Binghamton mayor for two terms, announced his candidacy for state senate last July. The seat is currently held by Fred Akshar, who has served in the post since 2015.
At BU, Webb’s work includes developing diversity and inclusion programs for faculty, staff and students. Outside of her position at the University, she has also worked with local community-based organizations — including Citizen’s Action of New York and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
In the challenge ahead this November, Krasno said Webb’s affiliation with the University may be in the spotlight.
“Her employment at [BU] will almost certainly be an issue in the campaign, but one that cuts both ways,” Krasno wrote. “Lots of people in the community are [BU] grads or value the University for the resources it brings to the area. Others, however, certainly see the University quite differently — in some cases almost like a colonizing force from outside the community bringing people and values not from here. It’s a common town v. gown divide in college towns.”
Some students, like Chance Fiorisi, president of BU’s College Democrats and a sophomore majoring in political science, said they were eager to see Webb on the ballot sheet.
“She has always been a great communicator, and we hope that she takes her great personality and passion to help others, to her next office,” Fiorisi said.
Others, like Thomas Bravata, a senior majoring in psychology, said they didn’t closely follow local politics but hoped to see their views heeded by BU-affiliated politicians.“I just ask that whoever is running makes an honest effort to change things for the better and listens to the needs of the student body,” Bravata said.
The general election will be held Nov. 8. Until then, Webb encouraged BU students to remain civically engaged, with many of them voting for the first time.
“So there is power in your home,” Webb said. “It is a tool to express yourself on those issues that you’re concerned about, and that is the type of work that I’ve done since I was 15 years old. I think it is important that young people really get involved in campaigns, on issues, to really assure that they too will have a better future.”
Editor’s Note (8/31/22): An earlier version of this article stated that Webb had been elected to City Council eight years ago instead of 15. The article has been updated with the correct information.
By HUNTER AKINS - SEPTEMBER 19, 2022