For a Sustainable Syracuse

Declaration of Candidacy by Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for Mayor of Syracuse

May 4, 2017

A mayoral candidate ought to provide voters with a Strategic Vision for where he or she wants Syracuse to move during his or her administration and an Action Plan for getting there.

Strategic Vision

My strategic vision for Syracuse is a Sustainable Syracuse that uplifts its poor and working-class people and retains and attracts middle-class residents and businesses.

The city is becoming sustainable fiscally, economically, and ecologically.

The city enjoys an ecologically and economically sustainable prosperity that is building a safe, healthy, and lively urban environment thanks to city support for community-owned enterprises, neighborhood-based planning, and increased environmental and cultural amenities.

The city is fiscally sustainable. Progressive tax reform has increased revenues so that city budgets can provide the services, infrastructure, utilities, and law enforcement to support a sustainable prosperity.

Education, housing, employment, and business opportunities are fair, equal, and desegregating by race and class because the city is enforcing equal employment, minority contracting, fair housing, inclusionary zoning, and other anti-discrimination and desegregation laws and policies.

Worker- and community-owned businesses are growing to provide living wages and wealth accumulation for working class and middle class residents.

Infrastructure and utilities – including energy, broadband, public transportation, city planning, and sidewalks – are publicly-owned, modernized, affordable, and reliable, and improving living standards and the economy by lowering the cost of living and doing business in the city.

Community policing and neighborhood safety programs are reducing shootings and crime overall and improving community-police relations. The formerly incarcerated have the support they need to reintegrate productively into neighborhoods. Drug abuse and addiction is treated as a health problem rather than a criminal problem and drug treatment is available to all who need it.

Voting and civic engagement of all sorts by city residents has grown significantly as people participate in neighborhood assemblies, participatory budgeting, and reformed elections that feature proportional representation for common council and the school board, ranked-choice voting for mayor and auditor, and public campaign finance.

Persistent Problems

Syracuse city government has been in a reactive mode for too long. Instead of its own initiatives to set its own direction, it has been reacting to crises and the actions of others.

As a result, the city suffers from persistent and growing problems, including:

  • chronic structural fiscal deficits that yield austerity budgets year after year;
  • growing poverty, segregation, and inequality; 
  • a labor market that largely relegates the city's working class to low-wage, no-benefit, dead-end jobs;
  • economic stagnation;
  • aging infrastructure;
  • overpriced utilities; 
  • fraught community-police relations amidst persistent crime and violence; 
  • "struggling" public schools facing state receivership and privatization; 
  • city planning by private developers for upscale projects at the expense of affordable housing, neighborhood improvement, and environmental sustainability; and 
  • growing voter alienation, abstention, and disempowerment.

It's time for new proactive approaches. We cannot afford to continue the same old policies.

Action Plan

My action plan to address these problems and achieve my strategic vision is built around six themes.

1. Progressive Tax Reform

Progressive Tax Reform to make taxes fairer and increase city revenues is essential for the city to provide the good schools, economic opportunities, political empowerment, and safe, healthy, and lively neighborhoods that will uplift poor and working-class people and retain and attract middle-class residents and businesses.

With sufficient fiscal resources, our city can make significant progress. Without sufficient resources, the city will continue to struggle to address its persistent problems.

Among the progressive tax reforms I will pursue to increase city revenues and make the tax burden more fair and progressive are:

  • a City Income Tax on residents and commuters alike;
  • Increased State Revenue Sharing to pay for unfunded state mandates;
  • Land Value Taxation to tax the market value of land parcels but not their built improvements in order to encourage home improvement and business development and discourage the holding of vacant land and empty buildings for speculative purposes;
  • metro-wide Property Tax Sharing so all municipalities benefit from development instead of competing with each other for it;
  • renewal of the current Sales Tax Sharing agreement with the county when it expires in 2020;
  • the New York Health Act to provide a single-payer public health insurance and take health insurance costs off of the city budget;
  • Property Tax Relief as progressive tax reforms increase revenue.

2. Equal Opportunities in Schools, Housing, Jobs, and City Contracts

I will improve and enforce equal opportunity and anti-discrimination policies in order to open up better opportunities to low-income and minority residents.

These policies will include inclusionary zoning in housing, desegregation in schooling, a community hiring hall, and strong enforcement of equal employment, minority contracting, and fair housing laws.

3. Living-Wage Jobs and Community-Owned Enterprises

The fastest way to get good jobs to city residents is to make sure they get their fair share of city-funded jobs.

I will establish a city-certified Community Hiring Hall to serve as a primary source for hiring for city and city-contractor jobs in order to meet affirmative action goals for city resident and minority hiring in equal employment opportunity, minority contracting, and community benefit agreement programs.

The best longer term strategy to create living-wage jobs is to build community-owned enterprises that build community wealth.

It is time to stop giving so many tax breaks to private developers and start investing in community-owned enterprises where we own our own jobs and the wealth created is anchored to our community by democratic ownership structures.

By community-owned enterprises I include owner-operated small businesses, consumer cooperatives, public enterprises providing such utilities as power, broadband, and sidewalks, and especially worker cooperatives.

I will establish a Municipal Development Bank for planning, financing, and technically assisting new community-owned enterprises, especially new worker cooperatives that pay living wages and build workers' wealth.

I will a pursue a partnership with the city's medical and educational anchor institutions on University Hill to provide markets, financing, and expertise for new worker co-ops. This initiative will draw on the Cleveland Model of the Evergreen Cooperatives, where hospitals and universities in University Circle supported the creation worker cooperatives in the surrounding low-income, predominantly African American neighborhood, including an industrial laundry, an urban greenhouse farm, and a solar panel manufacturer and installer.

4. Public Enterprise for a Sustainable Prosperity

Public infrastructure and utilities are the public avenues for private commerce.

Publicly-owned infrastructure and utilities lower the costs of living and doing business. They provide incentives for private economic development and for retaining and growing the city's population.

They also give the city's residents more democratic power to plan for an ecologically and economically sustainable prosperity.

I will work to create city-owned power and broadband utilities that will significantly lower the costs of living and doing business in Syracuse.

The free market I seek locally is not a market free from regulation, but a market free from the unearned income that is taken from our residents and businesses out of our community by monopolistic rent-extracting private companies like National Grid, Spectrum, and Verizon.

I want Syracuse to have a public power system so it can plan a rapid transition to 100% clean renewable energy by the city, with the system's distributed solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources, storage, and users linked by an interactive smart grid.

I want Syracuse to have a community-owned broadband system that insures that all residents and businesses have affordable, reliable, and first-rate digital connectivity.

I want Syracuse to municipalize responsibility for its sidewalks so that the Department of Public Works does sidewalk maintenance and snow removal as it does for city streets.

I will aggressively pursue state and federal funding to rebuild and modernize our aging water, sewer, and transportation infrastructure. But I will reject so-called "public-private partnership schemes" that raise the interest costs of building, privatize the income streams, and end democratic public control.

I will fight for a community grid to replace the I-81 viaduct, where the freeway is replaced with an exemplary mixed-income, mixed-use, ecologically-designed residential and commercial neighborhood.

5. Police Reform and Public Safety

The complete failure to realize the goals of the 1980 federal consent decree for diversifying to the police force is simply unacceptable 37 years later. It is symptomatic of a culture of policing in Syracuse that must change. Thus the hiring the next chief of police will be one of the next mayor's most important decisions.

I will draw on the Richmond Model of community policing and neighborhood safety, where a Green Mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, was able during her 2006-2013 term in office to hire a new police chief who was committed to extensive community policing, an independent police disciplinary office, and a neighborhood safety program that partnered the police with community organizations to help gang members move into productive lives. The result was a 75% cut in homicides and a diversified the police force with much improved community relations

I want to create incentives to increase the number of police who live among us in the city from its current dismal 8%. Like Richmond, one incentive should be free housing in public housing for police officers. Favorable home financing and property tax breaks for police officers should also be considered.

I will pursue a change in state law to require our police, firefighters, and sanitation workers to live in our city.

I want to expand programs for youth jobs and recreation and programs for helping people returning from incarceration to re-enter the community successfully.

6. More Democracy and Civic Engagement

Low voter turnout in the city is an indication of widespread alienation from government and civic engagement. When the people are disengaged, they are disempowered and the special interests prevail over the public interest.

I want to encourage and institutionalize grassroots and inclusive civic and political participation with a number of reforms to the structure of our municipal government:

  • Neighborhood Assemblies for neighborhood-based planning and participatory budgeting;
  • Proportional Representation on common council;
  • Ranked-Choice Instant Runoff Voting for executive offices; 
  • Public Campaign Finance for local elections;
  • A Metropolitan Government based on Federalism and Proportional Representation.

The Neighborhood Assemblies would be neighborhood governments structured like New England Town Meetings where all residents meet to consider planning, projects, and budgets for their neighborhoods and elect officers to implement the policies the people adopt. They would be organized in the city's natural social and culture neighborhoods, the neighborhoods that their residents identify as their neighborhood, which are closer to the city's 25 planning neighborhoods than the eight TNT sectors, which are too big in most cases. The city would allocate a budget to each of the neighborhood assemblies. This neighborhood-directing planning and participatory budgeting would give residents real power and motivation to participate and take responsibility for improving their neighborhoods and thereby the whole city.

I want to purse metropolitan government because – if property structured - it is the only way we can desegregate by race and class, end the connected problems of suburban sprawl and inner city decay, and expand democracy and civic participation.

The recommendations in the Consensus Commission's report for any economic efficiencies and improved performance that might be had by sharing services and infrastructure should be explored.

But I oppose the Consensus Commission's proposed metro government structure. It disempowers city residents. By failing to address growing school and housing segregation in the metropolitan area, it consolidates segregation. By continuing the winner-take-all election system, it entrenches and centralizes the existing powers-that-be and disempowers political and ethnic minorities.

A metro government based on federalism and proportional representation would be a federation of existing local municipal governments, including new neighborhood governments in the city, with the metro legislature elected by proportional representation and its executive officers elected by ranked-choice instant-runoff voting.

The Plan for Winning the Election

Our plan for winning this election is a grassroots strategy.

It is focused on talking to the voters on their doorsteps, on the phone, and in community meetings, by the candidate and a lot of volunteers.

We believe that as voters come to know the candidate and the policy platform, they will be motivated to come out and vote for the Sustainable Syracuse vision and action plan – and a good number will want to volunteer to work on the campaign.

We will fund the campaign with lots of small contributions for regular people. We will not take money from for-profit businesses. We want to represent and be accountable the people, not corporate special interests.

We will do many of the traditional campaign activities, including yard signs, social media, paid media ads, and direct mail. We believe these will reinforce the contacts we make talking to the voters.

But it is the grassroots campaign of talking to the voters that will make the difference and enable us to win the election.

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Howie Hawkins is the 2017 Green candidate for Syracuse Mayor
Hawkins for Mayor