Mahoney running for 3rd term against Shelley
On Election Day, voters will make decisions about various levels of Onondaga County government . The entire legislature is up for election, and there are several countywide races. District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick is running unopposed, but there are contested races for comptroller and county clerk. But the biggest office up for grabs is for Onondaga County executive.
The race pits a well-heeled incumbent going against an opponent who lost support from his party’s leadership.
Republican Joanie Mahoney is only the third Onondaga county executive since the office was created more than 50 years ago. First elected in 2007, she wants to keep that dynamic by running for a third term this year.
Mahoney has a healthy campaign war chest, in part because she had no opponent four years ago, And some of her political support comes from corners that often oppose Republicans -- Syracuse’s minority community and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who’s helped Mahoney parlay state dollars into several local economic development projects.
Democrat Toby Shelley, an Otisco farmer and former veteran and law enforcement officer, is the Democrat trying to stand in the way of that third term. He was endorsed by the county’s Democratic committee earlier this year. But then party leadership pulled that support after comments Shelley made about racial profiling in the Syracuse New Times weekly newspaper.
Shelley says he’s running with support from several different groups, ranging from veterans to county employees, many of whom are working without a contract and are dissatisfied with Mahoney. He says he decided to jump into this race when he talked to county employees, and hopes to tap into that dissatisfaction.
"It’s unfortunate, but if we win, it’s going to more of an anti-Mahoney vote than an ‘I love Toby vote,’" said Shelley.
Mahoney admits there are naysayers. Some criticism of her administration stems from what she calls a perception that she doesn’t listen to anybody and just plows forward with projects like construction of the Lakeview Amphitheater.
"I’m proud of the accomplishments of this administration. But I do recognize that people want to feel that there’s been a careful, deliberative, thoughtful process, and I want to make sure that that’s not only the reality, but the perception," said Mahoney.
The two candidates both call themselves fiscal conservatives. Taxes loom as a large issue in the county, but there’s some dispute about the numbers.
"We’ve reduced the property tax levy 25 percent, and we’ve shifted to a government that more heavily relies on sales tax,” Mahoney said.
"Some of this Mahoney math I can’t do. Because I immediately went to my property taxes when she claimed they went down 25 percent, and I can’t find that,” said Shelley.
Shelley calls himself a moderate Democrat who keeps a close eye on the money, and he says that’s where his vision for the future of Onondaga County lies.
"Where we work well together with the county legislature, and come up with fiscally conservative things. Where we figure out ways to take care of our infrastructure, ways we can pay for them, a positive progressive plan to pay for those. Ways to keep our kids and encourage businesses to stay or come here,” said Shelley.
Mahoney says her vision for the county is the same one she ran on eight years ago -- to find ways to create jobs and an environment that makes young people want to stay in Onondaga County.
“I filter the decisions we make through a prism of what’s best for the next generation. It’s helped us make decisions that are more long term, and less partisan, and more inclusive. And all of that together, I think, in 2015, a graduate is more likely to pick Onondaga County as a home than they would have been in 2007."