Syracuse Mayoral Race 2017

Mayoral candidate Juanita Perez Williams clinches Democratic Party nomination

Kai Nguyen | Staff Photographer

Juanita Perez Williams previously as a regional labor representative for New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She received notable endorsements during the primary from the New York State Public Employees Federation and Latino Victory Fund.

After a tight and highly contested race, Syracuse mayoral candidate Juanita Perez Williams secured the Democratic Party nomination late Tuesday night, soundly defeating Common Councilor Joe Nicoletti and City Auditor Marty Masterpole.

Perez Williams, a former associate dean of students at Syracuse University, campaigned on the promise of revitalizing city neighborhoods, decreasing Syracuse’s high poverty rate and protecting minorities.

“We are not going to give up on this city,” said Perez Williams, speaking to supporters at Cathy’s Corner Cafe at about 11 p.m. She carried about 52 percent of the electorate with just more than 4,200 votes. Nicoletti, a past frontrunner, only garnered about 2,700 votes.

Dozens of supporters wearing “Juanita for Mayor” shirts packed the restaurant off Avery Avenue before polls closed at 9 p.m. Some people chanted “yes we can” in Spanish: “sí se puede.”

As Perez Williams took to a podium to announce victory, crowd members roared in support. Throughout a brief speech people murmured “that’s right” and “Amen.”

Perez Williams previously served as a city of Syracuse attorney. She was appointed to that position in 2010 by Stephanie Miner, the current mayor. Perez Williams also served as a regional labor representative for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

During the primary, she received endorsements from the New York State Public Employees Federation and Latino Victory Fund, a hybrid political action committee based in Washington, D.C., that can operate both as a traditional PAC and super PAC.

The 53-year-old California native raked in more than $100,000 in campaign contributions this year, board of elections records show.

On the campaign trail, Perez Williams said if elected her administration would more strictly enforce city codes and property owners would be cited for “blighted,” vacant housing.

Before the results were announced, Carrier Dome employee Robert Godly compared Perez Williams’ campaign to former President Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential bid.

“This is big. This is history,” said Godly, who has worked at the Dome for 37 years. Perez Williams, if elected in November, would be the first woman of color to serve as Syracuse’s mayor.

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Kai Ngyuen | Staff Photographer

Perez Williams agreed with Nicoletti and Masterpole on most hot-button city issues. During the primary all three candidates said they opposed a potential merger between the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County governments.

The candidates also said they supported a “community grid” alternative for replacing a controversial portion of Interstate 81, called the viaduct, that bisects downtown Syracuse. That stretch of highway, caked with rust and crumbling in some spots, is expected to undergo major reconstruction or deconstruction as part of a state project.

Clashes did erupt, though, between the Democratic candidates. At a televised debate Sunday, Perez Williams said Nicoletti had a history of dividing the party and attacked him for switching to the Republican ticket during the 2001 mayoral race.

The two front-runners, at the time, argued over community policing and Syracuse Police Department vacancies.

Perez Williams goes on to face Ben Walsh, an independent; Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate; and Laura Lavine, the sole Republican candidate in the Nov. 7 general election.

“We have a lot more work to do,” Perez Williams said.

— Assistant News Editor Kennedy Rose contributed reporting to this article.

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