Post-Standard: Likely mayoral candidate Howie Hawkins: Merger plan is 'consolidation of segregation'

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Add the Green Party to the list of political entities critical of a plan to merge city and county governments. 

Chairman Howie Hawkins authored a 1,500-word statement on behalf of the Green Party that champions many of Consensus' recommendations while arguing that the proposed metropolitan government isn't comprehensive enough.

"The city is reduced to a special tax district to pay on its debts and underfunded schools," Hawkins wrote. "Schools and public housing remain segregated from the rest of the county, which has the the most 'concentrated' (i.e., segregated) poverty of any metro region in the nation. This is the consolidation of segregation."

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By Chris Baker | cbaker@syracuse.com 

February 14, 2017 at 4:43 PM, updated February 14, 2017 at 6:46 PM
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Hawkins said Tuesday he is planning to run for Syracuse mayor this fall, though the party is still working out its final ticket. He has previously run for mayor, governor, U.S. Senate and the Syracuse Common Council. 

Hawkins said Central New York needs a metropolitan government, and called for a "federated model" instead of the "partial metro" model proposed by Consensus. 

Consensus last week unveiled a plan that would dissolve the city and county governments and replace them with a single city-county executive and a 33-member legislature. The plan was met with criticism from Mayor Stephanie Miner and several mayoral candidates.

Under the current proposal, city residents lose their local government while towns and villages remain untouched, Hawkins said. His proposed model suggests creating neighborhood governments throughout the city that would operate similar to Tomorrow's Neighborhood Today groups but with budgetary powers. 

Such neighborhood governments would increase residents' engagement in budgeting and decision-making as well as voter turnout Hawkins said Tuesday. 

"I've seen this in New England where I lived for 22 years," he said. "In New England when there's a problem it's, 'What are we going to do about it?" In New York, it's, 'What are they going to do about it?'"

Hawkins also echoed calls for including the school districts in any consolidation plan. Omitting them, he said, would consolidate segregation. From his statement:

"Only a metropolitan government can overcome existing municipal and school district borderlines that - intentionally or not - enforce race and class segregation in housing, schools, and job and business opportunities. But that kind of metro government requires a metropolitan school district and metro-wide policies to enforce fair housing, inclusionary zoning, and equal employment and business opportunities."

Hawkins said he and the Green Party supports Consensus' 49 other recommendations for consolidating services, with two areas of concern. First, a metropolitan police force should come with a Citizen Review Board, like the one that exists in the city. Second, court juries should have peers drawn from individual municipalities, not the county as a whole. 

Hawkins outlined additional questions about a merger, including what will happen to some laws that exist in the city but not the county. The city, for example, has residency requirements for contractors that don't exist for the county.

He also said that the most effective way to lower property taxes is through decreasing the burden of state mandates on local municipalities.

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