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A look at Joanie Mahoney's legacy as she leaves county executive's office this week

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News file photo

After 11 years, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney leaves office this week to start a new phase of her career with SUNY ESF and SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. 

In January 2008, Mahoney became only the 3rd county executive in Onondaga County history, and she had a plan for staying there.

"Just do a good job, and if the public is satisfied with the quality of the work they are getting, then we will be able to continue to stay here," said Mahoney.

It worked.

Mahoney never had a serious opponent in two reelection campaigns. In the intervening years, she said she was able to put together an administrative team she’s very proud of and take action on several fronts, ranging from negotiating an historic sales tax sharing agreement with the city of Syracuse, to leading construction of the St. Joseph's Amphitheater at Lakeview along Onondaga Lake.

She’s proud of a Triple A credit rating, and a lean county government that withstood the great recession. Mahoney has had her boosters. The biggest, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. The pair pushed many central New York projects, some successful, some not so much. But during a recent appearance in Syracuse, Cuomo applauded Mahoney’s style.

“Fix the stadium, build an amphitheater, fix Hotel Syracuse, get businesses coming back. Make things happen. That’s Joanie Mahoney,” Cuomo said.

There were critics about all those happening things. County Legislator Kevin Holmquist was often opposed to the way Mahoney’s initiatives came from the top down, claiming there wasn’t enough input from lawmakers.

"I think it was pretty much her way or the highway and if you worked with her and agreed with her, you were was fine," said Holmquist. "But if you had any disagreements, her skin was thin, and that didn’t serve the county well."

Whether you agreed with her or not, one legacy that is inarguable, was noted by incoming County Executive Ryan McMahon.

"The glass ceiling in Onondaga County was smashed when Joanie Mahoney became the first female county executive 11 years ago,” said McMahon.

From Mahoney’s perspective, she never thought about that glass ceiling before she got the job. 

"It was a surprise that when I got into a role like this, to see there really was some kind of reaction people had that was different than they had to my predecessors," she said.

On her way out the door, Mahoney says she’ll miss the people she’s worked with. She's happy she’s made her family proud, with a sense that while there’s always more that she could have done, change can be good.

"When I came in 11 years ago, we kind of wiped the desks clean, and looked at everything," she said. "We made some changes and I think made some things better. And now there’s some value in someone else now in this next cycle, coming in and doing the same thing.”

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.