Candidates for Mayor of Syracuse debate: Matt's Memo
"Why do you want to be Mayor?" That was the first question we asked of the four candidates for Mayor of Syracuse. We figured if they can't answer that one effectively they have essentially disqualified themselves as a legitimate candidate. Each of the candidates handled that question in their own way and we were off and running in our debate held on the campus of SUNY ESF in Syracuse.
Sixty minutes later I wrapped up the evening, alongside co-moderator Megan Coleman, crediting the candidates for putting themselves out there in making a run for office. They represent a group of choices for voters unlike any the city has seen in its history.
I have moderated many political debates over the years including debates for each of the candidates who ultimately became Mayor of Syracuse dating back to the early 1990's. Roy Bernardi, Matt Driscoll and Stephanie Miner all rose above the other choices in primaries and general elections after appearing on our air debating the issues. But, this group of a Democrat, a Republican, a Green Party candidate and an Independent represents a different array.
They all proved their mettle tonight. The winner of the Democratic Primary Juanita Perez Williams, the Republican Party choice Laura Lavine, the perpetual Green Howie Hawkins and a new generation of Walsh in independent Ben Walsh.
Walsh ended up being the first to take our last question of the night. I asked this question "Over the last 50 years Syracuse has had six mayors - which one would you rank as the best and what approach or policy would you borrow from him or her to improve your administration?" Walsh smiled and admitted he had to pick his grandfather who served during the 1960's. He admired William Walsh for being able to get things done by working cooperatively with others. He also gave a nod to Democrat Tom Young.
Howie Hawkins never named his choice, but he told the story of another community organizing minor party candidate who lasted just two years in Syracuse City Hall before the big party bosses prevented his reelection.
Juanita Perez Williams also chose Tom Young. She described him as a mayor who listened to people instead of only doing what he wanted to do. Interestingly, Republican Laura Lavine also latched on to Young as her best choice. She did not stick with party lines in going with either William Walsh or Roy Bernardi.
The way each candidate wrapped up their appearance speaks to their level of confidence as to how Election Night is likely to turn out. Laura Lavine repeatedly mentioned the 4 to 1 deficit she faces in registered Democrats versus Republicans. She even admitted in her closing remarks, she wants people to vote for her, but if they don't she still wants them to turn out and vote for one of the candidates.
Howie Hawkins asked for votes, but also spent time pitching his fellow Green Party candidates on the Syracuse city ticket.
On the other hand, Ben Walsh asked for votes and even pointed out the location of his two lines on the ballot. The Independence and Reform Party lines are near the bottom. Juanita Perez Williams also made the direct plea and mentioned several times how she has already won voter support in winning the Democratic Primary.
Plenty of work for the campaigns in the next week. November 7th promises to be an exciting evening as voters select the next Mayor of Syracuse.