The quiet councilor: Chad Ryan's style in city hall

Apr 15, 2015

Syracuse city councilor Chad Ryan has served in the chamber for a fraction of the time as some of peers but he’s also asked a fraction of the questions, in public at least.

Councilor Chad Ryan sits at the end of the table during council study sessions or committee meetings, he’ll often wave off his chance to ask a question. It’s not shyness, he says in an interview, but maybe a little humility.

"I guess I wouldn’t say I’m shy," he said. "Certainly tentative about what you say in the chambers."

He rarely asks questions or calls committee meetings, but more on the reason for second part later. His quiet demeanor can stand in contrast to some of Ryan’s colleagues. Spend enough time in city hall and you’ll see more senior councilors grill department heads or call out the administration. 

Syracuse councilor Chad Ryan.
Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO

"If you get in the chambers and a commissioner is in there and you go up one side and down the other, and that stuff needs to happen here and there to prove a point maybe, I don’t know," he said, "but are they going to want to help you, are they going to want to go above and beyond?" 

He says he prefers to ask questions of city employees in private, in order to not get "the public answer."

"'Between you and I, tell me what’s really going on, I’m not here to cast judgment, just tell me where the facts lie,'" he said, "you may get a little better answer or truth in that answer."

He says that cuts through the lawyer-speak. "Maybe that’s why I do it, so I can ask stupid questions."

Youth

Ryan is the youngest member of the council. The 29-year-old is halfway through his first term representing the city’s Tipp Hill neighborhood and other parts of the west side. Ryan chairs the committee on inter-governmental consolidation, a post often given to new councilors as a sort of training wheels for the council. It lacks the workload of other topic areas, like public safety or neighborhoods.

Because of that, Ryan has only introduced one piece of legislation in more than year. He pushed through tighter restrictions on door-to-door peddlers and solicitors.

Colleagues praise Ryan’s youth and energy. One says he’s thoughtful and smart, noting it takes time to become outspoken in the council chambers. Councilor Jake Barrett says Ryan does his homework.

"It appears as though he’s able to get information not just in the public setting where we ask a department head to approach the microphone … Councilor Ryan I believe would be somebody who would get that information and if he felt as though it would serve a purpose, he would ask the question of the department head."

Barrett says one area Ryan has done a lot of ground work on is handling properties in his district slated for foreclosure by the land bank.

"He seems to have a very good network of information in those areas," said Barrett. "So that lends to us a confidence that he as a district councilor is taking care of those things that are most important."

Barrett says Ryan will often run questions by him or other councilors, making sure his thoughts or concerns are grounded before making them public.

Family business

Ryan is in the family business in more ways than one. He now runs the funeral home started by his father, Ed Ryan. But the elder Ryan wasn’t just an undertaker. Ed Ryan was an elections commissioner and Onondaga County legislator.

Ryan says he’s not trying to copy his father’s legislative style, mostly because he didn’t observe it often. Serving as a district councilor, he says his job is much more about constituent services, helping people navigate bureaucracy and get questions answered.

"Being new, I’m trying to listen to everything," said Ryan. "If you think you’re a know-it-all, how can you do this job? Because you have to look at the facts and things change all the time."

Ryan says he feels he has a good relationship with everyone in city government, which he credits to his philosophy of treating people right.

Ryan is running for re-election in the second district. He says constituent services will be a big part of his platform. And he adds government consolidation will still be a focus for him, even if he earns more seniority.