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  • MAYOR BEN WALSH
    INAUGURAL ADDRESS
    January 6, 2018 | 10 a.m.
    Landmark Theatre, Syracuse

    See a photo album here.

    Congressman Katko, Lt. Governor Hochul, County Executive Mahoney, Judge Thomas, President Hudson, Deputy Mayor Owens, Monsignor Quartier, Minister Muhammad, distinguished members of the clergy, members of the New York State Legislature, the Onondaga County Legislature, and the Syracuse Common Council…

    …and to all of the people of Syracuse…it is with great pride, humility and – most important – optimism that I assume the duties of Mayor of the City of Syracuse. 

    Optimism…first and foremost, because Syracuse is a strong city that stands on a solid foundation. 

    Optimism…because we are a diverse community that only weeks ago voted to set its differences aside and work together to create an even better future. 

    Optimism…because we have strong support for our city across the region and the state. 

    I have heard from willing partners in neighboring villages, towns and cities. 

    Our state delegation, our congressman and our two senators have all reached out to me offering to help our city. 

    I sat side by side with our County Executive earlier this week and talked of our many opportunities and challenges. 

    And I have spoken with our Governor and heard his confidence in our people and his sincere desire to work with us. 

    All of these leaders understand the importance of a vibrant and growing Syracuse to the region and to all of New York. Indeed, Syracuse is not alone. With the right approach, we can take the support that has been simmering and bring it to a full boil, unleashing new energy and creating better results. 

    Standing together is how we will overcome the challenges that we face. We need not be confined by the facts and limitations of the past. Instead, we can envision and follow a different path. 

    People all along the political spectrum want open, honest conversation, not partisan bickering. They want new ideas and collaborative solutions, not razor-thin “mandates” to govern from the extreme edges of society. 

    It is now our job to ensure that the people who placed their hopes and aspirations in us are not forgotten or ignored. To the contrary, they must be genuinely and fully engaged in our government. 

    Syracuse has faced daunting circumstances before, followed later by prosperity and better days. We need only to look to history to know we, too, can prevail. 

    Go back to October 14, 1937, only nine years after this glorious theater first opened. 

    Rolland B. Marvin, the 42nd mayor of Syracuse, stood before a crowd of supporters at the Arena, the old sports and convention center that sat on Salina Street near Tallman until it was torn down in 1988. 

    It was the waning days of his last campaign for reelection. Marvin, who’d been mayor for eight years, had guided Syracuse through the depths of the Depression. The people of Syracuse had experienced some of the darkest times in American history, but light had begun to appear. The Depression was ending. 

    “We have endured all the adversities of hard times,” Marvin said. “But we never knew despair. We never quit fighting…We have left those perilous years behind and we are emerging from the stern test of those times, a city endowed with new qualities of greatness.” 

    And then Mayor Marvin said something that must have surprised that partisan crowd. 

    “Syracuse’s great achievements are not the property of any individual, nor of any political party. They belong to Syracuse, for Syracuse wrought them with high valor under the shadow of disaster.” 

    Rolland Marvin – the mayor who led Syracuse out of the Depression and who later, according to his obituary, became known as “the mayor who got things done” – reached the same conclusion that the people of Syracuse have reached today. We can overcome virtually any challenge, as long as we shed the divisions of the past that have held our City back.

    Today, our “grand experiment” officially begins. Together, we will prove that Syracuse can again set aside politics and work together to make policy that improves people’s lives. That we can embrace independent, innovative, big thinking, and progressive approaches. 

    That people of all perspectives, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and genders can leverage their common bonds to build a healthier, stronger community. 

    I am pleased to tell you today that this change has already begun. Over the past month, my Transition Team – a diverse and caring group of nearly 90 citizen volunteers – has been working hard to assess the challenges and opportunities we face. Many of those incredible people are here today, and I would like to thank them and ask them to stand and be recognized. 

    Four committees have put in countless hours of work and collected input from the public on the following: 

    • Poverty and Economic Opportunity
    • Education
    • Safety and Neighborhoods
    • And the city’s Fiscal Condition 

    They have issued their initial report to me, and we will provide a comprehensive report to you all soon. Let me share the key themes and initial recommendations with you today. 

    Lifting people out of poverty will be the single biggest challenge we confront together, and it will be central to our agenda over these next four years. A segregated city that concentrates wealth in some places and poverty in others is not a modern, progressive City. We must rise together. There will be no one way to overcome poverty, and we will address this issue on many fronts. It is clear, though, that one key answer is economic growth. On the advice of the Transition Committee, I will authorize a task force to explore how we can ensure that, as we create progress, we create prosperity for all in our community. We will not achieve real progress until we lift up the economically disadvantaged and those who have, in the past, been left behind. 

    Education and the condition of our schools is another critical issue facing our community. Together, we will push our graduation rate from just over 60 percent today to 70 percent, then 80 percent and beyond until we can be counted among the best urban school districts in America. The Mayor’s office and my entire administration will forge a close working relationship with the Syracuse City School District. As a parent in the district myself, I will actively encourage other parents and families to take a direct interest in their child’s education whenever possible. 

    While I know that much progress must be made, I will also be a proud representative – a cheerleader – for all the good things that are happening in our schools. 

    We must also improve our neighborhoods and make our streets safe for all of our citizens. The Transition Committee has confirmed my commitment to form a Quality of Life Commission as soon as possible this year. It will be comprised of city department heads, common councilors, residents and business owners focused on the following: 

    • Beautification of our streets, gateways, and business districts
    • Addressing nuisance crimes that destabilize our neighborhoods
    • And enforcement of ordinances using data and metrics to prioritize neighborhood services 

    We are reminded, all too regularly, how much work we have to do to ensure our public safety. One person being shot and killed in our City is too many. So, we will put more officers on the street. But we must go beyond policing. We need to build relationships between our officers and our neighbors and we need a police force that reflects the rich diversity of our community. 

    I am pleased that we are taking positive steps in this direction already and I look forward to working with the community and with law enforcement in the search for our next chief of police. 

    We will do everything in our power to make the Interstate 81 project a positive and transforming opportunity for our neighborhoods and our city. While other options are being studied, I will be a consistent and passionate voice for the “community grid.” The overwhelming majority of city residents see what I see: the community grid is the best model to bring new life and vitality in to our city while meeting the transportation needs of the entire region. I will work to lead our city in advocating for this model. 

    While our city’s fiscal condition is precarious, the outcome is not preordained. Current projections are that the city’s reserves could be exhausted in as soon as two years. But that assessment is based on the construct and realities that existed yesterday.

    As recommended by our Transition Committee, I will hold a Fiscal Summit in partnership with the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. We will convene our city’s anchor institutions, business leaders, the banking community, as well as county, state, and national leaders – and we will tackle our challenges head on.  We will find new ways to improve efficiency and service delivery, and to work with our partners to address the deep structural issues that underlie the city’s revolving deficits. 

    The city’s current fiscal perils also do not consider what can happen when we turn our attention to economic progress and growth in our city. My administration will partner with business owners and developers. We will encourage investment and new jobs in the city. We will be intentional and work together to ensure success is enjoyed in neighborhoods throughout our city. 

    We will work together on jobs programs for our young people. Late last year, we identified a source of funding that can double the number of young people supported by a summer jobs program at CNY Works – from just under 500 to nearly 1,000. No young person who puts their hand up and asks for a chance to work should be turned away. A job is a steadying influence in a person’s life, no matter what chaos might surround them. A job is path out of poverty. A job is a ladder to prosperity if only we can lower that ladder down so that our young people might begin to climb. 

    But funding alone is not sufficient. We need partners in the business community to join us. Which is exactly what we found when we simply took the time to ask. 

    Instead of simply putting our youth to work in city government, we have a dozen of our most dynamic, young business leaders ready to offer them an opportunity to go to work in some of our City’s fastest growing companies. 

    You see, when we shed our partisan lens and shrug off the false narratives we have been fed for so long, it is really so simple. Our businesses need employees and safe, thriving neighborhoods. Our people – young and old – need jobs and economic opportunity. 

    The common ground is obvious, so long as we take the time to look for it. And looking for that common ground, finding that common ground, and standing on it together will be a defining principle of my administration. 

    Columnist and author, Sean Kirst, in his 2016 book, the Soul of Central New York, made this point with passion and clarity. He almost echoed the sentiments of Mayor Marvin in 1937: 

    “The cities of Upstate New York have one best chance. Certainly, they can benefit from all the political and economic help they can get. But their greatest resource in the early 21st century is the same one that lifted them to prosperity more than 100 years ago: these regions are filled with vibrant, indomitable, and creative human beings. Bring them all together, assemble that brilliance as a whole, set aside pointless divisions and rivalries, and maybe it becomes a beacon powerful enough to overcome all the forces that too often have pushed us toward a sense of civic twilight.” 

    There is much work to be done, but I am optimistic. The challenges we face are not different than those faced by other cities, big and small, in America. But the people of our city have decided that the way we will address our situation will be

    We will follow an inclusive and engaged approach to government. 

    We will think and act independently and in non-partisan ways. 

    We will operate a city government that is humble and aware of its responsibility to serve. 

    And every day, we will work to earn and maintain your trust. 

    There is no problem too big to solve as long as we Rise Above. No reason to stop us from fulfilling the promise that Syracuse’s best days are still ahead of us. 

    Thank you.