Urban CNY Asked Howie Hawkins, “Why Do You Want to be Mayor of Syracuse?”

The Green Party candidate for Mayor of Syracuse Howie Hawkins completed a questionnaire, which asked the question, “Why do you want to be Mayor of Syracuse? We presented Democratic Party candidate Juanita Perez Williams in previous coverage of the campaign, included were her responses to the same questions. Independent candidate Ben Walsh will be profiled on Thursday, October 26th .

Why do you want to be Mayor of Syracuse?

I want to help Syracuse resolve its fiscal crisis and reduce its widespread poverty.

My strategic vision focuses city resources and policies on uplifting and desegregating poor and working class people, neighborhoods, and schools. This approach will reduce the concentrated poverty that produces the crime and school problems. Better public safety and schools will retain and attract middle class people and businesses, and help build a sustainable prosperity for all.

I want to be the next mayor of Syracuse, not its last mayor. The city in on the brink of insolvency and a state-imposed financial control board that could dissolve the city into a metropolitan government on terms unfavorable to city residents.

An immediate top priority for me is therefore progressive tax reforms for a broader, fairer, and secure revenue base for the city. That starts with progressive income taxes, including a restoration of state revenue sharing funded by state income taxes and a graduated city income tax on residents, commuters, and absentee landlords alike. These reforms require reforms at the state level, namely, new budget priorities from the legislature and governor and home rule on income taxes for Syracuse.

As an organizer in movements for peace, justice, labor, the environment, and independent working-class politics since the 1960s, I believe I have the political skills to build the coalitions necessary to get these reforms at the state level, as well as unite Syracuse around progressive city policies. I have organized in movements that stopped the Vietnam War, stopped the construction of new nuclear power plants, got sanctions against South Africa through Congress over President Reagan’s veto, banned fracking in New York State, and moved Governor Cuomo from opposition to support for the $15 minimum wage, the millionaires tax, and tuition-free public higher education. I am optimistic that we can build the political coalitions necessary for needed reforms in Syracuse and New York State.

Name a few people that helped shape your political vision today?

Bob Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, and other Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leaders who organized the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party deeply shaped my perception of American social and political realities and what to do about them. Starting that 1964 summer and into the next school year as I listened to college students working at our city recreation center talk about the civil rights veterans from Mississippi Summer who brought the movement north to the San Francisco Bay Area with the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, SNCC veterans became my political mentors as I got more involved in peace and justice movements as a teenager and young adult. SNCC focused on organizing grassroots people to lead their own movement to speak and act for themselves. Harvard-educated Bob Moses, field director for Mississippi Summer, did not make himself a leader of the MFDP. He insisted that the newly registered grassroots Freedom Democrats elect their own leaders from among themselves, opening the door for sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer’s historic leadership. That approach of organizing people to speak and act for themselves remains my model.

I have also been influenced by thinkers of the democratic socialist left, most notably Hal Draper, Michael Harrington, and Murray Bookchin, on the nature of capitalism’s exploitation of labor and its anti-ecological growth imperative and on how ending these problems requires working people and oppressed social groups to organize among themselves to fight for own freedom and equality by creating a system of full political and economic democracy.

Without funds from the state or federal government, how do we handle our crumbling infrastructure?

The city should be speaking up for much-increased state and federal public investment in infrastructure. However, it should reject so-called public-private partnerships that increase costs with interest to private lenders and monopolistic rent extraction by private owners of infrastructure. The city should also be positioned with projects on the shelf, ready to go, as state and federal funding becomes available.

The city doesn’t have the funds to handle water and sewer infrastructure on its own. The price tag for redoing out decrepit water infrastructure was put at $2.6 billion by city officials in 2013. That is nearly nine times the city operating budget for the current year of about $300 million. However, the city can be much more pro-active in seeking funds that are available, for example, for water infrastructure from the $1.5 billion fund for local governments in the state Clean Water Infrastructure Act adopted earlier this year.

The city can do more with its own resources to improve its roads. The city road repair budget was cut from $5 million to $2.5 million this year. With greater revenues from progressive tax reform (see above), the city can take care of its streets – and sidewalks (see below).

The city’s poor broadband infrastructure makes it unattractive for business location and investment. Spectrum (formerly Time-Warner) and Verizon have failed to provide the fiber-optic network and public access TV that many other comparable cities enjoy. The city should set up its own first-class public broadband system, as many other municipalities have done, notably Chattanooga.

The city should also municipalize its power utility. National Grid refuses to convert to LED lighting for street lamps that would substantially reduce the city’s $4.5 million annual bill for these lights. It also refuses to sell the lights to the city so it can do it itself. National Grid falls short on affordability, service, and conversion to clean and efficient energy sources. Neighboring public power systems in Solvay and Skaneateles pay service and delivery charges that are one-quarter to one-third of Syracuse rates.

Publicly-owned utilities for broadband and power infrastructure will lower the costs of living and doing business in the city.

Why can’t we set a base level of taxation and/or fees that all developers must pay municipalities regardless of “their” investment?

Tax breaks for developers rarely make or break their projects. They are usually icing on a cake after they have decided for other reasons (markets, transportation, labor force, city amenities, etc.) to invest. The city should require developers to pay their taxes with rare exceptions.

Tax breaks should be targeted for the creation of employee-owned businesses where the wealth created stays in the community as assets of these businesses’ worker-owners.

How would you handle snow removal on sidewalks, this includes both commercial and residential?  (It could be said that current methods aren’t working.)

Make the Department of Public Works responsible for sidewalk snow removal as it is for the streets.  One estimate presented in the Post-Standard put the required fee per premise at $7-$10 per year.

Why can’t the city handle sidewalk snow removal like Rochester?

FYI-Rochester has an “embellishment fee” based on your property frontage. (They begin plowing sidewalks at 4 inches) Average “Homestead charge” $35.13 annually. http://www.cityofrochester.gov/sidewalkplowing/

Syracuse, the snowiest city in America with 10 feet of snowfall on average per year, has no excuse for failing to remove sidewalk snow. Like Rochester, Burlington VT and Fairbanks AK and many towns across the northeast also have their public works departments remove sidewalk snow.

How do we attract higher paying jobs to where the underemployed and unemployed in Syracuse live?

The fastest thing the city can do is amend, strengthen, monitor, and enforce the 1973 Equal Employment Opportunity Program ordinance to ensure that city residents and minorities get their fair share of city-funded jobs in city departments and with city contractors.

The longer term policy should prioritize the city’s economic incentives – both financial and technical assistance – to the development of employee-owned businesses in the city’s poor and working class neighborhoods over incentives to established developers and businesses that can take care of themselves.

To jump start this longer term policy the city should put together a proposal to the $500 million Upstate Revitalization Initiative for a Marshall Plan for Syracuse of at least $50 million. The proposal should include public jobs in public works and services, especially for at-risk youth and people returning from incarceration. The public works should include improvements to transportation infrastructure and affordable housing. The public services should include youth recreation, drug rehab, arts and culture, and neighborhood-based multi-service centers in schools that have become “community schools” with “wrap-around services” and in neighborhood business districts.

Price Rite on South Avenue appears to be a success. How would you promote more projects that bring jobs and entrepreneurs to our neighborhood commercial centers?

I would set up business incubators for employee-owned businesses in the neighborhood business districts. The Syracuse Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO) can provide low-cost, fixed-asset financing for these commercial businesses.

How long would it take to make these inner-city commercial centers a priority?

It can be done immediately. The mayor appoints the SEDCO board. SEDCO has focused in recent years on upscale development in downtown Syracuse. SEDCO should prioritize support for owner-operated businesses in the city’s struggling neighborhood business districts from the first day of the new mayoral administration.