SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — For the first time in his five years as Mayor of Syracuse, Ben Walsh is making an endorsement in Central New York’s race for congress.

Walsh is endorsing Francis Conole, the Democrat.

Many endorsements aren’t surprises. In Walsh’s case, he’s the independent mayor who’s been twice-elected with no party support, the son of a longtime Republican congressman choosing the Democratic candidate.

In sharing his decision-making process, Walsh cites the tradition of “bipartisanship” stewarded by his father, Congressman Jim Walsh and then current Congressman John Katko.

In an interview with NewsChannel 9, Walsh said: “There’s a lot that’s riding on this election and there’s a lot that needs to change in Washington. It starts with sending people like Francis Conole down there.”

“He’s progressive on a lot of issues,” said Mayor Walsh, “but he has always recognized that the people that he aspires to represent aren’t always going to share those views and it’s important to listen, and to take different things into consideration and modify positions based on what you learn.”

Walsh, who graduated in 1997, and Conole, who graduated in 1996, overlapped as students at Westhill High School.

“I’ve always known him as Fran,” remembers Walsh. “People used to call me Benny back in the day. We all grow up.”

Walsh recalls knowing Conole through his service in the military.

“I remember running into him over the holidays,” Walsh recounts, “when he was back after serving a tour in Iraq. That was significant for me, knowing somebody who was overseas, putting his life on the line… That was meaningful to me.”

Walsh hasn’t endorsed any candidates in the two prior congressional elections since he became mayor but says Conole asked for his public support. Walsh says it was an easy one to give.

If elected, Walsh says priorities he’d like Francis Conole to focus on include helping the City of Syracuse fight crime, weed out illegal guns and prevent poverty.

In a statement Francis Conole wrote:

“As one of the few independent mayors in the country, Mayor Walsh has been an outstanding leader who has put community and country over party politics and built a diverse coalition bringing people together across the political spectrum to achieve results. His tenure has been marked by a growing economy, population and tax base, and enhancing the quality of life for the working families in Syracuse. This pragmatic and collaborative approach is something that is sorely missing in Washington DC today and something Brandon Williams has pledged not to do.”

In a statement to NewsChannel 9, Brandon Williams kept his response simple, writing: “I look forward to working with Mayor Walsh when I’m elected to Congress in November.”