Remarks delivered by Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh after taking the oath of office at the Landmark Theatre on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. See the full ceremony https://bit.ly/3FYL2D
President Hudson, Members of the Common Council, Judge Clarke, Senator Mannion, County Executive McMahon, Members of the County Legislature, City Auditor Maroun, Deputy Clerk McBride, Deputy Mayor Owens, department heads, distinguished members of the clergy, friends and neighbors, and my beautiful family, thank you all for being here.
Four years ago, just after the New Year, we gathered in this historic theater for my first inauguration. Deputy Mayor Owens and I stood on this stage and looked out at an audience of hundreds of people who came to celebrate a new beginning for the City of Syracuse.
Today, we are a much smaller group that fits comfortably on this stage due to circumstances no one imagined.
Who could have foreseen the path that lay ahead for our community, indeed, for our entire world? For the past nearly two years, we have confronted a global pandemic that has disrupted virtually every aspect of our lives.
Here in Onondaga County, we have lost more than 900 neighbors to COVID-19. Thousands more people have suffered serious illness. Our health care professionals have been stretched to their limits every single day. Our essential workers and public employees pressed forward despite health concerns and regular changes in work process. Businesses and our economy suffered severe blows.
The impact of the pandemic exacerbated other staggering challenges facing our society and community.
Within months of the emergence of COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd caused cities everywhere, including Syracuse, to reckon with inequities not just in law enforcement but in all aspects of our society.
As the pandemic dragged on, long standing problems that we had just begun to gain traction on, like housing stability and violent crime, reached a crisis point.
Four years ago at the start of my first term, those unprecedented demands had not surfaced. But we knew our city already faced great strains.
Syracuse suffered among the highest rates of concentrated poverty in the nation.
It was projected that our City government could exhaust its fund balance within about two years and faced the risk of municipal bankruptcy.
Our aging public infrastructure badly needed major and sustained investment.
In spite of those hurdles and others, I began my remarks that Saturday morning in 2018 with a strong statement of optimism for the future of the city. After all we have been through in the past four years that sense of optimism is stronger than ever – built on a foundation of accomplishment.
The pandemic did not stop us from making Syracuse a stronger and more equitable city. That record is, in large measure, due to the efforts of the people in this theater. I thank you for your partnership and your support during the past four years.
We started by establishing an aggressive and aspirational vision for the city: Syracuse will be a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all.
At some of the lowest moments of political discord and division in our nation, I believe this vision provided a clear moral compass for our community.
Progress toward this vision also gives us reason for confidence. Earlier this year, the census documented population growth in the City of Syracuse for the first time in 70 years.
We also set four clear objectives for the city, which have served as guideposts for our administration.
More effective, efficient and equitable city services can be seen in our financial empowerment center; a new fleet management system; centralized city payment and permit offices; a municipal sidewalk maintenance and snow removal program; and, more roads repaved than any time in recent history.
Increased economic investment and neighborhood stability is happening with the Syracuse Surge, our strategy for inclusive growth in the New Economy; our status as New York’s flagship Smart City; and new homes being built all over the city through the Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative.
Improved constituent engagement and response exists through a fully revamped and more effective Cityline system; a nearly complete new city website; and, multiple citizen-led advisory groups from the Quality of Life Commission to the LGBTQ+ advisory board.
And fiscal sustainability for city government is ratified by global rating agencies that have upgraded their outlooks for Syracuse; an independent audit of the city’s financials that found no material weaknesses for the first time ever; and a fund balance that stayed strong before and during the pandemic despite previous forecasts that it would be depleted before the end of my first term.
On all of these fronts, we are gaining ground.
We are also transforming schools, including hundreds of millions of dollars invested over the past four years on modernizing school facilities. Our graduation rate hit a historic high of 70.7% in 2020, and we expect it to be even higher in 2021.
More recently, unprecedented federal investments in local governments are further bolstering our efforts. We have already authorized more than one third of the $123 million in American Rescue Plan Act pandemic relief funds to Syracuse in parks and infrastructure, neighborhoods and housing, government resiliency, and, most importantly, children and families.
We can look ahead to additional federal aid to Syracuse in the years ahead through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, which will help us address long-standing challenges in public transportation, our water system, roads and bridges and broadband internet.
New York State is finally poised to begin the Interstate 81 Community Grid project in 2022, the largest transportation infrastructure project in this city since the original highway was constructed. It’s a $2 billion plus investment in transportation and people in our community. Our Syracuse Build program is already training city residents to work on this and other construction projects, and we will be hitting the accelerator to create even more opportunity for those who live within the shadow of the viaduct, and have been historically left behind.
So now, I ask you to join me in reaffirming our commitment to a vision that once seemed idealistic and far off – but is actually within our grasp: to be a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all.
I also ask you to dig even deeper. Work even harder. And collaborate more completely. Because with all that we have achieved, we are not nearly where we need to be. We must connect more people to opportunity by breaking down the barriers that are holding them back. We must build more quality, affordable housing and we must keep our neighborhoods safe. We must give our kids a world class education and we must put more city residents to work in quality, living wage jobs and careers. We must continue to invest in our infrastructure and public transportation systems and we must make our city more sustainable and resilient. We must take better care of our neighbors struggling with mental health and addiction, and we must continue to take care of each other throughout the remainder of this pandemic. We must do all of these things and so much more, and together, we will.
I promised four years ago on this stage to lead your city government in accordance with four principles:
To follow an inclusive and engaged approach to government.
To think and act independently and in non-partisan ways.
To be humble and aware of our responsibility to serve.
And to work every day to earn and maintain your trust.
I was honored in November that you gave my team and me the opportunity to continue to serve you in these ways. I firmly believe Syracuse’s best days are closer than ever. And I promise to give you my very best to ensure we get there. Thank you, goodnight and God bless.