Syracuse mayoral candidates share plans to bring jobs to the Near West Side

Juanita Perez Williams, Ben Walsh, Laura Lavine, and Howie Hawkins explain how they plan to bring jobs back into the city of Syracuse if elected this November.

The main candidates in Syracuse’s mayoral race have similar plans for getting residents of the Near West Side back to work. After the announcement that the Nojaim Brothers Supermarket will close in October, putting approximately 50 people out of work, jobs are an even more contentious issue than before.

“You need to engage with the people living in the neighborhood and listen to what their issues and priorities are and then adapt a strategy accordingly"
Ben Walsh, Independent Mayoral Candidate

Howie Hawkins said he would start with stricter enforcement of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and an expansion of the Ban the Box law. Juanita Perez Williams, Ben Walsh, and Laura Lavine all said that their first order of business is to listen to the residents of the areas they are serving.

“It’s time we stop making decisions at a higher level without listening first,” Perez Williams, the Democratic candidate, said in an interview.

The three candidates said that should they be elected, they will conduct thorough analyses of the Near West Side and the city as a whole before taking any action.

“You need to engage with the people living in the neighborhood and listen to what their issues and priorities are and then adapt a strategy accordingly,” said independent candidate Ben Walsh.

After their proposed analyses, the candidates’ strategies begin to diverge.

Following the announcement that Nojaim Brothers Supermarket on Geddes Street is closing, the candidates said that jobs were an even more pressing issue than before on the Near West Side. The neighborhood’s unemployment rate was at 9.1 percent prior to the loss of approximately 50 jobs at Nojaim’s, according to AreaVibes, and will now go up.

“It’s a huge loss for the neighborhood and for the community,” Walsh said. “The jobs lost are significant.”

Hawkins said that the vacant building the supermarket is leaving would be a perfect space for a small-business incubator focused on employee-owned businesses so that impoverished people might build up some wealth.

“The point isn’t to keep poor people poor, it’s to help people get out of poverty,” Hawkins said. “So I would like to see the city have a municipal development bank whose primary mission is to finance and provide technical assistance to worker-owned enterprises.”

The Green Party candidate said he is also interested in pursuing something he calls The Cleveland Model, which would be based on the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland. This program would provide a non-profit with long-term capital to develop worker cooperatives.

“If I’m mayor, I’m going to go talk to the leadership at the universities and the hospitals and the non-profits around town and say ‘let’s see if we can’t do that here in Syracuse’,” Hawkins said.

There has been speculation that the new PriceRite store near Nojaim’s provided the competition that put the latter supermarket out of business. Walsh played a key role in bringing the PriceRite to the Near West Side as deputy commissioner for neighborhood and business development under Mayor Stephanie Miner, per WRVO.

Lavine, the Republican nominee, said that if she is elected mayor, she will pay close attention to how development might affect the surrounding businesses.

“The PriceRite coming in and losing those jobs is indefensible,” Lavine said. “I wouldn’t have made a move like that.”

Walsh said that his goal as mayor is to replace Nojaim’s with another store as quickly as possible to return jobs and access to fresh food to the neighborhood. He said that understanding the market is key to getting that done. Then he said he would aggressively seek out possible businesses to fill the space. He said he plans to carry out this plan in other places on the Near West Side, too.

“We want to do a full inventory of developable properties and understand what resources we have and work with businesses to bring those jobs back to the neighborhood,” he said, citing West Fayette and Geddes streets as possible sites for those developments.

Walsh also said that because so many residents on the Near West Side and in other parts of the city are without their own cars, jobs should be created within the neighborhoods people live in. He said that public transportation is critical but that people should not have to ride long distances to work.

“We should be bringing jobs to the people rather than working on getting the people to the jobs,” he said. “We want to attract jobs and industry to these neighborhoods where they left years ago.”

“Mr. Walsh has a record of large getting large industry to come to Syracuse,” Perez Williams said. “But they create no jobs. They don’t hire minorities and there are no hiring requirements. He is partly to blame for what happened to Nojaim’s. I believe he failed to support them through his own endeavors with industry.”

Ken Warner, a political director for the New York Working Families Party that endorsed Perez Williams, said his party is appreciative the she has been critical of opponents.

“These candidates are going to put city government up for sale. Just look at their donors,” Warner said of Lavine and Walsh. “They talk about business climate but not how it’s going to relate to people who actually live there.”

The Working Families Party recently endorsed Perez Williams. Warner said that the party is confident in her ability to best work with residents of the Near West Side to increase training and education and get people back to work.

Perez Williams said that her plan would start with putting in place programs that set people up to be able to go to work at all. Without child care or senior assistance, she said, many adults are unable to go find a job and provide for their families.

She said that she would also focus on neighborhood revitalization in order to entice people to bring their business to the Near West side.

“Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people go through the Near West Side to get downtown everyday,” she said. “We have to incentivize people to get gas, get something to eat. We haven’t taken advantage of that.”

Perez Williams, along with Lavine and Walsh, also said that there is a gap between the skills unemployed people in Syracuse have and the skills employers need from their employees. The three said this means improving the school system.

“I bring jobs back to the preparation of our students,” Lavine said. “We are looking at making sure our students leave high school with the right plan for secondary life. That is ensuring they have the right skills to fill the jobs that exist right now.”

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.