Otis Jennings wants to become the next Mayor of Syracuse. He received the Republican Party’s nomination; however he’s being challenged in a primary by former Clear Channel executive Stephen Kimatian.
“This is about a body of work and the committee making a selection.” Otis Jennings states as he sits with campaign management and workers in his James Street Campaign headquarters. “I’ve worked as a Health Educator for Onondaga County, over 8 years as one of the first African-American men along with Charles Everett to head up a major operating department in Syracuse. It was 1994 and a republican made those appointments.”
Former Mayor Roy Bernardi made the appointments. Everett was Airport Commissioner and Otis was Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Youth, “He judged us on our education and work performance and found that he had two qualified individuals to do the work and then we were allowed to serve.”
Jennings continues to discuss his qualifications for the job as Mayor of Syracuse, “I worked for Governor Pataki and oversaw 20 counties for the New York State Consumer Protection Board for two years, once again a body of work. Within those twenty counties I had to advocate for consumers of all ages: infants, children, adolescents, adults, senior citizens, on scams, Identity theft, all types of consumer related issues we had to deal with, taking all of that into consideration once again a body of work.”
“I always served the people of the community. I laid this out for the committee and they saw that. They saw the fact that I’ve been a member of Central Baptist Church on the corner of Midland and Brighton for approximately twenty-three years, that I was the treasurer, was a construction manager, head of usher board and served on the usher board. They saw that I donated to the church and community for those years. ”
“It’s about diversity, it’s about celebrating everyone’s culture, think belief system, there is not a neighborhood in this city that I can go into and not feel comfortable.”
“We have to be able to deal with people. We have to be able to deal with people, and that’s what the mayor has to be able to do. The next mayor of Syracuse, the role he’s going to have to play, he’s going to have to have, and I know Joe Nicolletti uses this word all the time, temperament. But that is a real great word to use. ”
“He or she’s going to have to have a plan and vision for the City of Syracuse and that’s what separates me from every other candidate in the field. They can only talk about what they want to do. I have a resume of over 35 Capital Projects completed in the city, I started the first Christmas tree lighting on the south side when Mike Atkins came to me, and I believe they just had their 12th tree lighting.”
“I left the city of Syracuse and raised the money for Libba Cotton , so we can have a monument in Libba Cotton Grove…[she is] the only Grammy award winner to live in Syracuse.”
“I have 30 years of working with people, the vision for the next mayor the next mayor is going to have to be completing capital projects so we don’t continue to lose businesses like Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Mitzpah Temple, etc.,-I could go down a litany of projects that were not complete. He’s going to have to have that vision to complete projects and to get a job done.”
“Second of all, the mayor’s going to have to have the vision to work for education and work on behalf of the youth of this city.”
When asked, what are the pressing problems that Syracuse faces? Jennings lists three major components: completing Capital Projects, Education, and Economic Development.
“We’re facing a structural deficit of 27 million this year and we were able to take care of that, next year it’s projected to be between 30-35 million and it’s going to eat up much of the fund balance. My approach first of all is to regionalize the airport; it’s worth approximately 30 to 35 million dollars. Syracuse can take that fund balance and give everybody in the region a stake and a seat at the table.”
There’s a lot of talk about the airport and most people don’t understand-can you break it down? Jennings, “When a city owns the airport the money generated by the airport has to stay out at the airport, doesn’t come into the city-you can’t put that in the city budget.”
He continues, “In cities where they’ve had a regional approach it means lower airfares, better service, and a much more esthetically pleasing facility. That’s what it’s going to mean to the residents of the city of Syracuse.”
Jennings also talks about the need to create jobs and retain businesses, “And here is where the educational component comes in. And this is what people don’t understand about construction and the Syracuse City School District, right now I think the project is about three years delayed so what people have to remember about construction, every season delayed it’s going to cost 10 to 15 % more as gas goes up, material[costs]goes up, etc.”
“You look at the Syracuse City School District project and we’re three years out-it’s costing us millions.” But what about the upcoming construction and how can cost be reduced? Jennings lambastes the concept of the PLA, ” Project Labor Agreements,P.L.A. in short most people don’t understand it. A PLA explained simply is a union-only special interest work project. You don’t open and competitively bid it because everyone that works on that project knows that there’s going to be a PLA, and what tends to happen is that drives the cost up higher. ”
The mayoral hopeful methodically lays out his concerns one by one, deliberately pausing for emphasis on specific areas where he displays passion. Jennings sternly delivers the news that seems to be on the minds of many in the African American community, “We’ve had so many programs that were supposed to have young people working on construction projects from the inner-city. How many young people do you see on construction sites doing electrical work, carpentry, or what have you. You see very few, these are some of the things that have hurt us economically.” Otis rhetorically asks a question out loud, “has anybody seen what Built-on Pride has done?”
He’s aware of some of the difficult areas such as meeting and achieving Equal Employment Opportunity goals, “If you read about Washington National baseball, they promised inner-city minorities jobs, they didn’t meet not one of the goals established for minorities on that job. It was an independent study, so from my perspective what we need to do, we need to just educate our young people and get them trained.”
When discussing employment and opportunity for urban youth Otis paused, as he was thoughtful and deliberate in delivery, which was stern served with a side dish of empathy, “This is part of my educational initiative which is also an economic initiative because the two go hand in hand, because if you’re not trained you can’t do the job. And if you can’t get a job, you can’t get money and if you can’t get money then poverty persists.”
“Part of my initiative would be to educate young people for college, the other part of that triangle would be economic development and that is skilled trades like carpentry and electrical, they need training in the trades fields and the other is military service. If young people have some of these tracts we can keep them on course in our neighborhoods.”
Jennings laments the lack of minority skilled-trades workers in both the City of Syracuse and the Syracuse City School District. “The last one I believe I hired, unless they’ve hired someone else. There was only one minority skilled trade worker employed with the city. ”
As the conversation turned towards money and the cities apparent lack of it, Otis Jennings again shows an aptitude for thinking of value from what we already have,”It’s not a question of money, it’s how we use some of the many ideas we already have.”
Regardless of funding,education with Jennings as mayor would look different. He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for extended school programs. Jennings,”We need a comprehensive education that goes from 3 until 8 p.m. Many single parents have to work-we have to do something with these children.”
“People have complained about our Economic Development department. I want to create a user friendly environment. The government has sent down millions of dollars to train minority business owners get off the ground. It’s a two way street, but I believe we need to do a better job in government making sure that money goes where it’s supposed to go.”
Jennings also presses the issue of mentoring and enhancing the ability of minorities to achieve. At this point in the interview Jennings waxes nostalgically about his family and growing up. “My father was a small business owner; he started off as a dental technician and was laid off. He opened a food business in Harlem. My mother cooked and the business took off, we had one of those big buses and we served food on 148 Street and Lennox Avenue. My father was very happy because he was his own boss. I believe we can create that dynamic in Syracuse. We have the talent. ”
“I want people to know what I did on the south side. I handled the football fields, baseball fields, the Christmas Tree ceremony; I want people to know that I’ll get the job done.”
“Other candidates can come down here and talk and ‘say we’re with you!’…, what are the quiet things that you’ve done in this community that had an impact that no one knows about?
Otis Jennings wants people to judge him by his “body of work” as a mayoral appointee, a community volunteer, a church member who donates regularly, a husband and father.
A mailing from the Otis for Mayor Campaign came to my house, a double sided glossy post card. t was deliberate and bold, and above everything a declarative statement that said, “It’s Our Time”.