Syracuse Councilor-at-Large candidates discuss city government

Aug 9, 2013

Three candidates running for Syracuse Common Councilor-at-Large in a September primary joined Grant Reheer's Campbell Conversation to talk about the role of the city's legislative branch of government.

Pamela Hunter and Jeff Wright are the two candidates running with the blessing of the city's Democratic committee. The two incumbents, Lance Denno and Jean Kessner, are forcing the primary. Both of those lawmakers have clashed with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner on various issues in the past, putting how Common Councilors do their job at the center of the race.

Hunter, who served on the council two years ago for nine months to fill an unexpired term, believes the council should have more of a legislative agenda.

"A high majority percentage of time, the legislative body approves everything that's advanced in front of them that comes from city departments, i.e. the mayor," Hunter said. "I think there needs to be strength and leadership on the council creating their own legislation."

She also says Democrats in the city are telling her that the bickering isn't productive.

"In having conversations with them, they said we need to stop this arguing," Hunter said. "We need strength in leadership and we need to make different decisions in how we want the legislative body to look going forward."

Wright agrees.

"We have a confrontational situation, much like the federal government," Wright said. "I do not believe we should take the lead from the federal government on how to govern local."

Denno defends the debates the Common Council has had with the mayor's office, suggesting the legislative body performs a kind of checks and balance role to curb the power of the executive branch. He uses the example of a vote on the police department budget.

"We did block the purchase of $500,000 of what the chief of police described as perks- take home vehicles for police officers- not as a bargaining tool, but as a matter of fiscal responsibility," Denno said.

Wright is disturbed that the council is not working together better, even though all members are from the Democratic party.

"My biggest concern when I look at the council, being all Democrats, that there doesn't seem to be unity among the council on issues and working together, and that's a concern," Wright said.

Denno doesn't agree with that.

"The idea that because we are all Democrats we should necessarily agree on everything doesn't reflect the Democratic party," Denno said. "The Democratic party is a very diverse group both nationally and here in the city of Syracuse."

Kessner was not able to join the forum.

The two top vote getters in the September primary will be on the Democratic Party line in November. They will face no Republican opposition in November, because in Syracuse Democrats outnumber Republicans by a large margin.