In the span of less than a year, a third person will be representing residents in Syracuse’s third common council district. Democratic incumbent Bryn Lovejoy-Grinnell was narrowly defeated in a three way primary by Chol Majok.
She was running to keep her seat after being appointed when Susan Boyle left earlier this year for a county job. Emad Rahim decided to run on the Working Families and Independent party lines. Here's a look at who might represent the district covering the city’s far south and west sides starting next year.
Chol Majok says there’s been one obstacle on the campaign trail that has to be tackled even before he talks with potential voters about the issues.
"People feel as if they have been forgotten. Many people aware of my campaign knew that I went to almost every door and I went to areas that people have told me no one for years has ever come to my door."
He says civic engagement is critical to addressing a community’s needs and building up neighborhoods. Majok says he’s very concerned about housing. He feels it’s gotten worse on the south side.
"It's time to really start advocating for meaningful solutions like subsidies that will help people get out of that disparity. When I was campaigning, it's very hard to hold back tears when you are personally there looking at people, talking to people at their doors."
Majok says he’s also looking into how to improve police-community relations.
"I'm looking at the issue of us versus them. I've always said that law enforcement should look like the people they serve. And if not, if we can find people who look like the people they should be serving, let's find ways to create and develop and reinforce cultural competency."
If elected, Majok could be the first former refugee to sit on the council…a goal he’s had since high school. He’s one of the South Sudanese Lost Boys who came to Syracuse in 2001 when he was about 16.
"I think that this city and this community has done its best to show that new Americans are welcome here. At the same time as new American people like myself who are fortunate to be in certain positions, that we lead the way, that for us to be completely integrated into this community, there's some things that we have to do on our own."
Majok previously served as an assistant to former Mayor Stephanie Miner. He says he’s deeply humbled by having a shot at representing the third district, which could seem some changes under redistricting. City voters are being asked to decide on whether or not to have a non-partisan independent commission of residents create new council district boundaries after the 2020 census. Emad Rahim thinks it’s a good idea.
"The makeup of our neighborhoods has changed drastically and we need people to advocate on what the neighborhoods looks like now. Because this ties to to funding, this ties to investments, and this ties to policies that are being created."
Rahim is also a former refugee, and is running on the Working Families and Independent party lines…though he’s told voters to support whomever they believe represents their interest in the community. He’s an entrepreneur now serving as a dean at a non-profit California-based online graduate university. Rahim has also been involved in numerous local anti-violence and community-based groups for the past two decades. Like Majok, he’s finding that the voice of much of the south side is missing.
"A large section of the South side was missing. Often the representatives that were running for that office didn't come to the neighborhood. We verified that based on knocking on doors, going to churches, and the community centers. So we felt like this was a conversation that was not happening. Much of the larger conversation that was happening was tied into violence, public schools, economic development, and law enforcement."
Rahim says there’s plenty of economic growth downtown and the inner harbor, but he worries about neighborhood gentrification.
"We want to make sure that while we want economic development, we want responsible and inclusive economic development. So when we talk about new buildings go up, when we talk about tax breaks, we want to see how that impacts the regular families that are living there, how that impacts their rent. When we talk about job growth, how does that impact the south side?"
Third council district residents who didn’t cast a ballot during early voting have a final chance on Tuesday at their regular polling place from 6 am to 9 pm.