Six seats contested for Cortland County Legislature


Six of the Cortland County Legislature’s 17 seats are contested in the Nov. 7, general election, two with Republican incumbents, two with Democratic incumbents, and two with no incumbent at all.

The Legislature now has a 10-7 Republican majority. The two seats with no incumbent are now filled by one legislator of each party. Democrats would need to keep both incumbents' seats, and take three of the other four seats, to switch the majority on the legislature.

The races:


Minority Leader Beau Harbin, an incumbent Democrat first elected in 2017, faces Republican and Conservative nominee Thomas Larson.

“My platform is to, very simply, represent taxpayers in my legislative district and the rest of the county,” Larson said. “I want to do that by halting tax increases and do like neighboring counties are successfully able to do, and that’s to actually lower taxes. That's something we've never done here within my 13 years of living here.”

Before moving to Cortland County, Larson worked at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Brandywine Conservancy, one of the largest land trusts in the U.S. After moving to the state, he worked as executive director for the state Agricultural Land Trust.

Harbin is chair of the legislature’s Agriculture, Planning and Environment Committee, and serves on the Building and Grounds Committee and Finance and Administration Committee. He’s also a member of Cornell Cooperative Extension board of directors, the Cortland County Planning Board and the Southern Tier East Regional Planning Development Board.

“It's (economic development) something that I push regularly on the legislature to look to grow our tax base,” Harbin said. “In order to do that, the other part of my push forward is we need to look at it as a community. We can't bring a business in if we don't have adequate housing. Housing is a major issue in the city, but also in the county at large.”


Incumbent Democrat Susan Wilson, elected in 2019, faces Republican Laura Dunbar.

“I really would like to sit down at the beginning of each legislative term and chat about what are the things we want to accomplish these four years, or two years or one year,” Wilson said. “So that there's a better idea of the direction we're headed in and and make a little bit better decisions towards that ultimate goal.”

Wilson serves on the Agriculture, Planning and Environment Committee, Government Operations Committee and the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. She also serves on the Seven Valleys Health Coalition board and the county Soil and Water Conservation District board of directors.

“I believe in promoting social opportunity for everyone in a financially responsible way,” Dunbar said. “My motto is ‘Taking pride in District 5,’ and I want to see District 5 continue to grow and prosper … My only goal is to serve the people of District 5 well, responsibly and intelligently.”

Dunbar serves on the Cortland Auxiliary Services board of directors and the Advisory Council for SUNY Cortland’s Institute for Civic Engagement.


Incumbent Republican Richard Stock, elected in 2019, faces Democrat Dominick Mantella.

Stock chairs the legislature’s Government Operations Committee, and serves on the Health and Human Services Committee and Finance and Administration Committee. He is also the president of the Cortland Community Center and a commissioner on the city of Cortland’s Historic and Architectural Advisory Board.

“I switched parties about a year or so ago, because I wanted to show the people I worked for them,” Stock said. “I read over all the agendas, I look into it and I look at what's best for the county and the people … I listen.”

Mantella, a physics professor at SUNY Cortland and owner of Dragon Solar, which designs and engineers solar energy systems for homes and businesses, did not respond to questions.


Democrat Donald Chu faces Republican and Conservative Keith VanGorder for a seat being vacated by Ann Homer, a Democrat.

“Ensuring that spending is accountable and appropriate is something that is fairly important to me,” VanGorder said. “I certainly am going to be asking questions as money is potentially appropriated to find out who benefits and if the citizen benefits … Spending taxes locally is probably one of my biggest issues.”

VanGorder has served on the city of Cortland Planning Board for 14 years, and is its vice chair. He also serves on the city’s advisory committees for the Department of Public Works, Public Safety and Water Board.

“I hope to work together with the other legislators to address the job shortage and placement, community health and the environment, things like the landfill,” Chu said. “Another thing I’d really like to see is if we could do more to support child care, so that people could go to work.”

Chu has served on the Cortland Enlarged City School District Board of Education for four years and serves on the city’s Environmental Advisory Committee.


Incumbent Republican Linda Jones, who took office in 2014, faces Brian Horan, nominated by the Democratic and Voice for Homer parties.

“I'd like to see a way to get more public participation in our local government,” Horan said. “One of my other goals is to make sure that the legislature is fully aware of the consequences of their votes prior to voting … I think that we need to make sure that not only the legislature knows everything, but that our constituents are well aware of everything prior to us voting on it.”

Horan served in the U.S. military from 1990 to 1995. When he lived in Freeville in the early 2000s, Horan served on the village’s zoning and planning boards.

Jones serves on the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District board of directors, the legislature’s Highway and Finance and Administration committees and chairs the Dwyer Memorial Park Citizens Advisory Committee.

“I would like legislators in the next term to plan for the future, not just the present when dealing with issues and budgets,” Jones said. “I would like to see more proactive decisions and less reactive decisions, which would give the county better stability. I will be committed to fiscal responsibility, which I feel is crucial to the county’s stability.”


Republican Brian Phillips faces Reed Cleland, nominated by the Democratic and Voice for Homer parties for a seat being vacated by Kelly Fairchild Preston, a Republican.

“I'm running on a platform which I call fairness agenda,” Cleland said. “We're really trying to reimagine what county government looks like in Cortland … We're trying to reimagine how we approach public safety by supporting county employees so that we can actually provide the services to our county, to our county taxpayers that they pay for.”

Cleland serves as program director for the Homer High School Shakespearean Society. Cleland has also interned with former Clerk of the Legislature Eric Mulvihill, and worked for former Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin’s office.

Phillips owns two businesses: Phillips Landscaping and Hi-Lanes Bowling, which he’s operated for 14 years. He’s also driven school buses for 14 years.

“My goal is to make this a better community, make this a better place for people to live and for people to want to come here to live,” Phillips said. “We’ve got to have things that draw people into this area. We need business. We need new businesses to come here. When I was a kid, this was a booming town, now there's really nothing here.”