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Race for Onondaga County Executive turning more negative

Ellen Abbott
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, left, is being challenged by Democrat Tony Malavenda

Negative advertising has overtaken what had been a quiet race for Onondaga County Executive. With just a week to go before Election Day, the rhetoric on both sides of the race has intensified.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, appointed to the job a year ago, faces Tony Malavenda, a local businessman. Negative advertising creeped into the campaign via an ad from Malavenda, bringing up a 10-year-old connection between McMahon and a fraudulent investor.

"With a couple of clicks, Ryan McMahon would have known he was doing business with a fraud.  Instead, he recruited investors into a Ponzi scheme," the ad said.

McMahon, who never faced any charges, cried foul.

"The way he laid out the argument, he’s trying to suggest that I committed a crime. And that is a lie, and he knows it’s a lie," said McMahon.

Malavenda said the ad doesn’t say that.

"No, I wouldn’t say it was criminal activity," Malavenda said. "I believe it’s competence."

The two have sparred over other negative ads. Malavenda accuses McMahon of closed-door politics before a vote giving raises to county officials. McMahon criticizes Malavenda for accepting millions in tax breaks for his sewage treatment company from a now defunct state program.

Despite McMahon attempting to pull one ad off the air with a cease and desist order, voters can expect to see this kind of electioneering through Election Day. Both sides are spending heavily on TV advertising. McMahon has raised $800,000 and expects more to come in. Malavenda is, for the most part, self-funding his campaign to the tune of $1 million.

Both sides see the slide into negativity differently. McMahon said it is a sign of a floundering campaign.

"He’s throwing mud at a wall, because he can’t talk about a plan for this community, because he doesn’t have one," said McMahon.

And Malavenda contends McMahon has turned negative because he’s running scared.

"All of a sudden someone has woken up and discovered that 'oh my gosh, there's finally a race for  county executive for the first time in history'," said Malavenda.

While the attack ads overshadow county issues like poverty and infrastructure, both candidates say they illuminate key points in their campaigns. For Malavenda, it’s a contention that McMahon is unfit for the job.

"We're already negotiating with some enormous company, that pretty much everybody believes is Amazon. But whether it is or not, he’s going to be sitting across the table from a bank Harvard MBAs  And I’m not seeing the chops for that," Malavenda said.

McMahon said his record speaks for itself.

“We now have the lowest unemployment rate in a generation. We have the highest job creation we’ve had in a generation. I have sat down and cut very good deals.  And certainly someone who abuses the tax system the way he has, has not demonstrated the ability or the moral authority to talk about a tax deal," McMahon said.

The race for Onondaga County Executive is one of several countywide jobs up for grabs, including District Attorney, County Clerk and County Comptroller. Voters also choose the entire County Legislature this year.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.