Syracuse Mayoral Race 2017

Raymond Blackwell, 9th mayoral candidate, urges political change

Courtesy of Raymond Blackwell

Blackwell, 27, is a lifelong resident of Syracuse. He grew up on the city’s North Side and attended the Syracuse City School District’s George Fowler High School.

Mayoral candidate Raymond Blackwell wants to change what it means to be a politician and an elected official.

“Myself as mayor, I’m not going to be like ‘I have this vision, now I have to pass a budget that follows my vision,’ no,” Blackwell said in a recent interview. “I am going to relinquish my power and involve everyone in the community so that when our vision is built, we can say that was our vision and not Ray Blackwell’s vision.”

Blackwell, who is running as a Democrat, is the ninth candidate to enter Syracuse’s crowded 2017 mayoral race.

Blackwell, 27, is a lifelong resident of Syracuse. He grew up on the city’s North Side, attending the Syracuse City School District’s George Fowler High School. He left Syracuse to attend Long Island University in 2010, eventually graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history. He returned to the city though partly, he said, because of the different issues Syracuse faced. Blackwell said he wants to make a difference.

“My vision and my goal as mayor is to have multiple mayors, and multiple avenues for people to really have authority,” he said.

Blackwell, like mayoral candidates Alfonso Davis and Chris Fowler, among others, has no previous experience as an elected official. He unsuccessfully ran for the SCSD’s board in 2015 and, that same year, graduated from Syracuse University with a master’s degree in cultural foundations and education. Blackwell is currently a stay-at-home dad, raising his 10-month-old daughter, Catalina. He’s a community organizer and education reformist who works with groups including Syracuse’s chapter of the National Action Network and Parents for Public Schools.

“The reason I’m here right now is not because I come from a political dynasty,” said Blackwell, who formerly performed as a rapper in Syracuse under the name “RayWellz.” Blackwell said he hasn’t performed as RayWellz since releasing an album in 2009 called “Everything’s Good.”

Blackwell said, currently, he has not “cemented” any policy goals to pursue if he is elected mayor because he wants to learn more from Syracuse community members about the problems they have.

The city is burdened by a range of different issues. Syracuse faces a stagnant economy, high levels of violent crime and concentrated minority poverty. In an interview, Blackwell offered no specific examples of how he would address poverty and unemployment in the city if elected, other than saying he would create a “prosperity plan” and “jobs program.”

“We feel like we always have to have an answer for everything,” he said. “We can’t just be looking for an immediate answer … at some point somebody’s gotta say ‘OK, we have to derail our whole way of thinking, our whole way of doing business and actually get on a track that is going to produce a more sustainable society.’”

While Blackwell said he has no clear policy goals, here’s a look at some of his opinions on a few of the most pressing issues the next Syracuse mayor will face.

Merger

Blackwell said he opposes the proposed merger between the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County, arguing like current Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner the proposal would reduce minority representation in local government. He added though that he supports the sharing of some city-county services.

“I think the city and the county could definitely do a better job at sharing different services, maybe water, sewage,” he said. “In my opinion, all of those things can be addressed without politically dissolving the city.”

The citizen group Consensus released a report earlier this year urging the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County to merge governments and other services like law enforcement agencies and courts.

The group’s proposed city-county “metropolitan government,” a combined legislative body, would be made up of 33 legislators. The legislative body would be composed of 29 districts and four at-large representatives, with each representative carrying one vote. Nine out of the 29 districts would be drawn in combined, city-suburb “hybrid” districts.

Education

The Syracuse City School District borders the Westhill Central School District and Jamesville-DeWitt Central School District. The SCSD’s border with WCSD is the 15th-most segregated in the country, while the SCSD’s border with JDCSC is the 32nd-most segregated in the country.

“I’m a product of the Syracuse City School District,” Blackwell said. “And, I can tell you from experience it’s very challenging as a person, student and African American to come through this segregation and be unscathed.”

Blackwell said the city needs to open more schools to help the SCSD deal with “overwhelmed” classrooms. Systemic socioeconomic issues like poverty — which impacts Syracuse children — need to be addressed, he added.

The SCSD graduation rate hit 60 percent in 2016 for the first time in the last 10 years. Blackwell, though, said that he hears “different statistics all the time” to argue about the school district’s success.

“The fact of the matter is the schools are still horrific. I’m so done with the quantitative being our end all, be all for making decisions,” he said.

Relationship between city and SU

If elected, Blackwell said as mayor he would hope to have a “great” relationship with Syracuse University. The university has become a part of the community and legacy of Syracuse, he said.

“What I would really like to do is really cement that partnership … between the city and the wealth of knowledge and professors and students that’s up there,” he said.

Interactions between the city and SU haven’t been as frequent over the last three years since Chancellor Kent Syverud’s inauguration, in comparison to former Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s time leading SU.

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