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The choice between Hawkins and Bey is more than just a focus on global or local

Asked to sit together with a tape recorder for a campaign conversation, the 4th District candidates for the Syracuse Common Council-Democrat Khalid Bey, running with the Working Families endorsement, and perennial Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins-both brought the big picture into focus.

Both have sought the post before. Two years ago, without a Republican in the race, Hawkins polled 40 percent of the vote against four-time incumbent, now term-limited Tom Seals. Since 1993 Hawkins has been on the ballot every year, for something, from mayor to congress to governor or state comptroller, except for twice being knocked off by challenges.

“Those were races where I was raising issues, not expecting to win,” he reflects. I’ve got a chance to win this one.” How? “To get those people who vote the Democratic line without knowing who the candidates are to recognize they have a choice,” he maintains, “and pick me, not just pulling the Democrat lever out of habit.”

Bey challenged Seals unsuccessfully in a 2005 primary. “Unfortunately,” he recalls, “I learned people vote for what’s familiar. In some respects I understand it. I would more than likely vote for a person that’s my neighbor, or somebody I’ve encountered quite a few times, than give a newer name a chance. I might have had name recognition in some respects {then). I didn’t amongst the older voting audience.”

The conversation lapsed into debate mode only once, with Bey stressing the local nature of politics and Hawkins promoting a global perspective.

Does the 4th Council District belong politically to the city’s communities of color?

Hawkins: If people play skin politics, they’re going to be defeated, because then they’ll be supporting a Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, a Kevin Blackwell in Ohio, a black man who suppressed the black vote to help Bush steal an election in 2004. You end up with a Wall Street Democrat like Barack Obama, who is out playing the austerity politics of the Republicans. They came forward with $2.4 trillion in cuts, Obama upped the ante to $4 trillion in cuts.

Back to the local district. The city is facing a financial control board. It’s got a structural deficit, and the Democrats from Obama down to Miner are talking austerity politics. The people of the district have to look at their policy options. If it’s skin politics, they’ll be defeated.

Bey: No, because the margin of difference is only about 5 percent. The people won’t play skin politics. There’s actually a lot of people who are familiar with my opponent. I think it’s just a matter of whether they can relate to the argument. It’s a stretch to say that people would go to the polls in this election and vote Democrat across the line. The large number of the people who would vote for me, would be voting for me against him. Not Democrat against Green.

The index of local racial attitudes politically would seem to be represented by the initial treatment of the Citizen Review Board by the city administration, and the elimination of the Human Rights Commission by county government. Is that a fair assessment?

Hawkins: Absolutely. There’s a sort of neglect of racial issues, like black employment on city contracts. I’ve used the Human Rights Commission data over several years. If blacks were getting their proportionate share of jobs, they’d have three times as many jobs with city contractors as they do, and there’s nobody in the city monitoring that or doing anything about it. There’s no affirmative action plan to remedy that. I don’t even know where the forms go now since there’s no HRC.

All indications are that the schools are more segregated now than they were (in the Sixties). The schools in Syracuse are the minority schools, and the schools in the suburbs are the white schools. It’s a wall around the city and those issues are not even being discussed, let alone remedies proposed.

The CRB, again, was a case of neglect. There was a big fight to get it. The problem is we have to learn not only to get the law passed, then you have to implement it.

Bey: You’re not wrong. The Southside within the 4th District is a classic example of that type of neglect. The demographics, certainly in my community, are used constantly to attract federal dollars. None of that money, certainly not any finance for infrastructure and the like, ever hit our neighborhood. Me and Howie live in the same neighborhood. We’ve seen the same cracked sidewalks, and streets filled with potholes, dilapidated housing, for years. It takes years for a sidewalk to crack and become misshapen as they are. The neglect is obvious.

The workforce? It’s obvious even in the training centers. Unfortunately there’s a certain amount of conditioning that exists in African-American communities, my community, where after awhile when you’ve received crumbs, you assume crumbs are enough. It was something I wrote about a lot in a local newspaper, that the demand for what’s required has to be greater. One thing that I understand is how the money is acquired. I think there’s some misunderstanding amongst people about how it’s actually used. If transparency is acquired so people can really understand how it’s being used, maybe we could figure out where the excess is going.

Candidates at every level are talking about the need to create jobs. Can the Common Council create real jobs?

Hawkins: First thing is the jobs the city already provides through contracts, and its own staff in the different departments, need an affirmative action plan emphasizing first source is hiring city residents, and an affirmative action plan to make sure minorities get their fair share. I propose a community hiring hall so every contractor who cannot meet the goals through their own normal labor sources, go through community hiring halls under community control, and people sign up there for jobs and referral for skills training to qualify for more jobs.

We’ve got to speak up for ourselves and demand that the state and federal government come forward with public jobs and stimulus, and revenue sharing so we have more money to provide for our needs in public works and services. And we need a municipal bank with a business development arm. My model would be the Evergreen Project in Cleveland, where steelworkers are setting up co-ops where they own their own jobs.

Bey: The first problem in the city is people are in the dark in regards to what the job market demands. People are acquiring education and certification in select fields, but the market for those jobs is not in demand here. This causes a lot of people to move to other places. There needs to be a promotion of what’s available. Upstate, health care in general, is one of the biggest employers up here. Construction is obviously a big employer. But there are a lot of people on the ground looking for work, who have no clue.

We need to create a job bank, especially in regard to youth employment, to document available jobs, especially in retail, where people could apply. I’m big on supporting small business to increase their capacity to hire. I don’t recall in recent years any real strong mechanism in place in the city to support small business. I think the city should look in that direction because it’s also our primary sources of revenue when you talk about sales tax.

Issues get raised in political campaigns and get a lot of play, like the issue of Public Power, and then seem to disappear. How does that happen?

Hawkins: During the election they get talked about. The problem is they keep electing the same old parties back to power. We have people on the Council that are pro-Public Power, but on issues from the Citizen Review Board to the Living Wage, the people on the Council don’t work that hard. They tell us activists, “Write the bill. Do the research. Do it all for (us),” What’ missing on Public Power on the Council is an advocate, that will be like a junk yard dog that’s got the teeth into something and won’t let go. That’s why I want to get on the Council. I think we can push this one through.

Bey: Going back on what Howie just said, and certainly not in support of, again I’ll reiterate it’s a stretch, and a little reckless, to pass blanket opinions on a large number of people, regardless of with whom they are affiliated. The one thing that exists prior to any outfit a person puts on his character-and you make a fool of yourself when make the error of passing a blanket opinion-is the laziness in the minds of people who are grouping people instead of dealing with things individually.

They one thing people know about Khalid Bey is I never bite my tongue. When I was writing for a local newspaper I was very straightforward on what I thought the issues were and not ashamed about pointing a finger at who I thought the culprits were. That is what I think people respect. That is what I think people are comfortable with, so that they’re confident that in the event I am successful in November, it certainly won’t be the same old horse and pony show that all of us have experienced over the years.

I’m certainly not a yes man. And I’m not coming under the auspices of certain principles, acting as if I’m doing you a favor, when in fact I’m forcing my principles down your throat.

True representation is me understanding your issues, not pushing my ideology on you.

Hawkins: Name me one Democrat leader in Syracuse who spoke out against Cuomo’s austerity budget, or what we’re getting now out of this craziness in Washington with the debt ceiling, with both parties pushing massive cuts in domestic spending. The city budget is very dependent on state and federal funds. The Cuomo budget devastated the City of Syracuse. Then state finance law says they’re supposed to share 8 percent of revenues, he shared 2 percent. All the local Democrats went along.

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