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How one response proved Syracuse mayoral candidate Ben Walsh cares more about ideology than voters

Wasim Ahmad | Staff Photographer

Ben Walsh's protest vote in the 2016 presidential election could foreshadow his inability make unbiased political decisions.

There’s a question in American politics to which there is no right answer: How much should a candidate’s personal ideology guide their policies and their votes? That is, when an elected official disagrees with their constituents, should we expect them to listen to those voters or to vote with their own conscience?

With Syracuse’s mayoral election approaching, voters should know more than just how candidates stand on the economy and fixing Interstate 81 — they should know how candidates would answer this question.

And if voters want their voice to be heard over a politician’s ideology, they should think twice about choosing independent candidate Ben Walsh.

The notion of politicians putting people or ideology first is complicated and in no way new, said Kristi Andersen, professor emerita of political science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

“(This) has been a philosophical concern of political scientists and a practical concern of office-holders since representative democracies were created,” Andersen said in an email.

Andersen added that elected officials can behave as delegates to act accordingly with their constituents’ preferences or view themselves as trustees and do what they believe is best for their constituents.

Even though this is an ongoing debate, Syracuse voters should still consider it as they prepare to cast their votes for mayor.

One can start by looking at how these candidates voted as private individuals in other elections. Syracuse.com recently asked each of the candidates who they voted for in the 2016 presidential election, and their responses are worth delving into.

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On the surface, the answers are not surprising, with Democrats voting for Hillary Clinton, the Republican voting for President Donald Trump, the Green Party member voting for Jill Stein and the independent voting for Gary Johnson. But their reasons for doing so, and if they would vote the same today, are more valuable for voters in Syracuse.

Republican candidate Laura Lavine made a surprisingly candid repudiation of the president, telling Syracuse.com: “Seeing what has happened these past months, the explosion of bigotry and hate, the violence and loss of life that have occurred, no, I would not vote for him again and as mayor, I will vigorously oppose his and any other policies that fail to serve the people of Syracuse.”

Though her policies aren’t ideal, Lavine’s response at least shows an ability to think beyond party lines, especially when it’s obvious that Republicans haven’t come through for her potential constituents.

Independent candidate Ben Walsh provided what may have been the most interesting response. Walsh is attempting to remain independent while reaching out to voters of both major parties. But his answer seems to only alienate both sides.

“I chose to cast my ballot for Gary Johnson on the Independence Party line to send a message that we deserve more options,” Walsh told Syracuse.com. “Admittedly, Johnson was not a great candidate and I’ve second guessed my decision, but given my own recent political experience, I think I’d vote the same way today.”

Walsh’s answer shows where he falls on the issue of a candidate’s ideological influence. Walsh used his vote as a protest against the ongoing partisanship of American politics. And while this is completely within his right to do so, he also abdicated his ability to help the country as a whole and actually vote for a viable candidate.

In a blue state like New York, this protest vote means little. But as mayor of Syracuse, Walsh would face situations where his beliefs conflict with that of his constituents. If he sticks with his own ideology above what he knows to be a practical decision, Walsh cannot be trusted to lead the city of Syracuse as its mayor.

Cole Jermyn is a junior environmental resource engineering major at SUNY-ESF. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cdjermyn@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @Cjermyn8

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