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Politics and Government

Meet Syracuse's mayoral candidates

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WRVO Public Media

As the primary elections for Syracuse’s mayoral race inch closer, WRVO’s Madison Ruffo sat down with the four candidates on the ballot and the incumbent, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. The candidates discussed the different facets of their platforms and their visions for the city of Syracuse. 

Alongside Walsh–the city’s first Independent mayor in about a century–are two Democrats and two Republicans. The two Democrats–Michael Greene and Khalid Bey–are both current members of the city’s common council. On the right, Thomas Babilon is a family court lawyer and Janet Burman is currently the President of the Republic Women of Central New York. 

All candidates, including Walsh–who will not appear in the primaries because of his party affiliation–have been very vocal about their proposals to improve the city of Syracuse. Below are some key points the five candidates have addressed:

AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN 

Earlier this month, Syracuse received $61 million–the first half of the funding the city was granted as part of the American Rescue Plan. Recently, Walsh introduced his 40-point plan to spend the federal funds and each of the candidates have laid out where they’d like to invest the resources. 

WALSH: The current mayor divided his plan into four categories: families and neighborhoods, infrastructure, economic development and government. Many of the programs he plans to fund have already been established, and he’d like to see more investment into them.

“So it's really just finishing the things that we've started and continuing to advance towards that vision of Syracuse being a growing city that embraces diversity, and creates opportunity for all,” said Walsh.

His top priorities for use of the American Rescue Plan are setting up a summer employment and jobs skills program for youth in the city and increasing the quality and quantity of Syracuse’s affordable housing stock.

GREENE: Democratic candidate Michael Greene also provided a detailed outline of his plans for the American Rescue Plan funds in his publication of his policies titled “A City For All of Us.” He says the best use of this money is for one-time investments that will increase value around the city.

“You're trying to use the money to do one-time investments that will either help the city grow, or to help the city operate government more efficiently,” said Greene.

Some of the more costly of those one-time investments are a bus rapid transit system, repairing and increasing affordable housing stock, and ensuring high water quality by expanding the pipeline in Skaneateles Lake. 

BEY: Democratic candidate Khalid Bey said he would put just shy of half of the funds into the city’s reserves and use a large portion of it toward building up quality affordable housing neighborhood by neighborhood. 

“What's required to strengthen a city? Population,” said Bey. “You either need to retain and/or attract people, but that's done first with quality housing… right next to quality housing is a safe neighborhood, great performing schools and jobs–access to jobs.”

BABILON: Republic candidate Thomas Babilon said he wants to use the American Rescue Plan funds to establish an auxiliary police force, build back up the current police force, provide incentives for small businesses like low interest rate loans, and the most important item for Babilon–infrastructure.

“Before we start spending the money on other things, we should look at our infrastructure needs, like the water, like the roads, which are our two most impending issues,” he said. 

BURMAN: The foundation of Republican candidate Janet Burman’s platform has been public safety since the start. She said she’ll use whatever funds necessary to do things like build up the police force and invest more in fire and emergency services.

“So to the extent that we need to tap into those funds to help us meet the financial obligations to provide adequate public safety, police and fire services, we need to do so,” she said. 

If there’s anything left after that, she said it would go toward infrastructure.

PUBLIC SAFETY 

With the recent uptick in violent crime, public safety has been at the forefront of the conversations amongst the community and the candidates. 

WALSH: The mayor said that giving youth more alternatives to violence, like the Police Athletic League and summer employment, is key to curbing the city’s increase in youth violence. He said there’s not one quick solution to the city’s uptick in violence and that his plan is to emphasize the existing practices of law enforcement. 

“We need to continue to invest in special details like the gun violence suppression detail that is going out proactively and taking guns off the streets,” said Walsh, who also included police reform into his three-year American Rescue Plan proposal.

GREENE: Greene said the first position he’d fill in his administration would be a role he plans to create–Commissioner of Public Safety. The role, which would be a civilian administrative position, would draft and implement a police reform plan. 

He’d also like to see more implementation of recommendations by the Citizen Review Board, and he has a plan to curb youth violence as well.

“For our young people, there needs to be more community programs, there needs to be alternatives to violence,” said Greene. “That means more after school programming, more sports programming, more music, programming, more mentorship opportunities from older people working with younger people, and more after school job opportunities to give people economic chances other than violence.”

BEY: Khalid Bey wants to establish a precinct-based community policing model where the same officers are frequently in the same neighborhoods building relationships with those communities. 

“Putting police in close proximity to kids and ultimately their parents is how you prove camaraderie, it's how you establish relationships, it's how you improve communication,” said Bey.

BABILON: Similar to Bey, Babilon wants to see more focus on community policing. Babilon’s plan is to establish an auxiliary police force which would respond to property crimes and smaller incidents. 

He’d also like to see more communication between the police and the Citizen Review Board.

“I think that the police chief needs to work more closely with the Citizens Review Board,” he said. “I don't see that happening. I've never seen that happen in the past.”

BURMAN: Burman’s platform is rooted in her prioritization of public safety. She plans to use as much of the American Rescue Plan funds as necessary to beef up the police corps so officers have the bandwidth to build community relationships.

“When you have too few police, they are forced into patrolling in their vehicles, and they don't have the opportunity to be on the street and connecting with the neighbors, neighborhoods and the local businesses,” said Burman.

HOUSING

Many of the candidates prioritized housing as a focal point of their campaigns, specifically that the problem with Syracuse’s housing stock is not the lack of affordable housing, but the lack of quality affordable housing.

WALSH: Mayor Walsh said providing good affordable housing is integral to ensuring that people want to live in and stay in the city. He does plan to invest some of the American Rescue Plan funds into replacing and refurbishing vacant houses and lead abatement efforts. 

“Making such a significant investment in housing from constructing new housing, to rehabilitating existing housing, to providing resources to homeowners to make investments in their homes–that I think is going to have a transformational impact on our neighborhoods in the city,” said Walsh.

GREENE: Greene said one crucial step toward increasing the quality of affordable housing in the city is restructuring code enforcement so that there are more inspectors and the mayor has a more direct line with inspectors enforcing code violations. 

“I would take the code enforcement department and have them report directly to the mayor,” he said. “I'd be directly involved in the day to day management of it.”

He also wants to create a community land trust which would give the community the power to oversee new housing developments, specifically the space that will open up from the space currently occupied by 1-81. 

BEY: “What's required to strengthen a city? Population,” said Bey. “You either need to retain and/or attract people, but that's done first for quality housing.”

He said providing appealing and attainable housing is key to strengthening a neighborhood. 

“Right next to quality housing is a safe neighborhood, great performing schools and jobs–access to jobs.”

That’s why Bey plans to use $20 million of the city’s American Rescue Plan funds toward fixing and replacing vacant housing.

BABILON: Babilon does not plan to invest much in building or fixing up affordable housing units. He said that most housing projects proposed to the city can already stand on their own–they don’t need the city’s financial support.

“The problem I have with that is those projects, every single one of those projects I've seen come in, in my opinion, would have gotten done with or without the money that the city gives them,” said Babilon.

While he recognizes there is a need for more affordable housing, his focus is more on improving the existing housing with better code enforcement. He said right now inspectors are responding to housing complaints, but he would like to see them in a more proactive role.

BURMAN: In terms of housing, which has been a significant priority of the other candidates, Burman said having more proactive code enforcement is integral to ensuring Syracuse residents have quality affordable housing.

“I don't think we've been proactive enough in terms of code enforcement,” she said.

While this is a glimpse into each candidate’s platform, it’s really only scratching the surface of what these Syracusians have planned for the city. To read about their individual platforms in more detail, select the candidate below. To check your voter registration and to find your polling site for the June 22 primary election, click here.

 

Find all of the stories in our series on the candidates running for mayor here.