SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — In his victory speech Tuesday night, Mayor Ben Walsh avoided one of the controversial decisions from his first term: to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus in Downtown Syracuse.
12 hours later, in an interview with NewsChannel 9, Walsh says his mind hasn’t changed.
Christopher Columbus Controversy
Walsh clarified what he thinks isn’t clear: “We are building a more comprehensive, inclusive heritage park around it, but that monument is always going to be dedicated to our Italian American community and we need Italian Americans at the table to make sure what happens there is what they want.”
Decisions yet to be made are where the statue is moved to, what Italian American icon goes in its place on the monument’s obelisk and what the surrounding park looks like.
“There have been those that disagreed with my decision that have been incredibly divisive,” Walsh said, “and have, I think, gone out of their way to sew discord and confusion and misunderstanding about my intent and what we’re trying to accomplish as a community. I hope, at the right time, they will take a step back, understand, even if they disagree with me, I’m trying to do this in a respectful way and I’ve said from the beginning, everyone has a seat at that table if they’re willing to come to it.”
In December, a judge will hear a lawsuit filed by the Columbus Monument Corporation, claiming the City of Syracuse doesn’t have the legal authority to remove the statue.
Full “STEAM” Ahead
In his speech, Walsh said that plans for the “world-class” STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) school are moving forward.
He says the biggest step was committed funding from the State of New York.
Next, the city will agree to a lease of the building with Onondaga County and get a final quote on construction costs, which the mayor says have been evolving based on pandemic-era supply chain issues.
“There’s been a lot of progress that people are not seeing that has nothing to do with the physical building,” says the Mayor. “The school district has someone on staff whose sole purpose is to develop the curriculum for that school.”
Curbing City Crime
City data shows overall crime is down, but Mayor Walsh’s Republican and Democratic opponents weren’t afraid to criticize him for a spike in violent crimes.
While his opponents vowed to deploy specific police officers to routine neighborhoods to build face recognition, Mayor Walsh says it’s not that easy.
He said, “I said to both candidates there’s nothing I’d like to do more than have officers walking the beat in specific neighborhoods, but we’re so far from being able to do that based on where we are with staffing. I think we owe it to our constituents to be honest with them and manager their expectations about what we can and can’t do.”
What he’d like to do is formalize a partnership with who he calls “violence interrupters,” community members with credibility in at-risk neighborhoods.
Walsh says it’s a slow process because the people with credibility don’t want to risk it by looking to be an extension of City Hall as opposed to a grass-roots neighbor.
Mayor Walsh is proud of the number of incoming police recruits his administration has been able to hire, but knows the parallel challenge is retaining veteran officers before the department can be considered stable.