Explainers

An explanation of the 2017 Syracuse mayoral race, its candidates and the issues they’re running on

Paul Schlesinger | Asst. Photo Editor

Six candidates are in the running to be elected mayor of Syracuse.

This November, Syracuse residents will elect a new mayor. Six candidates are in the running to succeed current Mayor Stephanie Miner, who has been in this leadership position for two terms. In 2009, Miner was the first woman to be elected as Syracuse mayor. She was then re-elected in 2013.

The primary election for the Democratic candidates will take place on Sept. 12 and the general election for all candidates will be on Nov. 7.

Why is the election important?

The election comes at a time of great change in the city. Candidates will have to face issues related to poverty, crime, education, Interstate 81, the city-county merger and immigration. Here is a breakdown of these issues.

Poverty

The United States Census Bureau ranked Syracuse the 29th poorest city in the country, and a 2015 study found that the city had the highest concentration of poverty among its black and Hispanic populations out of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S.

Almost every candidate raised poverty as a priority in their campaigns in interviews with The Daily Orange.

Crime

Last year was Syracuse’s deadliest year in history, with just more than half of the city’s homicide cases leading to arrests.

Miner implemented a Homicide Task Force to investigate the murders, which the city considered for years but couldn’t move forward with the program due to staffing problems.

Democratic candidate Marty Masterpole said in a February interview with The Daily Orange he wants to hire more police officers as a result of the Syracuse Police Department’s lack of staffing.

Education

Graduation rate in the Syracuse City School District was at 55 percent for the 2014-15 school year, falling short of city officials’ goal of 60 percent. That graduation rate was more than 20 percentage points lower than the state average of 78.1 percent. Syracuse students’ test scores were also low, with 10.4 percent of students’ scores in third- through eighth- grade being rated “proficient” versus the state’s 39.1 percent average.

Most candidates interviewed by The Daily Orange addressed the city school district, saying that crime and schools were linked and improving one could improve the other.

Interstate 81

Interstate 81, the main highway that bisects the city of Syracuse, will be at the end of its useful life this year, forcing the city and state to address its safety and structural integrity.

Options to replace the highway are still being debated by officials. The state left two options for replacement on the table. One avenue is to build a community grid that would eliminate the above-ground viaduct and replace it with a street level road that would divert highway traffic to I-481. Another option is to rebuild the existing viaduct to make it taller and wider.

Most candidates have expressed support of the community grid option in interviews with The Daily Orange and Syracuse.com.

Republican candidate Laura Lavine said she did not support the community grid option, according to Syracuse.com.

Merger

To save the city and Onondaga County millions of dollars per year, citizen group Consensus recommended the city and county merge. Miner opposes the merger, whereas County Executive Joanie Mahoney supports it. Voters would decide on the merger in a referendum, rather than the future mayor making the decision.

Immigration

Miner declared Syracuse a “sanctuary city” in January, saying that city resources and its police force will not be used to enforce federal “anti-immigrant policies.” Several candidates supported keeping Syracuse a sanctuary city, while others either did not support or were unclear with their intentions of keeping Miner’s declaration, Syracuse.com reported.

Who’s running?

Out of the seven candidates running for mayor, there are four Democrats, one Republican, one independent and one member of the Green Party. Here is a brief introduction of each candidate.

Howie Hawkins (Green Party)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (Oct. 19, 2015) -- Howard Hawkins, a Green Party member, officially announced his campaign for city auditor today during a press conference. He chose to make the announcement in front of the ice rink in Clinton Square, claiming audits of the rink by the previous two city auditors did not appropriately focus the offices resources on more important issues in Syracuse, such as public safety and education. (Photo by Kenny Holston)

Kenny Holston | Staff Photographer

Hawkins’ unsuccessful political past hasn’t bogged him down — he ran for mayor of Syracuse in 2005 and has run for office in local, city and state government more than 20 times without winning a single election.

Though he’s never been elected, he received more than 100,000 votes in the 2014 New York gubernatorial race and put the Green Party on the fourth line of the ballot.

Hawkins is running on a “Sustainable Syracuse” campaign: promoting desegregation of neighborhoods and employment, progressive tax reform and community-based policing and infrastructure-utility programs.

The Green Party candidate also wants to start a community hiring hall so Syracuse residents can get jobs working for the city. Additionally, Hawkins has an affirmative action goal to increase the hiring of minorities in Syracuse.

He has worked to advance progressive reform since the 1960s, starting in the California Bay Area. Hawkins moved to Syracuse in 1991. He has not received any endorsements.

Laura Lavine (R)

Candidate Laura Lavine answers a question at the Syracuse Mayoral Candidate Forum held Monday, June 19, 2017 at the Southwest Community Center in Syracuse, N.Y. Nine candidates for mayor fielded questions from moderators and the community about their positions in the race. About 200 community members packed the center to hear the six democrats, one republican, one independent and one green party candidate speak. Photo by Wasim Ahmad.

Wasim Ahmad | Staff Photographer

Lavine is the sole Republican running in the Syracuse mayoral race. As superintendent of the LaFayette Central School District, she’s focusing on school quality and crime.

She’s a self-described “multi-party candidate” and “social liberal,” which leaves her unconcerned about being the only Republican running against several Democrats in a mostly blue city.

“We are in bad shape in the city, so we can’t afford to be picky, or to be elitist, or to turn away any help,” Lavine said in the February Daily Orange interview. “I will work with anybody of any political party, whatever it takes to get the resources and the support that we need for Syracuse.”

Lavine has lived in the same house in Syracuse for 57 years. She has so far received endorsements from the Onondaga County Republican CommitteeOnondaga County Executive Joanie MahoneyOnondaga County District Attorney William FitzpatrickNew York Republican State Committee chairman Edward CoxNew York State Sen. John DeFrancisco and Onondaga County Sheriff Eugene Conway.

Marty Masterpole (D)

Wasim Ahmad | Staff Photographer

Masterpole said he believes his bipartisan attitude will help him stand out from other candidates. Despite being a Democrat, he said he can handle politicians on the other side of the aisle.

As the Syracuse city auditor with 13 years of experience working in city and county government, Masterpole said an audit of police departments showed the problem with fighting crime. He said the SPD has too many vacancies and uses overtime to fill shifts, so more police officers need to be hired to fill those vacancies and fight crime.

Masterpole has not received any endorsements.

Joe Nicoletti (D)

Candidate Joseph Nicoletti answers a question at the Syracuse Mayoral Candidate Forum held Monday, June 19, 2017 at the Southwest Community Center in Syracuse, N.Y. Nine candidates for mayor fielded questions from moderators and the community about their positions in the race. About 200 community members packed the center to hear the six democrats, one republican, one independent and one green party candidate speak. Photo by Wasim Ahmad.

Wasim Ahmad | Staff Photographer

Nicoletti has 40 years of government experience, working under different Syracuse mayors and serving on the Syracuse Common Council and the New York State Assembly.

He has so far been endorsed by the Onondaga County Democratic Committee and the Working Families Party.

Nicoletti described poverty as the worst issue facing the city, saying poverty contributes to crime and crime contributes to poverty. To better the community, he said he wants to improve education and housing and create more jobs.

Like Masterpole, Nicoletti wants to see vacancies in the SPD filled by members of the city’s diverse population.

He has run for mayor in the past and lost several times.

Juanita Perez Williams (D)

Candidate Juanita Perez Williams answers a question at the Syracuse Mayoral Candidate Forum held Monday, June 19, 2017 at the Southwest Community Center in Syracuse, N.Y. Nine candidates for mayor fielded questions from moderators and the community about their positions in the race. About 200 community members packed the center to hear the six democrats, one republican, one independent and one green party candidate speak. Photo by Wasim Ahmad.

Wasim Ahmad | Staff Photographer

The former Syracuse University employee and native Californian wants to prioritize poverty in the city of Syracuse.

“Poverty in the city of Syracuse is really based on a lack of opportunities in the neighborhood,” Perez Williams said, referring to the area’s lack of local industry, housing and daycare.

At SU, Perez Williams oversaw the university’s judicial affairs and later became associate dean of students. She started at the university in 2001 and worked there for eight years. She then became a city attorney under Miner in 2010 and later worked under New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a representative of central New York in the regional labor department.

Perez Williams, 53, said she would work to make immigrants feel safe during Donald Trump’s presidency, but that sanctuary cities don’t offer the tools immigrants need to know their rights or how to protect themselves. She is a supporter of sanctuary cities, Syracuse.com reported.

She has received endorsements from United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers, Local #195, VoteVets.org, New York State Public Employees Federation, the Latino Professional Network of Syracuse, Village of Tully Mayor Elizabeth Greenwood, Utica Mayor Robert M. Palmieri, Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin, Syracuse University College Democrats, the Latino Victory Fund and Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick.

She is also a veteran of the United States Navy.

Ben Walsh (I)

Candidate Ben Walsh answers a question at the Syracuse Mayoral Candidate Forum held Monday, June 19, 2017 at the Southwest Community Center in Syracuse, N.Y. Nine candidates for mayor fielded questions from moderators and the community about their positions in the race. About 200 community members packed the center to hear the six democrats, one republican, one independent and one green party candidate speak. Photo by Wasim Ahmad.

Wasim Ahmad | Staff Photographer

Walsh is the only independent candidate running for mayor. Though his father was a U.S. congressman and his grandfather was a mayor of Syracuse, he said he wanted to maintain his independence despite the fact his father and grandfather were Republicans.

He served as the city’s deputy commissioner of the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development under Miner.

“In my experience often times, politics, partisan politics and personal differences have gotten in the way of progress in our communities,” Walsh said in February. “… (I am) someone who is focused on doing what is best for the community and not what’s best for any one particular interest or party.”

Walsh has been endorsed by the Reform Party of New York State and the Upstate Jobs Party.

Has anyone dropped out?

Andrew Maxwell, a Democratic candidate, dropped out of the race in May. He said the crowded field of candidates and lack of party support cemented his decision to leave the race.

Raymond Blackwell and Alfonso Davis were both booted out from the Democratic primary after failing to receive enough signatures on their respective petitions. Davis said he is considering appealing the decision, according to a report from Syracuse.com. He ran for mayor of Syracuse twice before, losing both times to Miner.

Chris Fowler, another Democratic candidate, was eliminated from the race after failing to submit the required paperwork to the Onondaga County Board of Elections twice in this election cycle. He failed to submit the required number of signatures when he ran as a Democrat and again when he was endorsed by and ran as the candidate for the Libertarian Party.


MORE COVERAGE:


Who can vote and where?

Residents of Syracuse proper — those who live within the city limits — are eligible to vote in the general election, including SU students who registered to vote using the address at which they live during the academic year, said Dustin Czarny, commissioner of the Onondaga County Board of Elections.

The voter registration deadline for the Democratic primary election is Aug. 18. So far there is only a Democratic primary as the other parties currently only have one candidate running. The deadline to register to vote in the general election is Oct. 13.

Residents can vote at 183 polling sites throughout Onondaga County. Syracuse University students previously assigned to the Toomey Abbott Towers polling location will now be able to cast their ballots at Huntington Hall, Czarny said.

“This is the first time in history that students at Syracuse University will all be able to vote in one place,” Czarny said.

How are candidates chosen?

Candidates must get a certain number of signatures on a petition to make it onto the ballot. For Democrats, that number is 1,000. Republicans must get 508 petition signatures. An independent candidate without a party must get 1,349 signatures because they can get signatures from anybody in the city rather than only registered party members, Czarny said.

There are currently three Democratic candidates that are officially candidates in the Onondaga County Board of Election’s eyes: Nicoletti, Perez Williams and Masterpole. Lavine, Walsh and Hawkins are also official candidates.

The Daily Orange will continue to update this Explainer as the 2017 Syracuse mayoral race progresses.

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