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Walsh announces new office to combat gun violence in State of the City speech

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh delivers his State of the City address on January 20, 2022
Ellen Abbott
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh delivers his State of the City address on January 20, 2022

Reducing gun violence and improving housing stock are some of the major initiatives Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh highlighted in his annual State of the City address Thursday.

These speeches generally highlight some of the major progress the city’s made in the past year. In Walsh’s case, job training and economic development successes, and a healthy savings account are all something to be happy about. But Walsh admits a spike in gun violence can blunt all that success. So he’s creating the first-ever ‘Mayor’s Office to Reduce Gun Violence.’

"The one thing that stands to slow our progress is crime. Particularly gun crime,” Walsh said. “So this is a significant investment we are making that we think will reduce gun crime."

The idea is based somewhat on a similar office in New York City. A full-time director will bring together residents, community leaders, law enforcement, and experts in gun violence to figure out why it’s happening and what can be done to stop it.

“Having somebody who can act as an intermediary, who has credibility, whether they’re walking into my office, the public safety building or any city neighborhood, is critically important,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking for. We’ve had the job posted for a week and have had a lot of interest in it. We know that person is out there and we’re confident they’ll make a difference."

Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner said he’s on board with the concept.

“I can see nothing but positive come from that,” said Buckner. “We’re excited about the position and I think it is a significant step in the right direction."

Walsh also officially announced plans for a massive makeover in a community that never really recovered from the construction of Interstate 81 more than 50 years ago. The former 15th Ward is being reincarnated by tearing down the housing projects residents live in now, and replacing them with more than 1,000 units that would be part of a neighborhood filled with parks, transportation and retail. It’s an $800 million investment, and Walsh said the city is hoping to get $50 million for the project through a federal Choice Neighborhoods Initiative.

"The $50 million Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grant, which is competitive and not guaranteed. If we get it, will allow us to accelerate the process,” Walsh said. “But we’re committed to it either way and we’re moving forward either way."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.