By John Zogby, Forbes Contributor
Syracuse has long been a test market for consumers. Central Upstate New York, demographics that are representative, a big university, lots of hardworking people, and thousands of refugees. Because of its history, composition, and status as a bellwether for this country, what happened on November 6, 2017, in Syracuse may not stay in Syracuse.
Ben Walsh, a scion of a well-liked Republican family, won the race for mayor as an independent candidate. He didn’t just win. He defied the polls and slaughtered his Democratic Party opponent by 19 points with 54% of the vote in a multi-candidate race, in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1.
And he did not just beat any Democrat. His opponent was Juanita Perez Williams, a historic Latina candidate in a Blue town with strong ties to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state and local Democratic organization. Perez Williams was the odds-on favorite from the beginning and led in the polls up to a few days before the election.
How did an independent win?
Certainly Walsh’s name recognition and family legacy in the area helped. So too was the fact that he had worked for the city handling economic development during a mini-downtown renaissance. But this 38-year old showed some keen leadership in mobilizing a coalition from scratch, projecting an appealing vision that transcended politics as usual, and beaming a youthful image and positive message for the future (“Rise Above“).
Walsh launched his candidacy with an exclusive endorsement from the new Upstate Jobs Party (UJP), the brainchild of Martin Babinec – a successful Silicon Valley business leader who had come home to Upstate New York to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Walsh had to clear a high bar of gathering more than 1200 petition signatures for UJP, but that effort secured his first ballot line for his independent candidacy. UJP then followed with much-needed advertising, direct mail and targeted social media, all of which helped support Walsh’s vigorous get-out-the-vote operation. Babinec, who had run a 2016 independent campaign for Congress in the adjacent district, also provided some sage campaign strategy mentoring.
In the end, the Upstate Jobs Party/Reform Party line garnered 9% of the votes cast for Walsh and 5% of the total votes in the race.
I have written many posts on how voters are seriously disillusioned with both political parties and how Millennials will provide a new path to problem-solving, social media organizing, and ultimately to victory. Ben Walsh has won a huge victory that could very well be a harbinger for the future.
UJP will continue its quest to earn constituted party status as they seek to secure a candidate on their line in next year’s New York gubernatorial election.
The party needs 50,000 votes for that candidate on the UJP line in 2018 to win eligibility for a spot on every state and local ballot for the next four years – beginning the opportunity to influence the political discourse statewide.
Expect to see more candidates take this pathfinding the necessary and strong support of an electorate tired of the games played by the two parties, receptive to the appeal of someone not beholden to the broken system, and yearning for some authenticity and positive visioning.
Mayor-elect Ben Walsh’s win is a harbinger that others will and should take note. More emboldened people will surely try. Some will fail, but as the wins start to appear the momentum may build fast. So it may not be toothpaste or a new sugary cereal, but perhaps Syracuse will be a laboratory for the next big political wave.
John Zogby is founder of the world-famous Zogby survey, senior partner at John Zogby Strategies and director of Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship at his alma mater LeMoyne.