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Preview: Syracuse mayoral candidates hold their first debate

The candidates for Syracuse mayor (from l-r) Laura Lavine (R), Juanita Perez Williams (D), Ben Walsh (Upstate Jobs, REF, IN), and Howie Hawkins (GR) held their first debate with WRVO

On November 7, voters in the city of Syracuse will go to the polls to choose their next mayor. This year, four candidates are running for the job: Democrat Juanita Perez Williams, Republican Laura Lavine, independent candidate Ben Walsh, and the Green Party's Howie Hawkins. All four candidates sat down for their first debate this week, which you can hear in full Monday, October 2 at 7 p.m. on WRVO Public Media.

In this portion of the debate, the conversation turned to the Syracuse City School District, and whether the mayor should be in control of city schools. Lavine says yes, the other candidates say no. Here, Lavine offers her rebuttal. 

Note: a transcript of this portion is below. 

Laura Lavine (LR): Families of financial means who are interested in making educational choices for their children often, in the city of Syracuse, choose to send their children to non-public schools, or they leave the city all together. I have neighbors who are leaving, their moving 1/3 of a mile away into a neighboring school district where people are paying upwards of $10,000 over the asking price of houses, and houses are being snapped up in a matter of hours. When people are moving to central New York, they don’t say to the realtor “who has the best hotels downtown?” they don’t say “who has the best roads?”. They say “who has the best schools and the safest neighborhoods?” and the answer right now is not Syracuse. It can be, and it should be and we can do that. But we need somebody who will stand up and say to the entire city of Syracuse “I will be accountable for what goes on here. I’m going to be responsible. I’m going to bring community leader, other elected officials at the local, state and federal level, have access to other financial and human resources to give the school board and the superintendent what’s needed to turn the city around, which is to turn the school district around. 

Juanita Perez Williams (JPW): But you don’t need mayoral control to do that, Laura. You can do that as a mayor that’s supporting your superintendent, your teachers, your families. You can do all that you’re saying, but you don’t have to be, uh, a dictator if you will, running our city schools because that’s what it would appear and would appear political. So I agree with you. We do need to do all that but I would certainly do it in a democratic way where we’re bringing all these people together and making these decisions together as opposed to one person doing that.

(LL): I’m sure every mayor would say that he or she has supported the city school district. I personally do not know what support, partner with or work with sounds like, means, or looks like. We’re in dire straits. As I said before, we’re not at 85% graduation rate inching up to 90%. We just moved up to 60%. We’re in dire straits. We need bold, decisive action. This is not about being a dictator, this is not about running the schools. We have a superintendent. That’s his job. This is about a mayor who is going to say to the entire city “I am telling you that the school district is of paramount importance. I accept it, I acknowledge it and I’m going to be responsible for it.”

Grant Reeher (GR): Ben Walsh you wanted to jump in here.

Ben Walsh (BW): I don’t want to belabor the point here, but I have to say…I’m the only person up here that has a personal interest in that my children, my oldest daughter is in the city school district. I set foot in a city school every day of the week when I take my girls to school. And I will tell you that I see firsthand the progress that’s being made. The commitment of our teachers, of our administrators, I see firsthand in my regular dealings without superintendent, Jaime Alicea, who by the way is relatively new to the position and has undertaken a pretty amazing healing process within a district that was very divided under the previous administration. Graduation rates are going up. The racial achievement gap has been closed. This is progress. It’s not the time to hit the reset button. It’s time to double down on what’s working and that’s what I’m going to do as both mayor and as a parent with a child in the district.