Q&A with Common Council Candidates

The Stand Speaks to candidates Thomas Seals and Howie Hawkins running for the 4th District in Syracuse, which encompasses downtown, University Hill, the near East Side and the South Side. Residents can vote for either candidate and others on Tuesday, Nov. 3, during the general election.

The current Fourth District Common Councilor, Thomas Seals has been in office since being elected in 2004. Before that he spent 30 years as a police officer in Syracuse and has been an active member of the community.

Howie Hawkins is the Green Party Candidate for the fourth district Common Council seat. A community organizer since the late 1960s, he is heavily involved in the South Side.

What do you do?

Thomas Seals: As the Fourth District Councilor, I’m representing the south and east sides of the city. I attend council meetings, respond to constituents’ requests and calls, and do everything I possibly can to be a liaison between my constituents and whatever services they request from the DPW, etc.

Howie Hawkins: For a living, I work at UPS unloading truck trailers. In my free time, I am active in organizations and movements for social justice, labor, peace, and the environment. For fun, I read books, mostly history, economics, and politics.

Why do you do it?

TS: I do it because it’s a calling I have. I spent 30 years as a police officer, not inside but actually out on the street. I have 30 years experience dealing with the public and it’s in my nature.

HH: The UPS job is a part-time with full-time benefits, which leaves me a lot of time for politics and reading.

How long have you been involved with the South Side?

TS: I’ve been in Syracuse ever since 1945. As a young lad, went to school, lived on Washington Street, so I’ve been in the fourth council district all my life. Anything that goes on, if it’s on the South Side, I’m a part of it.

HH: Since I moved to Syracuse in 1991.

What is most people’s perception of the South Side?

TS: Most think the South Side is lacking in a lot of things, but the South Side has a rich history. What people’s perception is, it’s different than mine, I think the South Side is a good place to live.

HH: For those of us who live here, it’s home, where our friends and family are. For too many outsiders, the perception is danger, crime and violence.

What do you want outsiders to think about the South Side?

TS: A lot of people think that the South Side is crime-ridden area, but we have a lot of loyal people on the South Side. Most of your churches, especially for the black community, are located on the South Side. This is a very religious community. We believe in our youth. When people drive down here, we don’t want them to be afraid to come into the South Side. We have some good decent people who live here, and I’m one of them.

HH: The reality: The South Side is a safe place to live and visit unless you are doing the wrong things.

What do you think is the best thing about the South Side?

TS: We have hard working people who live here. People-wise, the South Side is just as good as other parts of the city.

HH: The people. Most are friendly, hard working and care about their community.

What does the South Side need more of?

TS: Businesses. We need a large main supermarket. That would be a plus. There are a whole lot of other businesses that could come in. If you want to open up a car dealership, the South Side is a good place to open one.

HH: Living wage jobs; affordable child care, and youth programs: after school, nights and weekends in the parks and schools. Also, neighborhood businesses owned by neighborhood people. Credit for mortgages, home improvement loans and more businesses. And affordable housing with more people owning and fewer people renting, and convenient public transportation.

What can people do to help improve the South Side?

TS: Curb appeal. People taking pride in their streets and sidewalks. Just taking pride in your one block. We have beautiful parks here. We have small neighborhood gardens. If people just take pride in their neighborhood, it would help things out a lot.

HH: Get active in community-based civics, economics and politics. Civically, get active in community organizations, Parent-Teacher Organizations, youth recreation programs and so forth to strengthen our mutual aid and social networks. Economically, participate in efforts to develop community-owned worker and consumer cooperatives instead of relying on absentee-owned businesses that suck our income and wealth out of the community. Politically, declare your political independence from the two establishment parties. The Republicans are so few on the South Side that they are irrelevant. The Democrats have 27 of 29 public offices elected in the city counting Common Councilors, County Legislators, Mayor, Auditor and City Court Judges. Are you happy with the results? We need to start electing independents from the community that answer to the community, not more Democrats who take the South Side’s votes for granted without delivering results because we never threaten to take our votes elsewhere.

What Common Council issue is most pressing for the South Side?

TS: A lot of issues are pressing. The job situation, people need more jobs.

HH: Equity. South Siders are not getting their fair share of jobs with the city and its contractors. The South Side is not getting its fair share of public resources for housing, schools, transportation and economic development and jobs. The South Side has been redlined and discriminated against by banks and insurance companies for many decades.

Why are you the best candidate for the Common Council District 4 seat?

TS: The people have elected and re-elected me three times. So they think that I am the best candidate. With my experience as a police officer out there on the street, people have had an opportunity, more than 30 years, to see how my reactions are and to how I conduct myself. I feel that I know how to approach people, talk to people, without being disrespectful or anything of that nature. I’m just a humble servant of the people, trying to do the best job that I can.

HH: I have been a community organizer since the late 1960s who has helped many movements win demands, from ending the war in Vietnam and ending U.S. investments in apartheid South Africa to getting living wages and public power on to the agenda in the city of Syracuse. I have done a lot by pushing from the outside. I can do even more by pushing from the inside. I will make sure the South Side’s needs and demands are heard and heeded by Common Council.

To learn more about the general election, visit the Onondaga County Board of Elections. For an absentee ballot, call the Board of Elections at (315) 435-3312. Also visit Vote NY to learn more.

— Interviews conducted by Bryan Anthony Hood, The Stand’s Roving Reporter

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