Vote Green, Not Machine, in 2013!

Hawkins for Council, P.O. Box 562, Syracuse NY 13205

July 22, 2013

Dear Friends,

Syracuse is in crisis. It's nearly broke. It doesn't have enough money for the basic things that people have right to expect – good schools, living-wage jobs, safe neighborhoods, a healthy environment.

In our black and working class neighborhoods, longterm unemployment persists and poverty expands. Yet these communities are not getting their fair share of city-funded jobs.

None of Syracuse's elected officials – every one a Democrat – speaks up for Syracuse to New York State to demand that it provide the funding it previously promised to our city and schools. Syracuse is a year or two from insolvency. It could soon have its elected government overruled by a state-appointed Financial Control Board with the power to impose more cuts to our schools and services, givebacks from city workers, and hikes in local taxes.

As a Green Party member of the council, I will have the political independence to speak up for our schools, neighborhoods, and environment.

We can win Fiscal Justice that fully funds our city and schools through progressive taxes and revenue sharing.

We can provide more Good Jobs immediately for our people by creating Community Hiring Halls that enable city residents to get their fair share of city-funded jobs as part of a renewed enforcement and expansion the city's Equal Employment Opportunity and Living Wage laws and a reconstitution of the Human Rights Commission.

My opponent – and all the elected city Democrats – won't buck their state party leadership's austerity agenda. They offer no new ideas or strategies. Understaffed schools, hard times for working people, and soon a Financial Control Board are not inevitable. We can do much better.

We Can Win

With your support, I can win my race for 4th District Common Councilor. My previous votes for this office have grown from 14% in 2003, to 41% in 2009, to 48% in 2011. This year I intend to win this two-person race against my Democratic opponent, Khalid Bey.

My opponent's major campaign funders are the big developers and real estate interests in Syracuse like Bob Congel and Michael Falcone. As chair of the council's Economic Development Committee, he has returned the favor by championing tax breaks for developers. When the Mayor closed the Ida Benderson Senior Center and Fire Station 7 in the 4th District, he did not speak up for us.

My campaign funders will be ordinary people like you. I do not accept donations from developers, or for-profit companies, or any person or entity doing business with the city. I want lots of little people backing me, not a few big fat cats seeking special favors.

If $5 is all you can afford, please contribute that. I ask everyone receiving this appeal to contribute something.

You can use the contribution form and return envelope that are enclosed. Or you can contribute electronically on the Donate page my campaign website: www.howiehawkins.org.

Speaking Up for Syracuse

My opponent's actions in office are business-as-usual for urban power structures. Politicians who are funded by the local power elite – the real estate and developer interests and their associated lawyers, bankers, and contractors – channel public money to subsidies for for-profit developers at the expense of schools, neighborhoods, and environment. That is how the urban political machine works.

My opponent, the Mayor, and the other elected Democrats just accept that the city has to cut because “We don't have the money.” But we know where the money is! The 1% is hoarding it. They don't pay the taxes they used to. They lobby for tax breaks and tax-free zones. The top 1%'s share of income in New York State has grown from 10% in 1980 to 35% by 2007. Meanwhile, since 1980, the top state income tax bracket on high incomes has been halved and the bottom tax bracket on low incomes has been doubled. Instead of helping Syracuse and other communities in fiscal crisis by restoring progressive taxation and revenue sharing, the Democratic leader of the state, Governor Cuomo, tells Syracuse to just cut spending.

Over half of Syracuse's property is tax-exempt. The tax-paying manufacturers that built Syracuse moved out in the 1950s and 1960s. They were replaced by tax-exempt university, hospital, and state and federal government institutions as the core of the economy. Recognizing that all New York cities were now host to major regional employers that did not pay taxes, the Mayors of the Big 6 cities in New York successfully campaigned in 1971 for state revenue sharing and for funding public schools with state income taxes. But where the state Finance Law once dedicated 8% of state revenues for revenue sharing, today the figure is frozen at less than 1%. The state failed to take over public school funding. It is now is $9 billion behind on the Foundation Aid Formula enacted in 2007. No wonder Syracuse and other New York cities, towns, and school districts are going broke.

Syracuse's poverty rate is 34 percent, up from 27 percent a decade ago. It is the highest poverty rate of any city in New York State. Less than half of our students graduate from high school on time. Yet the cuts continue. The city schools have lost hundreds of teachers and support staff – more than 25% of its workforce – in the last four years. 50 budgeted police and 40 budgeted firefighter positions are being left unfilled.

The Mayor's response to the fiscal crisis – with no objections from my opponent – is not to ask the state to meet its obligations to fund its mandates for schools and city services. Instead, the Mayor demands changes in state labor laws to give the city more leverage to wring concessions from city workers.

All the cuts and contract concessions have failed to close city's structural budget gap. With $43 million left in reserves after the current fiscal year and budget gaps of $27 and $24 million projected for the next two fiscal years, Syracuse is a year or two away from falling below state comptroller's recommended minimum level of reserves. If that happens, a state-imposed Financial Control Board will inflict further cuts, privatizations, tax hikes, and givebacks from city workers, whose contracts with the city will not be binding on the new entity in charge, the Financial Control Board.

State revenue sharing is now only $775 million, less than 1% of $90 billion in state revenues. The promised 8% would be $7.2 billion. If the rich paid the taxes they used to, far more than $7.2 billion for revenue sharing could be raised. Restore the 1970s progressive income tax structure and the state would raise $8 billion more, while 95% of us would get a tax cut. The state could keep the $16 billion a year Stock Transfer Tax, instead of rebating it 100% as it has since 1981. There are $7 billion in ineffective tax breaks and subsidies for business that could be cut. The bailed-out Wall Street bankers' $20+ billion a year in bonuses could be taxed. At the very least, Syracuse should demand that the state could grant it home rule on income taxes. A progressive local income tax – including on the incomes of 62,000 commuters to the city – at an average 1% rate on the city's $3.7 billion annual payroll would yield $37 million a year, more than enough to cover the city's recurring budget gaps.

All my opponent and the other city Democrats in office propose is cuts, givebacks, and tax hikes. None will speak to the state for the city and school funding it has promised the cities. I will speak up.

Revitalizing Our Public Sector

Our public sector provides the public avenues for private commerce. In order to revitalize the Syracuse economy, we need good schools, public safety, fair taxes, and responsive city services. We need reliable, affordable, and environmentally sustainable infrastructure for energy, water, sewage, transit, broadband, and public access media. Without these public goods, the tax-paying businesses and homeowners that make for a prosperous city will not move back into Syracuse. 

I will draw on 45 years of organizing experience to work with the community and labor – in Syracuse and in other upstate cities, towns and school districts suffering under this fiscal crisis manufactured by the elites – to win the progressive tax and revenue sharing reforms we need to fully fund our schools and city services.

The fastest way to relieve the unemployment and poverty in the 4th District is to enable its residents to get the city-funded jobs we already pay for with our taxes. The city's Equal Employment Opportunity Program, which was supposed to be monitored and enforced by the now defunct Human Rights Commission, must be revived. We know from Human Rights Commission reports up until the last report for 2008 that minorities are only getting one-quarter to one-third of their proportionate share of jobs with city contractors. It is time to revive the Equal Employment Opportunity Program and the Human Rights Commission and put city-certified Community Hiring Halls into an expanded Living Wage Law as mandatory first sources for hiring of qualified city residents for jobs not only with city contractors, but also city-funded employers who are now exempt from the Living Wage law, namely, city departments and developers receiving economic assistance.

Those are the immediate reforms we must win in the next year or two to put begin to put Syracuse on the road to fiscal health and economic prosperity.

Economic Democracy

For longer term economic development, I advocate replacing the failed trickle-down economics of tax breaks for the rich with the bottom-up approach of economic democracy. City economic assistance should go – not to for-profit developers – but to cooperatives and public enterprises with democratic ownership structures that keep and share the wealth they create in our own communities. We should create a Municipal Development Bank with the business planning expertise to develop, finance, and advise new worker and consumer cooperatives as well as municipal utilities for energy, public access media, and broadband services.

Right in the 4th District, we could build a Green Economy partnership of the city with the Eds and Meds. They could be part of the solution instead of the problem of real estate development that is gentrifying Downtown and increasing race and class segregation in our city. The 4th District is home to idle labor, land, and buildings on the South Side and enormous technical expertise and purchasing power on University Hill and Downtown. We could bring these resources together so government, universities, and hospitals partner to develop and provide secure markets for and jobs in worker cooperatives. The Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland are already doing this, with a clean-tech commercial laundry, a solar panel designer and installer, and an urban greenhouse farm up and running in that city's Greater University Circle neighborhood, a complex of universities and hospitals surrounded by low-income communities similar to the 4th District.

A Local Race with Statewide Ramifications

Syracuse is a classic example of a real estate-based urban power structure profiting at the expense of a city's working and middle class neighborhoods. My campaign is for a local district council seat in one city. But it has statewide ramifications because cities, towns, and school districts across the state face fiscal crisis. This election is where we can begin to build power that is independent of the corporate power structure that dodges taxes and scores handouts and bailouts at the expense of the vast majority of New Yorkers.

Residents of Syracuse and across New York State will recognize some of these big Syracuse-based developers, contractors, and landlords who have contributed to my opponent:

  • Bob Congel, Bruce Kenan, and Michael Lorenz of the Pyramid Companies and Destiny USA

  • Michael Falcone of the Pioneer Companies

  • Bart Feinberg, former Syracuse Economic Development Director, now of Sutton Real Estate

  • Bob Doucette, developer of many properties in the 4th District in Amory Square, Downtown, and the last greenfield in the 4th District, Xavier Woods on the East Side.

  • Orrin MacMurray of the C&S Companies

  • John Breuer of Hueber-Breuer Construction

  • University Hill Apartments

  • University Area Apartments

These are the kinds of donors who grease the wheels of the Democratic Machine in cities across the state as well as in the statehouse in Albany. It is time to elect Greens who are independent of the machine.

Challenging Cuomo's Conservative Class Agenda

Right after winning the 2011 election, my opponent sent $200 from his campaign fund to Governor Cuomo's. My opponent's contributions to Cuomo were sent at a time when the governor's first two austerity budgets were devastating the finances of Syracuse and its school district. Cuomo's budgets reneged on previously promised money from the state for the city in revenue sharing and for the schools in the Foundation Aid Formula. The results in Syracuse decimated our public schools, with cuts of over 800 staff, about 20% of the school workforce, in those two years.

It's not that Cuomo needed my opponent's contribution. Less than 1% of Cuomo's campaign kitty – now at $27.8 million – came from donations of less than $1,000. 80% came from donations over $10,000 and 44% from donations over $40,000. Among the biggest local donors to Cuomo are the biggest donors to my opponent: Congel, Kenan, Falcone, and MacMurray.

In addition, the big business pro-Cuomo SuperPAC, The Committee To Save New York, spent $16.9 million lobbying for Cuomo's first two austerity budgets. The state Democratic Committee's soft money slush fund, the so-called “housekeeping account,” to which any corporation or individual can give unlimited amounts of money, is now in the middle of a $5.3 million pro-Cuomo advertising campaign

These money flows show how local real estate-based power structures merge at the state level with the big corporations seeking state favors, like the fracking, gambling, banking, and telecom industries. The state power structure, in turn, has enormous impact on our local communities.

A shameful case in point is the suppression of Occupy Syracuse in Perseverance Park in Downtown Syracuse in the 4th District. Occupy Syracuse was a popular assembly open to all, practicing direct democracy to formulate responses to the problems ordinary people faced in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown. Its First Amendment rights of peaceable assembly, free speech, and to petition government for a redress of grievances should have been protected and encouraged by the city. But the Mayor – with not a word of dissent from my opponent – ordered the physical removal of the Occupy encampment in concert with a nationwide suppression of the Occupy movement that was coordinated by the Homeland Security Department in partnership with – indeed, at the urging of – big banks and corporations. The same forcible removal of peaceful encampments happened at the other Occupy sites across our state, including New York City, Albany, Rochester, and Buffalo.

Syracuse Is Not For Sale

I am independent of the old political machine. I won't accept legalized bribes in the form of campaign donations from special interests. My campaign depends on the modest support of regular people like you.

I am running as a team with two strong citywide Green candidates: Kevin Bott for Mayor and Barbara Humphrey for Commissioner of Education. While my district race is the most winnable, we believe anything is possible in a city in crisis and the all-Democrat city government offers no way out. 

I don't need the big money that big business gives the Democrats to win this election. My campaign budget is under $20,000. The campaign funds will go mostly to voter mailings, handout literature, and yard signs. I am campaigning at the grassroots every day talking to voters. I have enthusiastic volunteers who are joining me in knocking on the doors, making the calls, and meeting in homes and with community groups and unions.

Please make a contribution today. Consider making a recurring monthly donation. That option is on my website Donate page. If you can afford $5, or $10, or $25 today, can you do that every month through November?

Vote Green – Not Machine – in 2013!

Howie Hawkins

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