Contested races could change control of Onondaga County Legislature

Oct 25, 2017

While the race for Syracuse mayor is getting much of the attention in central New York this election season, politicians say don’t ignore the contests for the Onondaga County Legislature. Candidates aligned with three distinct political factions are all jockeying for votes, and results could ultimately have an impact on the fiscal future of the city of Syracuse.

All 17 members of the legislature are up for re-election this year. Two seats are open and incumbents are running unopposed in seven others. The GOP has long held the majority in the legislature, most recently, a 13-4 edge. That is too lopsided says Democratic floor leader Linda Ervin.

"Anything we can do to increase our numbers would be helpful," Ervin said. "Government should not run this way. The people should have more of a voice that’s diversified."

She’s confident this year because Democrats are running competitive races promoting a Democratic legislative agenda in eight districts currently held by Republicans. But it’s not just Republicans versus Democrats.

A controversial pay raise vote two years ago still festers among some conservative Republican legislators and the Conservative Party, which has pulled support from lawmakers who voted for it. There are conservatives facing incumbent Republicans in a couple of races, which has the potential of putting more lawmakers in the camp of Manlius Legislator Kevin Holmquist, a frequent critic of County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s administration.

"Here we’ve got Casey Jordan and myself," Holmquist said. "Next year, there will be more than two."

Mahoney, who represents a more moderate wing of the GOP, says ultimately she’s worried about the impact a larger conservative voice will have on one of the biggest decisions lawmakers make in coming years, like how to split county sales revenue tax between the city of Syracuse and suburban communities.

"There’s this legislature election, and there’s one more," Mahoney said. "And then we’ll have the sales tax sharing vote. A lot of legislators are leaving this year and you’re going to get a whole new slate. You need a majority if we’re going to continue to share sales tax."

The tax sharing deal is something she says must continue if the city of Syracuse is to remain fiscally viable. Mahoney would also be up for re-election in that time frame should she choose to run.