By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor
After more than a year of living in a legal limbo, waiting for the federal government to decide whether to pursue a prosecution for a variety of charges, including conspiracy, Councilman Larry Sykes – whose resignation from City Council was forced due to the pending charges – has decided that his turn has come again.
Sykes is once again on the ballot for an at-large City Council seat, a position he first won in 2013. A retired banker, he certainly brings a wealth of experience to the task. He spent years on the Toledo Board of Education before winning election to City Council and, over the years, has served on dozens of boards in the community, most notably Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, Metroparks, United Way, Cordelia Martin and Planned Parenthood. More recently, he served on the boards of Lucas County Children Services, St. Vincent Mercy and the University of Toledo African American Community Advisory Committee.
In the midst of his legal troubles, why would Sykes take on such a public challenge and run again?
He answers that question with a question of his own.
“Why wouldn’t I?” he replies. “I’m not term limited. I still have a lot to do.”
He has, in fact, spent a lifetime doing a lot, he reminds his listener.
“All the good work I’ve done in my life – with TPS, for example – establishing scholarships, increasing enrollment and graduation rates, hiring two Black superintendents …”
Thereafter, while on city council for the seven years before he was removed, Sykes led the charge on several key issues.
“There were the 40 homes in Oakwood that those women were going to lose,” he mentions. Sykes noted that he met with the housing development residents who were having trouble negotiating the buy out of their homes.
“I met with them and the banks; they were able to buy the houses outright,” he says.
In addition, he mentions the police reform measures that he advocates for and helped pass: Abolishing the “no knock” practice, eliminating chokeholds, requiring body cameras and requiring officers to report fellow officers for violations against the public.
He was a face of Council in its quest to pass a lead ordinance – “the first in Ohio,” he notes. And he also took a stand against the vaping industry that was starting to push its products into families and schools. Council here was the first in Ohio to put limits on what the industry could peddle – passing an ordinance to end the sale of flavored vaping products.
Top on Sykes’ to do list, should he get re-elected, is the city’s gun violence crisis – 61 such deaths in 2020 (a 62 percent increase over the previous year) and 2021 is on pace to surpass the 2020 total.
Recently Sykes collaborated with several other community members to host a forum on gun violence. “We invited the mayor, JoJuan Armour, the police chief, the fire chief … and no one came,” he says of the Kent Branch Library session.
As Sykes, the city council candidate sees it, the way to solve the rampant homicide problem is to get everyone involved – the whole community. “Go to TPS, to LMH, the court system, the unions … , look at kids who are delinquent, who are truants. Track those kids, put them in a diversionary program.
“Black men – get them to wake up, to clean up, to stand up – you know who the shooters are. The community has to take responsibility. Parents do you know where your children are?”
Also of great concern for the candidate is the City’s intentions for the $180 million funds coming for the Toledo Recovery Plan through the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The city has held a number of community conversations to solicit input on the best ways to invest the funds but Sykes fears that such discussions are not particularly well intentioned, that city administrators have presented limited choices to the citizens for their input.
“We don’t need that money to go to parks and roads,” he says, noting that such items are already sufficiently budgeted for with funds on hand.
He suggests that social services should receive the lion’s share of the funds – “social services with a history of success.”
As an example, he cites the success that Pathway’s Avis Files has had in the past five years with her Brothers United program – designed to bring guidance and a path forward to young fathers.
“You can sustain such a program for the next 20 years and changes lives,” he adds.
Given his record of working for the Toledo area in a number of platforms over the years, Sykes believes he has earned the consideration of voters in this September 14 primary and the November general election to put him back in the seat that he was so unceremoniously stripped of more than a year ago – well before he had a chance to defend himself before a panel of his peers – presumed guilty rather than innocent as the law requires.
“I’ve served this community though some tough times. I’ve always been responsive, been open, been approachable. I hope voters know my commitment to this community and elect me again.”