Four diverse Democratic candidates are competing for a diverse, open district council seat in Syracuse. The district encompasses Syracuse University, a burgeoning downtown and some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the city.
The candidates are all close in age, ranging from 29 to 31, but they are all bringing something different to the race. Jeremy DeChario runs a food cooperative in the Westcott neighborhood.
“We work with hundreds of small businesses, be it small farms located in Onondaga County and New York state, to local providers like Recess coffee,” DeChario said.
He said a majority of the profits get put back into the local community.
“The more that we focus on, building the local economy, obviously the more local economy will grow,” DeChario said. "The city is only as strong as its weakest neighborhood. If we are going to progress as a city, we need to bring everyone up together. The south side needs particular attention. The goal is to make every neighborhood in Syracuse thriving by focusing on the economic corridors."
Latoya Allen, a mother of two, focuses on the youth on Syracuse’s south side with a mentoring program she started.
“This is my home, I need Syracuse to be the best, I need Syracuse to offer my kids the best atmosphere ever,” Allen said.
She said she wants to keep her neighborhood engaged with what is going on in politics, and the community.
“We have a lot of small business owners now, and just supporting each other, getting out, going to their grand openings, shopping at their stores,” Allen said. "I love seeing the opportunity for people to be able to start businesses for people to be able to start businesses right here where they live at. It's not like they got to drive far to get to work. They literally can open up a business right down the street from where they get a home."
Michael Greene moved back to Syracuse from New York City last year where he was doing economic development and that has led him to come up with some big ideas.
“I’m going to be rolling out really specific economic development policies that have been tested in other cities and that have worked to have a little bit more of a concrete policy-based campaign," Greene said.
Policies like having foreign nationals invest in the city, having a worker database and a permanent public market downtown. Greene said he looks at the issues plaguing the city through the lens of economic development.
"You look at crime, crime is an issue because crime tends to be correlated with poverty," Greene said. "Look at schools, kids that grow up in poverty are less likely to do well in school. You look at the infrastructure, the city's tax base has been eroded over the last 50 years. Even vacant homes, the demand for housing as gone down because people have fled the area because they couldn't find good work."
Christopher Montgomery has some experience in politics. He worked as a staffer for former Congressman Dan Maffei.
“I am someone that has been fighting for various issues when it comes to affordable housing, working with our new American population and now working with workforce development,” Montgomery said.
He said he has been groomed to help people, following in the footsteps of his mom, a social case worker.
"I've always wanted to help everybody in my community in whatever way possible," Montgomery said. "When the opportunity came and I saw that there was a seat open for the 4th district, I thought why not now?"
Democratic committee members in Syracuse will have a tough decision to make in May about who they will endorse, which could easily spill into a primary this fall.