Syracuse’s four mayoral candidates squared off for another debate Friday, this one moderated by WAER News at City Hall Commons.
The theme was “sustainability,” and Howie Hawkins, Laura Lavine, Ben Walsh and Juanita Perez Williams offered their thoughts on how it figures into a wide range of topics.
The Green Party’s Howie Hawkins is never short of ideas, all of them progressive and some might say a bit radical. So it might seem the Consensus Commission’s sweeping new recommendations for modernizing local government would fit his agenda. But Hawkins has mixed reviews…
“Because if we keep the winner take all single member district system of electing our county or metro officials, which is what the consensus proposes, just like the county legislature, city interests will get steamrolled as they are in the county legislature now. So I think we should look at some of those shared services. The property tax sharing plan is good. Water consolidation would help with our infrastructure. The IDAs are obvious because now the developers are playing one off against the other and the city’s losing out.”
But the Consensus Commission’s recommendations omitted school districts. That’s where Republican Laura Lavine sees an opportunity. She’s spent 40 years in public education, mostly in administration, and has made a mayoral control of the city school district a linchpin of her campaign.
“We need bold action. We need mayoral responsibility of the schools whereby, with the advice and consent, permission, participation of the common council, the mayor appoints the school board members. They are the key governing body for the school district and I’m gonna bet there isn’t one person in this room who can name all seven of your school board members.”
Most of the city’s school students live in poverty, and quality, affordable housing is one of the major challenges facing residents. Independent candidate Ben Walsh says education, housing, and neighborhoods are segregated along racial and socioeconomic lines.
“We need to be intentional in our housing policy to deconcentrate the poverty. We need to figure out ways to incentivize more mixed income housing, more affordable rental housing - especially in areas like downtown where you have primarily market rate – to make those neighborhoods more inclusive. We also need to make sure when we’re looking at placing primarily affordable housing that we’re not just going to the neighborhoods where there’s the least amount of resistance and further concentrating our poverty.”
While the causes and factors of poverty are many, lack of employment opportunities is certainly foremost. Democrat Juanita Perez Williams says that might be complicated by a lack of reliable transportation in a city that’s centered around cars.
“We need accessible transportation. You can’t get to work if you can’t afford to get on a bus or you have to get to a place outside the city of Syracuse. I’m talking about bringing OnTrack back. We need to do that during this 81 project and we need to do it to make a city that’s desirable to be and where people who live in the city can get to the places that they need to be in.”
The candidates also fielded questions on sustainability and how it relates to climate change, land use, and infrastructure. The full hour and a half long debate can be heard below.