Ben Walsh just announced that he’s going to run for reelection in 2021. That gives the Mayor two years to convince you to vote for him. Here are four things to watch over that time to help inform your decision.
It wasn’t a big deal when Ben-Walsh-the-candidate said he’d do something about Syracuse’s snow-covered sidewalks. Everyone knows it’s a problem, everyone wants it fixed, but no one has ever been able to make it happen.
So it was a big deal when Ben-Walsh-the-mayor actually rolled out a sidewalk plowing program in his first winter in office. That pilot program was small, but it was more than any other mayor had done, and year later City Hall doubled the size of the program.
But that pilot program pales in comparison to the Mayor’s most recent sidewalk proposal. In his 2020 State of the City, Mayor Walsh promised to plow all the City’s sidewalks and he promised to actually keep them in good repair. This would be a very very big deal, and we’ll see if the Mayor can make it happen before he runs for reelection.
Similarly, Ben-Walsh-the-candidate’s vague support for public transportation was hard to take very seriously—everybody says they like the bus, but very few politicians actually do anything to make the service better—but a City where people use the sidewalks also has to be a City where people ride the bus because Syracuse is too big for people to be able to walk everywhere worth going.
Mayor-elect Walsh’s transition team made his support for Centro a little more specific. They endorsed SMTC’s SMART1 plan, and they prioritized better service on the Eastside.
But we haven’t heard anything about the Mayor’s plans for Centro since then. For too long, Syracuse’s City Hall has pled poverty when the City’s people have demanded better bus service. That’s left public transportation to the County and the State, and both are failing City residents. It’s time for the Mayor to make Centro a priority and bring better bus service to Syracuse.
Ben Walsh’s stance on I81 is the best example of his political approach. He turned this City-Suburb wedge issue on its head by arguing forcefully and credibly that the Grid plan was the best for the entire County. Contrast that idealistic appeal for consensus with the cynical ‘compromise’ floated by the Grid’s opponents: a tunnel that would recreate all the viaduct’s worst problems at twice the cost.
Walsh’s commitment to doing the smart thing on I81 paid off. Since he claimed that space in the debate, County Executive Ryan McMahon has remained neutral and Governor Andrew Cuomo has released a DEIS that supports the Grid.
But now we’ve gone back into limbo waiting for the final EIS and Record of Decision. In the meantime, the Grid plan has morphed into a highway widening project, and other interests have started making claims on the money that should go towards mitigating the project’s impacts on City residents.
Before Mayor Walsh’s term is out, this process needs to end. We need final word that the viaduct is coming down, and we need to know that the project will actually benefit people in the City by bringing construction jobs in, getting smog out, and making it easier for people to actually get around.
I81 is about way more than what to do with the viaduct—it’s also going to mean big changes for the neighborhoods that surround the highway. It won’t be worth the effort to tear down the viaduct if we don’t end up with a healthier, better housed, more integrated City.
Blueprint 15 is Mayor Walsh’s plan to make that dream a reality. The plan would demolish Pioneer Homes and Central Village, it would replace them with all new mixed-income housing, it would bring businesses and community services into the neighborhood, it would improve MLK Elementary, and it would put more people within walking distance of the region’s two main job centers.
That initial proposal had all the right words, but all the wrong numbers. Tearing down 1000 old affordable apartments in order to build 700 new ones and 700 new market-rate apartments is the definition of displacement. There’s no need to do that, especially when there’s plenty of room in the project area to build more homes. Before we actually get around to tearing down the viaduct, Mayor Walsh’s Blueprint 15 plan needs to change.
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Ben Walsh has made a lot of his first two years as Syracuse’s mayor. He’ll need to do just as much and more over the next two if he’s going to earn a second term. These are four of the biggest things to watch to judge for yourself whether he should get your vote.