Syracuse Mayor proposes new ways to reduce violence and neighborhood issues in State of City Address
Mayor Ben Walsh proposed a new city office to combat gun violence, new hires to go after neighborhood problems and lead poisoning, and continued growth in technology and downtown development as key initiatives in his State of the City Address Thursday night.
Walsh declared the city “resilient and ready” with a mandate to reach higher, as it tries to recover from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He gave his address in what will be a manufacturing complex for JMA Wireless, being completed on the city’s Southside. He used the location as an example of both success to date and future growth. And he repeated some of the ongoing elements of his Syracuse Surge strategy as initiatives that will continue the area’s development.
“Right across Salina Street from this site, I’m pleased to report that the Salina First development has secured financing and will be getting underway this year. It’s a $6.8 million project that will add light manufacturing, office, retail ,and mixed residential to the neighborhood. Think about that, manufacturing in this building [and] right across the street. It’s truly remarkable.”
He added that the SUNY Educational Opportunity Center and the STEAM school are also developments that should see progress in 2022. Training opportunities will open up for especially women, minorities and veterans as a result.
Walsh detailed a slate of proposals to help make neighborhoods more livable and deal with problems and complaints. One of them would try and cut down on a variety of code violations and other problems.
“We will present to the council legislation that increases fines from $1,000 to $2,500 and raises fines by the number of units in the building. We will use data to track the number of qualifying arrests, and we will hire an attorney in our law department to focus solely on nuisance abatement. If you operate your building with code violations and with flagrant disregard for police, we will shut you down.”
He also plans to continue to build up to 200 new single- and two-family homes to help with the affordable housing problem. The city will further apply for a huge $50 million grant to redevelop the former 15th ward and improve the area’s public housing, some of which will be torn down as part of an Interstate 81 removal and reconstruction project, which is likely to be the community grid plan.
Walsh couldn’t avoid discussing he huge I-81 project. In addition to mentioning the Syracuse Build program that is training people to work on the project, another development could mean local jobs from the community grid when built.
“It will mean I-81 contractors on the project will get incentives to hire city residents, and [Department of Transportation] will be required to track and publicly report progress. It is the result of remarkable collaboration between the City of Syracuse, the Transportation Department, the Urban Jobs Task Force and the offices of [US] Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.”
Walsh didn’t shy away from some of the city’s ongoing challenges.
“Poverty is still far too high. It particularly impacts children in concentrated areas and communities of color. Too many are without a path to economic prosperity and stability. Violent crime, addiction, and mental health struggles are rising. Our work is not done until the warm rays of opportunity and well-being shine equally across the City of Syracuse.”
Another area of concern is violent crime. Walsh announced the creation of the city’s first ever Office to Reduce Gun Violence, to work specifically on research and strategies to make the city safer. He indicated some progress on crime, but knows it was not enough.
“SPD [Syracuse Police Department] recovered 231 firearms last year. But that offers little comfort to families living in fear or mired in loss. In 2022 , we will bring on two police academy classes…They will be our 5th and 6th classes of this administration. With these new officers, we will reestablish the gun-suppression detail to get more guns and violent offenders off our streets.”
Walsh went on to say the city’s schools performed well, despite struggling under pandemic conditions that caused many to go remote or struggle with staff shortages of teachers and bus drivers. But, he noted, graduation rates for city high schools in 2021 were over 70%, the highest in decades. And he expects that to be higher at the end of the current school year.
COMMON COUNCIL SUPPORT
The Mayor will need support for many of his initiatives from the Common Council. Newly elected Councilor-At-Large Amir Gethers says he likes a lot of the ideas put forth by Walsh, but promises he, other new councilors Rasheada Caldwell and Jen Schultz, and others, will be diligent with taxpayer money and residents interests.
“I can tell you one thing, we’re very thorough. We read; we pay attention. As long as the things the Mayor requests of us are plain, self-explanatory … there’s no hidden agenda behind it, he will have no issues working with the council and for us to help push things forward,” said Gethers.
He says it was a rough year last year with violence and living conditions, including lead poisoning and nuisances. Gethers says he’s glad the Mayor plans to attack such quality-of-life issues.
Mayor Walsh concluded saying the city is in stable financial shape, having amassed a fund balance of $80 million, though he noted there’s still a gap between the city’s revenue and expenses that requires work going forward.