liberal column

Perez Williams shows potential to challenge federal government and protect immigrants

Kai Nguyen | Staff Photographer

With a campaign focused on poverty, Juanita Perez Williams clinched the democratic nomination for the 2017 Syracuse Mayoral race.

Juanita Perez Williams successfully won the bid for the Democratic candidate in the Syracuse mayoral race Tuesday — a hopeful sign for Syracuse in the face of an unpredictable federal government.

On the ballot, Perez will join Republican nominee Laura Lavine, a former superintendent for Lafayette Central School District as well as Howie Hawkins from the Green Party and independent candidate Ben Walsh.

Incredibly qualified for the position she seeks, Perez Williams has led the city of Syracuse’s legal office under current Mayor Stephanie Miner — a role that followed her tenure as assistant attorney general of New York. She held the rank of lieutenant commander in the United States Navy, and from 2001 to 2008, she was the associate dean of students at Syracuse University.

If she claims the mayor’s seat, Perez Williams will be confronted with some of Syracuse’s most pressing problems, with poverty at the top of the list. A 2015 report found that out of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., Syracuse had the highest level of concentrated poverty among its black and Hispanic communities.

During her campaign, Perez Williams deemed decreasing poverty her first priority for her first term. She would focus her poverty-fighting efforts on the city’s children, according to her website. Perez Williams proposed using teams of civil servants, including code enforcers and schools, to provide Syracuse children — half of whom are considered poor — with a healthier and safer environment.

This is a sound strategy, as investing in future generations is critical in disrupting cycles of poverty.

Joe Nicoletti, Perez Williams’ primary competitor for the Democratic seat, said he’d tackle poverty through technical education and training specifically for jobs in the Syracuse area. This plan would undoubtedly help to stabilize households in the future and would be a worthwhile investment to consider in breaking the poverty barrier.

Poverty may be the most pressing issue in the city, but it’s also crucial that Syracuse’s next mayor take a strong stance in times of such uncertainty in national politics.

That mayor must be willing to stand ground against a volatile federal government and protect Syracuse’s status as a “sanctuary city.” That mayor must be willing to risk retaliation if the city’s residents are threatened with deportation.

After the infamous so-called “Muslim ban” took effect in January, Mayor Stephanie Miner stood in front of hundreds of angered and frightened citizens at Syracuse Hancock International Airport and delivered a strong and reassuring speech that left the crowd cheering with hope.

Perez Williams already shows promise on this issue, as she said she would work to make immigrants feel safe during Donald Trump’s presidency in an interview with The Daily Orange.

Bringing hope to communities in Syracuse, whether they’re affected by blight or unsettled by national instability, will be no easy task. A leader of Perez Williams’ caliber is what the city needs now more than ever.

Kyle Smith is a third-year environmental studies major at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. His column appears biweekly. You can reach him at


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