Webb, '04, 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 HAMZA KHAN - AUGUST 29, 2022