The field for the primary, which is still nine months away, now includes Common Council President Bea Gonzalez and Davis as the only declared candidates. Councilor-at-Large Stephanie Miner and two-time mayoral candidate Joe Nicoletti are also making noises about a run for City Hall.
Davis has none of the money or experience in office that some of the bigger names can boast of. What he said he offers, like Barack Obama, is change. His campaign materials refer to him as the instrument of true change.
Davis worked with the Syracuse for Obama organization this past year. He was the campaign manager for Charles Anderson, when Anderson represented the city’s Fourth District on the Common Council in the 1980s. He recently left New Process Gear, taking the buyout offered to workers, after 12 years of making SUV parts at the factory in DeWitt. Prior to that he served as a teacher’s assistant in a number of city schools, including Fowler High School and Corcoran, his alma mater.
Davis ran Corcoran’s football team as quarterback during his junior and senior years, before graduating in 1984. He grew up on the South Side of the city, moving two years ago to the Bradford Hills neighborhood on the East Side with his wife Felicia and four children. “I see the city growing and changing,” said Davis in an interview at his home, where he was recovering from knee surgery. “I grew up in Brick City, Pioneer Homes, then on Fitch Street and Colvin.”
Asked what would be different if he were mayor, Davis stressed transparency. “I would do a national search for a chief of police. It doesn’t matter if that person is black or white or Hispanic, male or female. We need someone who will do policing the right way. I want a chief who is hands-on, and a department with proper checks and balances.”
Davis argued that the Syracuse Police Department still lags behind in hiring minority officers, and needs more officers of color at the higher levels. “We need people who are culturally sensitive out on the streets.”
Before his surgery, Davis, 42, had been seen frequently at meetings surrounding the Joint Schools Construction Board and the decision to remove Blodgett School from the first phase of the school renovation project. “Was it the right thing to do with those dollars? There has to be some serious effort to find the funds to fix or replace Blodgett,” he noted. “If you look at Blodgett and the West Side, what better way is there to say to those people that their issues matter?”
He said that schools are critical to bringing more people back to live in the city. “We have to give our kids the very best facilities.”
Davis has had an interest in politics since high school. He worked on his first campaign 24 years ago, and since then has wanted to run for office. He’s concerned about what he called a disconnect between the city and its citizens. “Lots of people don’t get involved because they are feeling disenfranchised. We have a lot of grass-roots people who were at one time involved, but nobody wants to bring their concerns to the table. My administration would be a reflection of what this city looks like. To me residency is very important. If you’re gonna get paid with tax money, then you’d better live in the city.”
Asked what makes him qualified to lead the city, Davis said it was his grass-roots activism and approach. “I’ve been actively involved in this city for a long time, running campaigns, working on issues. This city is a diamond in the rough, and I want to be an ambassador for the city, bringing business here.”
So far he hasn’t gotten the backing of many political powers that be, and he seems to relish that thought. “Yes we can,” he asserted. “It’s the whole idea that we can do something without some powers that be, without somebody else telling us who is our candidate.” When asked who was backing him, he mentioned first his wife, the longtime director of the city’s Citizen Review Board, and the Rev. Larry Ellis.
“Hundreds of people have told me that they are behind me. These are common people who have gotten reignited due to the Obama campaign,” he said. As far as finances, his first fund-raiser, held in early December at Sophistications Jazz Café, raised about $1,000.
Gonzalez enjoys the support of South Side kingmaker Walt Dixie, whom Davis counts as one of his role models and political mentors. Miner and Nicoletti both have their own political network and fund-raising. Davis has Anderson, who has been relatively inactive politically in recent years, but he has also enlisted the support of John DeSantis, who was an Obama field representative in Pennsylvania during the run up to Nov. 4.
Davis is hoping his experience as an upstart will prove decisive. “When Barack first said, ‘Yes, I can,’ the powerful looked at him and said, ‘Who are you?’ I’m sure there are people saying the same thing about me, saying he doesn’t have a chance. We’ll go house to house and neighborhood to neighborhood.” He also plans to meet with officials of the Green Party and Working Families Party to solicit their support.