Ben Walsh, running on the Independence Party line, among others, was elected mayor of Syracuse yesterday. He won 54% of the vote to Democratic candidate Juanita Perez Williams’ 38%. Behind the two front runners were Green Pary candidate Howie Hawkins at 4%, Republican Laura Lavine at 2.5%, and Working Families nominee Joe Nicoletti at 1%. Yes, the Green Party beat the Republican party.
The early narrative appearing in the local media is well summed up here. The Post-Standard reports that voters told political parties they’re not needed, and that “The city decisively elected Walsh Tuesday.” Perhaps this a rejection of Republicans and Democrats, and maybe it is significant that the Republican candidate got just 2.5%. But, Lavine’s campaign was barely funded nor supported by the party, and Republicans haven’t been strong in Syracuse for a long time. Walsh, while saying often that he doesn’t represent the GOP, is the heir to one of the most prominent Republican families in CNY history. I don’t buy the easy ‘Republican in sheep’s clothing’ argument about Walsh. While he may not be a Republican, certainly a lot of Republicans voted for him. A lot of Democrats, too.
But, the most popular choice among the voters was not Walsh. Rather, it was to not vote at all. Early estimates of turnout are about 35%. The silent majority, in this case, just kept quiet. Do the math and you see that the incoming mayor of Syracuse won the votes of about 18% of eligible voters. This looks more like a message about what Syracuse residents think of government, period, rather than a rejection of parties. It’s a stretch to call this a decisive victory. If Walsh’s message about the importance of civic life is sincere, I hope he’ll do what he can to get that 65% who stayed home involved in city governance. In any case, the final vote tally in the 2017 Syracuse mayoral race looks to be ‘Who Cares Party’ 65%, mayor Ben Walsh 18%.
He was a safe candidate for the urban crowd: something for the Republicans (family ties he benefitted from in more than name recognition) and something for Democrats (seeming distance from republicans), and the foundational value for them all, a white man, so the question remains: what will it take to put into office a minority woman? After all, who’d wanna piss off the current establishment by electing a Latina!? A possible republican defector is bad enough! As far as I’m concerned, it was hardly a rejection of parties but rather a convenient two-for-one.