In The News

Candidate: McMahon’s stimulus plan does not invest enough in residents (Your Letters)

To the Editor:

This letter is in response to Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon’s State of the County address. He outlined a $142 million stimulus plan for the county in the speech that he said would “invest in our residents.” A large portion of the funding from the stimulus plan goes to tourism, around $38 million. This plan includes a $25 million sports stadium, $5 million for the OnCenter, $3 million for tourism marketing, and other initiatives. This $3 million for tourism marketing alone is more than the measly $2 million planned to invest in a men’s shelter to help with homelessness. There is a weak plan for transportation for only 350 residents through a CNY VANPool Program when more efficient and available transportation is badly needed.

McMahon said nothing about investing in affordable housing for people to reside in, even after the recent revelations about terrible housing conditions in the Skyline Apartments. Many housing units are unfit. The Skyline Apartments reveal a much deeper crisis of affordable, safe housing in Onondaga County.

Further, McMahon said little about restoring the cuts to human services. Budget cuts have led to departments like the Department of Child and Family Services being understaffed and putting children in Onondaga County at risk. McMahon only briefly mentioned shoring up county departments. He went on to say, “Additional dollars were sought from our fund balance to restore positions in the Human Service departments. We did not disagree with this goal, but only with the timing and where the money was coming from.” McMahon disagreed with using our “rainy day” fund for these exact types of situations. He also opposed the timing of restoring positions when we needed them most during a terrible health crisis.

As Covid-19 remains an issue, unemployment soars, food assistance needs skyrocket, and a housing crisis is around the corner, we must genuinely invest in residents to fix these problems. We do this by investing far more in our health services, social services, affordable housing and transportation.

Joe Bennett
Candidate for Onondaga County legislator, District 15

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Teacher: Too many questions to bring back all students safely (Commentary)

By Joseph M. Bennett | SCSD physics teacher Joseph M. Bennett, of Syracuse, is a physics teacher in the Syracuse City School District and a Democratic Party candidate for Onondaga County legislator in the 15th District.

In response to your editorial “Remote school is crushing our kids. Reopen the schools” (Feb. 21, 2021):

The reopening of schools during this pandemic has been a considerable debate since the beginning of this school year. There’s no doubt that students are struggling from isolation and mental health issues; we all are. However, students have been dealing with increasing mental health issues, homelessness and extreme poverty for years. Depression and anxiety among children have been on the rise for some time. It seems only now people are concerned about these issues and think that the solution is bringing all students back to school during a deadly pandemic. What will happen to students’ mental health when a family, friend, or fellow student passes from Covid-19?

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon has recently said the county is exploring whether to relax the school’s physical distancing requirements from 6 feet to 3 feet. This reduction in physical distancing is considered with almost no scientific background. Transmission is still happening in schools at 6 feet. The science on physical distancing was imperfect because 6 feet wasn’t even adequate, to begin with. That’s why there’s not a big difference between 6 and 3 feet.

Further, schools have only kept infection rates low because of how few students are coming in person. Families opted out of in-person learning, and students coming in are only coming in certain days a week. Again, the transmission of Covid-19 is still happening. School buildings even have had to close on and off again because of transmission. Testing has also stopped in schools. Relaxing quarantining guidelines, the lack of contact tracing and the lack of accurate information from leaders have led to low confidence in how our leaders are currently managing this pandemic.

Teachers, students and their families get sick from exposure in schools, even with the extreme precautions of keeping students in podded groups, staying 6 feet apart and wearing masks. These extreme precautions alone can be challenging to enforce with a small number of students. If larger groups go into the building and these safety measures are reduced, implementing the new, more lax precautions will be almost impossible. There is not enough staff to make sure that these large groups of students stay 3 feet apart in the classroom and hallways, wearing masks properly and washing their hands.

There are so many unanswered questions about staff and student safety that our leaders haven’t addressed. What about transporting students? What about students gathering before and after school? What happens with quarantine rooms that aren’t big enough? How will students eat safely? Will the school be cleaned and sanitized correctly? There are even more questions now than when it came to hybrid learning.

Fully reopening schools is almost an impossible task to do without creating another spike in cases, especially with a lack of staff and funding we are experiencing. Mental health is an issue and always has been an issue, but reopening schools is not the solution. Risking students experiencing sickness or death or experiencing having a family member, friend or teacher getting sick or dying will have lifelong consequences on a student’s mental health. Risking lives and risking another spike is not the solution. We must wait until a majority of staff and students can be vaccinated.

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Celebrating cruelty of Columbus divides us (Your Letters)

To the Editor:

In response to “Columbus united the world. Taking down his statue will divide us,” Oct. 8, 2020:

The removal of Columbus statue in Syracuse has been a big debate among residents of Syracuse. Some say it is a symbol of unification. One has to question, has unification ever been achieved through such cruelty and false sense of superiority?

We cannot downplay the statues symbol of division through bloodshed. Columbus’s “exploration” was the genocide of Indigenous people. He directly murdered and enslaved Indigenous peoples who welcomed him among them because of divide right and a false sense of superiority. Further, this exact statue is tied to fascism and even more genocide in World War II, both of which continued to divide the world. I would argue that celebrating this cruelty continues to divide us.

The book “Syracuse Landmarks: An AIA Guide to Downtown and Historic Neighborhoods,” by Evamaria Hardin, explains the statue’s connection to Mussolini. Hardin writes, “Finally, the Depression made it difficult, if not impossible, to pay for the shipment of the bronze figure and the massive granite stones cut from Italian mountains. None other than Benito Mussolini came to the rescue by paying the shipping costs from Italy to New York, and the inscription, ‘Christopher Colombo, Discoverer of America,’ is there by his request.” Thus, linking this statue to a fascist dictator and to the Axis Powers that Americans fought bravely against in World War II. A war against those who had thought of themselves as superior to others.

What does it say about Syracuse if we are not willing to do what other cities in New York and around the country have done and remove this inhumane statue? Especially knowing that the statue represents both genocide and fascism. It represents those who do not see themselves as one humanity. Syracuse will then forever be known to be on the wrong side of history.

Genocide and fascism are not uniting principals. It is not simply “domination,” it is inhuman. No human is superior to another. There are only two views on what this statue represents in Syracuse and abroad: those who see humanity as one and those who celebrate inhumanity through a notion of superiority, ignorance and cruelty. By celebrating Columbus, we are not celebrating unity, we are celebrating the division of humanity which still affects us to this day. No unity will come by keeping the Columbus statue.

Instead, bring unity through understanding the realities of what people have gone through. Understand what happened in history, and what continues to happen, when certain groups or individuals see themselves as superior. Only by accepting and understanding this history can we unite humanity.

Joseph M. Bennett

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180 Hopper Road
Syracuse, NY, 13207, US

About the Candidate

My father is a factory worker and my mother is a veteran who served two tours abroad. I grew up in poverty and know the struggles of everyday working people. I’m currently a physics teacher in the Syracuse City School District and a member of the Syracuse Teachers Association union. I taught at Corcoran High School for five years and now I teach at Nottingham High School, where I’ve been very involved in clubs, sports, community groups, and campaigns to better the lives of residents of my district. 

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