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In reelection bid, Syracuse mayor says city made significant progress before pandemic, relief aid

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh.

In his first term, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh has had to address the city’s finances, deal with a pandemic, rising violent crime and implement police reform. As he runs for a second term this year, Walsh’s message is focusing on what he's done over the past four years, while recognizing there’s still more to do.

Walsh said he’s proud of what his administration has been able to accomplish in spite of the pandemic.

“It wasn’t too long ago, people were talking about the city going bankrupt,” Walsh said. “You don’t hear those conversations anymore because we worked very hard to stabilize our financing.”

During his time, the city has paved more roads each year, has a new municipal sidewalk program, and is making progress on police reform. Some of Walsh’s accomplishments can be attributed to the more than $120 million the city is receiving in federal relief aid. But Walsh said the city was headed in the right direction, fiscally, before the pandemic.

“We were decreasing our reliance on the fund balance, addressing our structural deficit, our bond rating agencies had improved our overall economic outlook,” he said.

Overall, crime in the city is down, but violent crime is up by 15% compared to the past five years. Walsh wants to continue to hire more police officers and said it could take a few years to get to the 425 officers that the city has budgeted for.

“It’s a very transitional and disruptive period in the law enforcement industry.”

When it comes to the I-81 project, which could begin next year, Walsh said his two biggest priorities are to make sure the people who live next to the viaduct benefit the most, and that communities of color take part in the construction.

“If we get the workforce and land use right, this will be a truly transformational project,” Walsh said.

One challenge he didn't expect has been communication, both internally and externally. He's including more staff in his weekly department head meetings. The city is building a new website to be more user-friendly.

“Making sure that our constituents know exactly what we’re doing here at City Hall and exactly where they can get the resources and the services they need,” he said.

Walsh, an independent, is trying to maintain the diverse coalition of voters that got him into office. He’s raised significantly more money than his two opponents, Democrat Khalid Bey and Republican Janet Burman. Early voting is underway until October 31, and Election Day is November 2.

Note: A profile of Democrat Khalid Bey will be published on Thursday, and a profile of Republican Janet Burman will be published on Friday.

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.