ILR School senior steers upstate town’s future

Alex Hammond

In Alex Hammond’s hometown of Waddington, New York, on the St. Lawrence River, he said, “our biggest export is our youth.”

Not so in Hammond’s case.

At age 21 Hammond, a member of the ILR School Class of 2018, ran against incumbent town supervisor Sandra Wright and won, 489-427.

A Democrat, he took office Jan. 1 and kept a campaign promise: His first board meeting made town history by being streamed live on Facebook.

Hammond takes classes Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, then drives 3.5 hours north to Waddington. He returns to Ithaca on Sundays.

“I’m taking a mediation class right now” and applying it in real time, he said.

The town’s three highway employees are Teamsters who have been working without a contract for three years. Hammond cannot take part in negotiations because his father, Brian, is president of Local 687 of Potsdam, New York. But he promised townspeople he would do his best to get a fair contract.

Among the skills Hammond is learning at ILR is negotiation. He put that collaborative approach into action Jan. 11, when he was one of about 40 U.S. and Canadian leaders who met in Prescott, Ontario, to discuss trade, tourism, jobs and international relations.

N.Y. State Sen. Patty Ritchie, who invited Hammond to the meeting, said, “I’ve seen firsthand when he jumped right in to be part of an effort to build bridges across the international border that Waddington shares with Canada. I am looking forward to working with him to build stronger ties and better opportunity for everyone.”

At ILR, Hammond is exploring ways to make development equitable. At home, he hopes to apply it to downtown revitalization: leaders are trying to attract artisan galleries and increase tourism.

“I believe in Waddington,” Hammond said. “I loved growing up here.’’

He graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy and College and came to ILR in his junior year as a second lieutenant in the New York Army National Guard.

“I think Cornell – and especially the ILR School – is what gave me the ability to come back and give something back,” Hammond said. “You might be young, but don’t ever think because you’re young you can’t accomplish something.”

Tracy Kinney is a freelance writer for the ILR School.

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