Thursday 1 December 2022
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The Inner Harbor Project: Where’s the Love Joanie?

Op/Ed By Sharif Anael-Bey


Sharif Anael-Bey, Lead Organizer, Operation Proclamation

Sharif Anael-Bey, Lead Organizer, Operation Proclamation

Taking her oath of office for the third time, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney has made a name for herself as a “can-do” public servant, and this go-round has made some very interesting (and frankly lofty) promises, such as erasing the divide between county schools, and the Syracuse City School District, in an effort to improve the quality of the latter; which is quite a tall order.

But, even more impressive is her very un-Republican vow to restore the black middle class.

Given that the overwhelming majority of the African-American population in Onondaga County resides within the city of Syracuse, Mahoney’s passionate commitment to improve the economic conditions of the black population would naturally equate to a concerted effort to improve the economic conditions of the city of Syracuse itself, and the overtures she extended to a group of black Democrats at one of her re-election events at Drumlins seem to suggest she is indeed committed to making good on her promise.

Such a commitment by Mahoney couldn’t have come at a better time for the city of Syracuse. Recently, emerging statistics have shown the city to be the 23rd poorest city in America, with the nation’s highest concentration of poverty for Hispanic and African-American people, and 62 percent of African Americans in the city living in extreme poverty. Curiously, and ironically, Syracuse is literally a developer’s gold mine.

Aside from construction, services and consumables produced in and for areas like the 4th District’s South Salina Trade Area (an area extending from Taylor St. south, to Brighton Ave., and from Midland Ave. east, to I-81) can and would transform this impoverished, and predominantly African-American community, almost overnight, and effectively stop the economic hemorrhaging of $2 out of every $3 of the staggering $875-per-square-mile spending potential of the area (Metro Edge, 2005).

On the construction side, the creation of jobs alone, for city residents in the impoverished areas, will move affected city residents away from poverty and dependency, while simultaneously doing the same thing for the city of Syracuse through increasing tax revenues.

So, with a plethora of development projects on deck, specifically the Syracuse Inner Harbor project, our county executive is well-equipped to make quick and definitive strides towards improving the economic conditions of the African-American community, as she stated she was committed to do.

The $350 million Inner Harbor Project was awarded to COR Development of Manlius, who states that 500 construction jobs, and 145 permanent jobs, will be created in the first phase. The entire project promises to be transformational for the entire community, providing that the city of Syracuse and its residents are the recipients of the project’s benefits.

And why wouldn’t they be?

When COR began work on Phase One in 2014, the developers stated they would not seek “special financial assistance” from the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency (SIDA), despite the fact that it had already received public funding from SIDA in the amount of $2,859,402, as well as $7,510,000 from the Regional Economic Development Council and the SUNY2020 Challenge Grant in the amount of $20 million. COR has instead chosen to avoid the city of Syracuse altogether, and has approached the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency (OCIDA), who will entertain an application to give COR a 15-year tax break worth tens of millions of dollars; a deal three years beyond their standard. So, what’s the difference between COR going to the county as opposed to the city?

Had COR sought property tax exemptions from SIDA, it would be subject to the agency’s policies that require contractors and suppliers be locally-owned and operated, as well as give preference to MWBE’s and enterprises that employ city residents; all very beneficial perks for the city of Syracuse, and its residents, specifically the impoverished African-American community our county executive has said she is committed to assisting. OCIDA on the other hand, has no such policies, and does not require local hiring, or giving preference to local suppliers. This means that construction, and supply jobs, could be directed away from Syracuse’s workforce, and instead be outsourced to suburbs, other counties, or other states entirely, which would be counterproductive to Mahoney’s professed interest in improving the economic landscape for African-Americans in the city. The Urban Jobs Task Force (UJTF) has been in discussions with the city of Syracuse to ensure projects that receive public benefits are in fact beneficial to the people of the city of Syracuse with, among other things, jobs and workforce training programs.

Since being awarded the project, COR has refused to meet with UJTF.

Simply put, a group of seven people, appointed by the chairman of the County Legislature, in entertaining an application from a private developer for a project within the city’s corporate limits, have the authority to take millions of dollars of tax revenue away from the city of Syracuse, and deny sorely-needed jobs to city residents that have a dire need for them, without the input of any elected city official.

Worse, by welcoming COR’s attempt to avoid giving the city, and its residents, its due, and, therefore, contributing to the deplorable conditions within the City, OCIDA is not-so-tacitly inviting other developers to follow suit in a manner similar to a vulture summoning his kindred to finish off a dying victim.

Where is our county can-do woman on this?

If this goes the “business as usual” route, the only African-Americans or Latinos that will benefit will be those that are personally connected to the county. These troubling developments (pun intended) place Mahoney, and her niceties towards a select group of African-American Democrats, as well as her passionate pledge to stop African-American brain-drain and restoration of a black middle class in a different, and concerning light, because an informed and clear-thinking mind sees our county executive as a walking contradiction; greedily burying her teeth into the jugular vein of the city, and contributing to the very poverty she claims she’s looking to eliminate.

If things continue in the current direction, the residents of the city of Syracuse, and particularly those who are first in the country for the highest concentration of poverty among African-American and Hispanic people, will be left with thoughts similar to a popular Trevor Hall song:

“All the jackals howl the same
The truth is one but goes by many names
Well the winners write in their own history yeah
But turn their backs on, turn their backs on,
But turn their backs on reality.”

Where’s the Love Joanie?


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