© 2023 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Perez Williams wins Syracuse Democratic mayoral primary

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)
Juanita Perez Williams celebrates her victory in the Democratic primary for the Syracuse mayoral race.

Juanita Perez Williams, a political newcomer whose grassroots campaign appealed to minority and new American voters, has won the Democratic mayoral primary in the city of Syracuse. According to unofficial election results, Perez Williams pulled in more than 52 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

"More than 50-percent in every precinct,” Perez Williams told an enthusiastic crowd at her watch party. “We showed that the people want a mayor for everyone.”

The city’s Democratic Party did not endorse Perez Williams, a former city corporation council and Cuomo administration official. She says her grassroots organization appealed to more than just the political class in Syracuse, and suggested the election results are an eye-opener to the party that shows it needs to reflect all the people of the city.

"It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here, they want to be a part of it, and they also want to know it looks like our city,” she said. “This looks like the city of Syracuse. That’s what our party should look like.”

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News
Syracuse City Councilor Joe Nicolleti, the city Democratic Party's endorsed candidate in the race for mayor, lost the primary to political newcomer Juanita Perez Williams.

Perez Williams beat out Councilor Joe Nicoletti (33.9 percent) and City Auditor Marty Masterpole (9.7 percent) for the ticket. Nicoletti was the party’s designated candidate. This was his fourth time running for mayor.

During his concession speech, Nicoletti said in order to build a better city, people now have to come together.

“We have to work across party lines. We have to reestablish our relationships with the governor, with the county executive, with the county legislature and with our federal representatives,” Nicoletti said.

But Nicoletti did not make it clear whether he would still campaign for mayor. He will appear on the ballot in November on the Working Families Party line.

“In the next couple of days, things will clarify themselves," he said. "We made a commitment. We made a commitment to the Working Families Party.”

Nicoletti supporter and former Syracuse mayoral candidate Pat Hogan said he will support whatever the candidate decides to do.

“Last 40 years, he’s been, what I would call a true public servant," Hogan said. "He has always been able to bounce back. He’s a guy that’s been able to handle a lot of challenges in his life. We’re not going to see the last of Joe Nicoletti.”

Perez Williams is calling for party unity in the wake of the vote, especially because her campaign doesn't have any cash left after the primary. 

“We are down to zero, but that’s okay," Perez Williams said. "That’s what how we’ve been running this all along, again, focusing on people from the city, family and people who care for our future. As we move forward, I hope people now will step up to the plate and see in order to do this we need to come together and fund this campaign.”

The Democratic Party nominee faces Republican Laura Lavine, Independent Ben Walsh and the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins in the November election. If elected, Perez Williams would be the first Latina mayor in New York State.

Other results of primary night included Democrat Latoya Allen winning in Syracuse’s fourth common council district. Republican Ken Bush beat out the incumbent for an Onondaga County Legislature seat. And more write-in votes were cast in the Independence Party primary over their designated mayoral candidate Laura Lavine, who is also the Republican nominee. Independent mayoral candidate Ben Walsh mounted a write-in campaign against Lavine for that nomination.

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.
Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.