By Delaney Van Wey
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
Chris Fowler had been living in Austin, Texas, for only three days when a stranger stopped him on the street in the middle of the day.
Fowler said he had no idea what the man could have wanted until the individual spoke up and said, “Hey, man, aren’t we lucky to be living here?”
Now, after spending years in Syracuse, Fowler, who was raised in nearby DeWitt, said he wants to get people that excited about living in his hometown. As part of those efforts, he is running for mayor, recently becoming the eighth official candidate for the office.
As the founder of SyracuseFirst, a group that encourages people to buy from local businesses in the city, Fowler said he is ready to make the economy and the city’s welfare a priority. He is one of six Democrats who is seeking party endorsement. While the field is crowded, Fowler said it echoes his enthusiasm for creating a new future for the city.
“We want people to see Syracuse as a place where there’s an opportunity for them to create a life for themselves that’s meaningful and healthy, and they see themselves as part of what this community could look like,” Fowler said.
Fowler said he has four main goals that he is campaigning on: growing the entrepreneurial community, improving transportation access, supporting arts and culture and creating a culture of customer service within the government. He said these would be key in attracting people settling in Syracuse, rather than other popular metropolitan areas.
Fowler founded SyracuseFirst, which connects local businesses together for networking and business opportunities, in 2009. One of his goals is for Syracuse to have the most new businesses per capita in the country by 2025.
Fowler said that local businesses return more income into the local economy compared than chain retailers. On average, chain retailers recirculate about 13 percent of their revenue into the community, while local businesses return 48 percent, according to research from Civic Economics.
As mayor, Fowler said he would try to craft a policy that would incentivize businesses, particularly large institutions such as Syracuse University, to purchase supplies and services locally – similar to policies he said have been particularly successful in other cities, like Cleveland.
Cleaning up the appearance of Syracuse is also a top priority for Fowler. He said he wants to bring more public art projects downtown, similar to the pieces along the Connective Corridor. He also wants to beautify some of the dull features of Syracuse, like garbage cans, which could, in turn, deter littering, he added.
“Why are we limiting ourselves to one stretch of land? If people really enjoy that, let’s do more of it,” Fowler said.
Fowler said he has become frustrated about the city and previous leaders because of what he called missed opportunities to improve transportation. Fowler said he wants to improve walkability and bike-ability, as well as general access to transportation. In turn, this would improve access to businesses, he said.
An important issue that will face the next mayor is the state’s planned replacement of Interstate 81. Fowler said the city needs to choose the community grid option for replacing the major highway to open communities back up and make it easier for people to walk downtown.
“We need to create a comprehensive plan that focuses on people, not cars,” Fowler said.
While Fowler, like many other candidates, has never held elected office, he has worked closely with politicians. He worked on the staffs of U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Baltimore) and New York state Assemblywoman Joan Christensen (D-Syracuse) and ran for Syracuse Common Council in 2015. Fowler said this gives him the familiarity with policy and government that would be necessary as mayor.
He said that what the city really needs, though, is change. The city hasn’t changed much in the last couple of decades, he said, which is partly because leadership has been averse to risk.
“I think we need to do things differently. I don’t come from the political machinery and mechanism,” Fowler said. “This campaign is saying we can do better in Syracuse and we have to do it differently, and part of that is changing the leadership.” #NewWay
Originally Published in the Daily Orange
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