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Policing changes, city WiFi among priorities of new Syracuse councilor: ‘It’s a moral imperative'

Ronnie White Jr. - Syracuse Councilor at Large Facebook

The Syracuse Common Council has appointed its part-time attorney to fill a councilor-at-large seat that was vacated when Tim Rudd took a job in Mayor Walsh’s administration. Ronnie White Jr. beat out 14 others for the position. Citywide WiFi and changes to policing are among his top priorities.

White, 37, brings an outsider’s perspective to the council. He grew up in a suburb of Chicago and Atlanta. He bounced around for a few years before going to Georgia State University and then Syracuse University law school. As an attorney, he’s worked for Onondaga County, Mackenzie Hughes and now has a small private practice. The Syracuse council hired him to review its Right to Know law this year, which solidifies more police transparency. Now that he’s on the council, he wants to look into municipal WiFi, which he said is important, especially with COVID-19, when so many students are doing remote learning.

“I think that it’s a moral imperative that we figure out some way to make sure that our children are getting the services that they need,” White said.

Like a lot of cities, Syracuse is facing a tough fiscal crisis, brought on by economic shutdowns from the pandemic. White said the city should look at the tax breaks it gives private developers to see if they’re effective and if the city is getting enough to warrant them. He also wants to look at the police department to see if it’s possible to reduce overtime.

“Maybe there’s different ways to play with staffing to free up some funds and divert them from the police department, frankly, to delivering services to the citizens,” White said.

Following massive Black Lives Matter rallies across the country and in Syracuse over the summer, White said more has to be done to completely reinvent policing in communities.

“We have to question this,” White said. “If someone is calling 911 for a mental health safety check, is a police officer necessarily the right response to that?"

He’s in favor of more community policing and requiring officers to live in the city.

White, a Democrat, has to run for election to keep his councilor-at-large seat in 2021, which he plans to do. There is already some interest among potential candidates to primary him.

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.