Unusual alignments and tense in-fighting increasingly define local politics
Barack Obama campaigned as the one who could usher in a new era of post-partisan politics and, if you look around Onondaga County today, you might almost think that new world order has come and gone. In Syracuse our Democratic mayor gets along swimmingly with our Republican county executive, who seems to be BFF with the Democratic governor. The problem both Stephanie Miner and Joanie Mahoney face appears to be friendly fire, as battles with their own party threaten to tie them in knots.
Consider the scene at the Democratic victory gathering at Pensabene’s Casa Grande on the night of Election Day, when the Democrats took over the last remaining Republican seat on the Common Council; elected an ally of Miner, Marty Masterpole, to the position of city auditor; and swept two judgeships. Even on such a night there was no arm-in-arm singing of “Happy Days are Here Again.” Rather, the Common Council Democrats and the mayor avoided each other like former spouses at their kid’s wedding.
Typically at such events elected officeholders greet the senior official present when they enter the room. Not this night. In one corner Lance Denno, Nader Maroun and Kathleen Joy, all Council Democrats who have sparred with the mayor on issues ranging from personnel appointments to the Ida Benderson Senior Center, spent the evening laughing and buying one another drinks. Miner was applauded politely when City Court Judge Rory McMahon lauded her as the greatest mayor in Syracuse history, but for the most part she kept to her corner, huddled with a small group of advisers and their Smartphones.
The mayor greeted her new ally, Helen Hudson, the biggest vote getter in the councilor-at-large race, as well as 4th District Councilor-elect Khalid Bey, and newcomer Bob Dougherty, who won the 3rd District seat. All were supported by Miner. (The applause when Hudson was introduced was matched only by the boisterous shouts that greeted Masterpole when he rose to the podium.) The mayor was never asked to take the stage.
“Hopefully she’s learned that just because she’s mayor doesn’t make her God,” said Van Robinson, the Common Council president. “If she hasn’t, she’s going to have a lot of headaches.” And this was on the night when everyone was supposed to be in a good mood.
On the Republican side there is an outbreak of hostility locally, a situation a Post- Standard headline writer characterized as a Civil War; clearly said writer needs to visit Gettysburg. Mahoney is in a dispute with party boss Tom Dadey over the allocation of party committee seats, which Dadey alleges were given illegally to Mahoney family members. Bill Fitzpatrick, the Republican district attorney, is even taking time from his busy schedule, such as investigating fired Syracuse University associate basketball coach Bernie Fine, to look into the matter.
Meanwhile, the most talked about County Legislature race resulted in Manlius Republican Kevin Holmquist, who has been a thorn in Mahoney’s side, soundly beating a Miner-supported Democrat, Gwen Mannion. The race was mostly notable for Holmquist’s attacks on the tax plan backed by Mahoney, a plan she arrived at in cooperation with Democratic Mayor Miner.
If that bothered Mahoney she wasn’t showing it as she helped host a fundraiser for Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor she backed last year and on whose transition team she served. Mahoney has spent more political capital on behalf of Cuomo than she has on any members of her own party locally, and that may be what is getting her in trouble with members of the party of Lincoln.
One recent evening, at the celebration of the county’s Save the Rain program, the mayor and county executive took turns on the stage of the Palace Theatre, praising one another for their commitment to the environment. They both seemed to have more in common with one another than they have with many in their own political camps.
In their campaigns for their respective positions, both Mahoney and Miner relied more on family and friends than they did on the parties’ networks, and thus have a lot more freedom to maneuver. In governing they have relied on one another to an extent rarely, if ever, seen in county-city relations.
Yet each of them will encounter tough times ahead as they seek to govern in the face of frequently hostile legislative bodies, entities dominated totally by their own parties. Welcome to the new world order.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.