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Four things in the Fourth sounding familiar

City Scuffle

— Asked to sit together with a tape recorder for a campaign conversation, the 4th District candidates for the Syracuse Common Council — Democrat Khalid Bey, running with the Working Families endorsement, and perennial Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins — both brought the big picture into focus.

Both have sought the post before. Two years ago, without a Republican in the race, Hawkins polled 40 percent of the vote against four-time incumbent, now term-limited Tom Seals. Since 1993 Hawkins has been on the ballot every year for something, from mayor to congress to governor or state comptroller, except for twice being knocked off by challenges.

“Those were races where I was raising issues, not expecting to win,” he reflects. “I’ve got a chance to win this one.” How? “To get those people who vote the Democratic line without knowing who the candidates are to recognize they have a choice,” he maintains, “and pick me, not just pulling the Democrat lever out of habit.”

Bey challenged Seals unsuccessfully in a 2005 primary. “Unfortunately,” he recalls, “I learned people vote for what’s familiar. In some respects I understand it. I would more than likely vote for a person that’s my neighbor, or somebody I’ve encountered quite a few times, than give a newer name a chance. I might have had name recognition in some respects {then}. I didn’t amongst the older voting audience.”

Besides the overwhelming Democrat edge in registered voters, Fourth District politics have, for the past generation, been impacted by the area’s population of color, forging its image as “the black district.”

“If people play skin politics,” says Caucasian Hawkins, “they’re going to be defeated, because they may be supporting a Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, [or] a Kevin Blackwell in Ohio, a black man who suppressed the black vote to help Bush steal the 2004 election. You end up with a Wall Street Democrat like Barack Obama, who is trying to out-austerity the Republicans.”

Walt Shepperd is a weekly columnist with The Eagle.

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