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Democrats want to flip the Onondaga County Legislature, GOP pushes back

Democratic candidates outside the Onondaga County Courthouse.

Democrats in Onondaga County are trying to do something they haven’t done in decades; flip the county Legislature out of Republicans’ control. Democrats are running candidates for all 17 seats. But Republicans are also mounting campaigns against some of the Democratic incumbents.

Sunny Aslam is an addiction psychiatrist who lives in Jamesville. He’s a Democrat challenging the Republican chairman of the Legislature, David Knapp. Aslam has raised more money than his opponent, and he said he’s made an excruciating number of phone calls.

“We raised the money, we have aggressive door-knocking campaign, where we have often 10 or 20 volunteers out on a day in different parts of the district, knocking on doors,” Aslam said. “We have about 10-20 people who are phone banking as well, to let people know there’s an election. It’s important, we need change.”

He’s one of the Democratic candidates who are organizing the community to get out and vote in these legislative races that tend to fly under the radar. Democrats are frustrated because they have 30,000 more enrolled voters in Onondaga County, compared to Republicans, but they’re out of power in the Legislature and have never won the county executive's office.

Democrats need three seats to win the majority in the Legislature and Syracuse Common Councilor Joe Driscoll is leading the effort. He said their message is focused on “meat and potato” issues like more social services, health care and infrastructure. He said the GOP county executive and Legislature using federal stimulus funds on a commercial park and sports complex, plus a proposal for an aquarium, are reckless.

“There’s a lot of other initiatives we could take on that are more essential before we just start spending it all on economic adventures,” Driscoll said.

Democrats say they’ll check County Executive Ryan McMahon’s power. But the Republican Party Chairwoman Benedicte Doran said McMahon has been doing an amazing job through the pandemic. She said they’re running candidates that will support his big ideas, which will bring in more businesses and tax revenue, creating more funding for social services.

“The more people that we have that are like-minded and want to help him get his agenda done, the better,” Doran said.

The GOP is also challenging three incumbent Democrats. Early voting begins Saturday.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.