Race for the 16th Legislative District, It’s On! Incumbent County Legislator Vernon Williams Jr. Questions Garland’s Financials – Garland’s Freedom Bridge Questions Interstate 81 Project

Garland maintains he’s been transparent, taking responsibility for funding reports sent, using the wrong delivery format stating, “I’m self-funded”  

Incumbent County Legislator Vernon Williams Jr. is not going without a fight

Garland has Questions about the DOT’s Interstate 81 DEIS and Placement of Roundabout bringing traffic to another populated area in the Black Community

Vernon Williams, Jr. and Charles Garland

Winning the democratic nomination in the 16th Legislative District usually means a “golden ticket” to the seat on the Onondaga County Legislature. One of many local races on this year’s ballot in November. Charles Garland beat incumbent Democrat Vernon Williams in the June primary, instead of suspending his campaign, (Which some candidates do when they fail to win the major party’s nomination) Williams has stated that he has no intention of pulling out of the race, appearing on the ballot in November on the Working Families Party’s line. Williams staying in the race has made this a hotly contested seat, with under 100 votes separating the candidates in two most recent Primary Election cycles.

Usually, a candidate in this position where you’re almost assured the seat, runs a campaign that introduces the presumptive winner to the district. Conventional wisdom is, make no waves. However, that was not the case in this campaign for the Onondaga County Legislature.

Interstate 81 and The Harriet Tubman Memorial Freedom Bridge

Suddenly, Interstate 81 was back in the news. Seemingly from out of nowhere came the proposal for The Harriet Tubman Memorial Freedom Bridge. In a hastily prepared news conference, supporters of the newly introduced project spoke.

Candidate Charles Garland commented, “The Harriet Tubman Memorial Freedom Bridge is a comprehensive solution that responds to the concerns of everyone in the community including local businesses. By keeping thousands of cars off of our urban neighborhoods’ streets and thereby reducing air pollution among one of the most vulnerable populations in our city, too, the Harriet Tubman Memorial Freedom Bridge will directly improve the lives of the residents here. The symbolic value of the bridge also effectively reconciles our past, present, and future while serving as a beacon of hope and inspiration. We look forward to working with Governor Kathy Hochul and our federal representatives to bring this to fruition.”

Harriet Tubman Memorial Freedom Bridge

More than eighty (80) family members signed the attached letter to President Biden, Secretary Buttigieg, Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, Congressman Katko and other federal, state and local officials indicating their strong support for the future of I-81.

Descendants of Harriet Tubman also appeared, backing this new proposal rebuilds the viaduct adding lights and giving it the name of an iconic African American hero.

“The addition of the Harriet Tubman Memorial Freedom Bridge to the community grid represents a comprehensive solution that knits our community and neighborhoods back together, according to Pauline Copes Johnson, Tubman Family Matriarch. “Not only would the Harriet Tubman Memorial Freedom Bridge create something that all residents can be proud of, but it would also honor one of the most influential civil rights icons in American history. I am proud to be here today with other relatives of Harriet Tubman to propose this exciting new project to the residents of Syracuse who would benefit most from a unified skyline solution here.”

As a result, Democratic nominee Charles Garland came under harsh criticism from multiple sources, especially from Legislator Vernon Williams for supporting the Harriet Tubman Bridge/Skyway. Garland has been critical of the process used to obtain approval for the community grid to replace Interstate 81. While Incumbent Vernon Williams, Jr. has affirmed the process used to elicit local input was fair and inclusive.

Each candidate has held events highlighting their differences on the Interstate 81/Community Grid proposal. Williams points out that there has been a consensus around the plan that’s been under discussion for a several years.

Will it Go ‘round in Circles?  Project Director Responds to the Roundabout at MLK School. “May be moved away from School” 

MLK Roundabout

Upon release of the plan by New York State Department of Transportation, DOT’s Interstate 81 (DEIS) Draft Environmental Impact Statement for I-81 Viaduct Replacement Project , Democratic nominee Charles Garland among others was critical of the plan, sighting the inclusion of a round-about in front of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. “Why are they moving the conditions they claim harm people further down the street? This population is most impacted by the environment created by the highway, suffering from higher death and illness rates than other people. And yet, they came up with this plan. Moving the problem down the street”

The roundabout near the school is designed to slow traffic down as it exits Interstate 81 and enters the newly designated Business 81. According to Department of Transportation, Interstate 81, Project Director Mark Frechette, “my role is to oversee every aspect of the project and to shepherd the project through the process incorporates a lot of different types of engagement. Certainly, a project of this nature which is looking to spend 1.9 billion worth of construction dollars in the community. It’s the largest project that DOT has ever undertaken. It really is spread out across a lot of central New York. It’s not just a bridge project downtown. It’s really a community project for Central New York.”

When asked about the proposed Roundabout Frechette acknowledged the response from the community saying, “In 2019 they had that (MLK) as a signalized intersection. What many in the community have said, was not so much averse to the roundabout idea, but really the location of the roundabout near the school.  We’ve received hundreds of comments on that. So, DOT has been exploring, looking at other solutions for traffic calming in that area, potentially moving the round-about away from the MLK school. Just like a lot of other things I can point to related to the project; we are listening to what the public has to say about some of these issues, they do have say in it. Many times, we are making engineering changes to the project to improve on the project to make it a better project.”

Williams Accuses Democratic Nominee Garland of Campaign Finance Improprieties

Charles Garland

This campaign continued to heat up when incumbent Legislator, Vernon Williams, Jr. accused his opponent Charles Garland of campaign finance improprieties.

On the steps of the Onondaga County Courthouse, on Wednesday September 29th at 11 AM County Legislator Vernon Williams Jr. leveled charges against his opponent Charles Garland.

In a statement “With a call towards compliance and transparency”, County Legislator Vernon Williams calls out his opponent for not filing any campaign financial reports for the past two election cycles. “It’s alarming that a political candidate doesn’t even bother to do the basic filings with the State of New York. These reports are required of all candidates to show who is funding their campaigns. If we can’t trust Mr. Garland with doing basic reporting requirements, how can we trust him with our vote on the Legislature?”

The Williams’s campaign has claimed that a complaint has been filed by the NYS Board of Elections against Mr. Garland for his “lack of filing his financial reports”. Legislator Williams added, “why didn’t he bother to even file? Was he trying to hide something? The public deserves transparency from their candidates”.

In the meantime, as a newly minted candidate for political office, Garland had a basic explanation for this misstep. “I already spoke with the Board of Elections. I emailed the information but was supposed to mail it.” The candidate took responsibility for the error.  “Unlike the others I’m a novice and no one to blame but myself” Garland continues, “If you follow me on Facebook, you would see my March 10, 2021 post. I put it there so people will know I’m self-funded.” The candidate went on to say that he’s in the process of obtaining the proper instruction to file online.