Wonky Wednesday:  Syracuse City Court Judge


As a service to provide information to the voters of Onondaga County I present my second installment of Wonky Wednesday.  Each Wednesday I am going to do a post on my Tumble blog focusing on registration data in Onondaga County.  The last 4 years have proven to reshape Onondaga County and New York State. These changes have made Democrats more competitive in traditionally Republican areas.  This series is meant to show how these demographics will shape the upcoming November election.


This week we focus on the City of Syracuse.  This year in the City of Syracuse we only have one city wide race for City Court Judge.  However it is a very interesting race with many twists and turns possible.  The City itself is best viewed through the lens of its 5 district council seats.  District 1 encompassing the north side, District 2 the west side, District 3 snaking from the west and East side through the southern portion of Syracuse, District 4 representing the inner city and downtown.  Finally District 5 representing Eastwood and East Side.  The overall tilt of the City of Syracuse is overwhelmingly Democrat and at first glance it would seem that no other candidate has a chance at winning.  However 2017’s election of independent mayor Ben Walsh is a stand out and shows there is a path to independent candidates in an overwhelmingly Democratic city.  In addition the best of 2 format could lead to an unexpected result on Election Day.


The candidates on the Democratic side are Shadia Tadros and Felicia Pitts Davis.  Both candidates ran for Syracuse City Court judge in 2018 and lost a narrow primary to Ann Magnarelli, who went on to win the general election.  Ms. Tadros and Ms. Davis ran insurgent campaigns this year after failing to win nomination at the Onondaga County Democratic Committee in the spring.  They won their races in the primary by a large margin and will be the Democratic nominees in the fall race.


The Syracuse City Court Judge race shows the unique quirks of fusion voting.  Though Ms. Tadros and Ms. Davis won the Democratic primary they will face off again with the three candidates they beat in the primary as they all survived on minor party lines.  The incumbent Ted Limpert has been a city court judge since 2010.  He is continuing his campaign on the Independence and WFP line. Jeff Leibo while losing the Democratic primary won a primary on the independence line as well.  Jason Ziegler is the lone republican in the race, however he too participated in the Democratic & Independence party primaries.  Fusion voting laws in New York allow judges to run a primary in any party even if they are not a member.  This led to Ziegler running in the independence and Democratic primaries, but he lost both of those races and only survives on the GOP, Conservative, and Libertarian lines.


The partisan nature of the City of Syracuse goes back decades.  Democrats have outpaced GOP registrations inside the City of Syracuse since the time of Ronald Reagan.  However we can see since 2009 this division continues to escalate.  The pace of Democratic enrollment has mirrored other parts of the county in accelerating since 2016 while the GOP enrollment continues a steady decline.  In fact the GOP actually has less registered voters then non-enrolled voters in the City of Syracuse.


There simply is no corner of Syracuse that the GOP can look to support a city wide candidate.  The only elected GOP City councilor is Ed Carni in the 1st district.  His family name has allowed him to pull out close victories as well as a candidate that lost the Democratic line in 2019 due to a petition issue.  Even in the 1st district the enrollment is overwhelmingly Democratic.  Redistricting will most likely even out the population and change the shapes of these districts for 2022 as population boom on the city’s Northside among the immigrant community as well as population gains on the east side have thrown these districts out of whack.


The most recent race to compare this too is the 2018 City Court Judge race where four of the five candidates running this year also ran.  Ann Magnarelli narrowly won the primary but overwhelmingly won the General.  Shadia Tadros survived the primary on the WFP line but was not able to mount a serious general election challenge.  Felecia Pitts-Davis lost the Democratic primary and did not compete in the general where Jeff Leibo lost the nomination at OCDC and never mounted a campaign.  Jason Ziegler ran on the GOP line them not opting to run a primary for the Democratic line.

The difference in this year’s race is the incumbent Ted Limpert.  His loss in the primary was generally considered a surprise.  With increased turnout in the Presidential Election it might be even harder for an independent campaign to win.  Unlike Mayor Walsh though Judge Limpert has strong ties into the Democratic Party by virtue of being a candidate many times on the Democratic line.  He will need to find a way to convince voters to go off the Dem line and find him lower on the ballot to [pick off one of the top two spots in November.  In general this has not been a winning strategy in the past.  However 2020 has been an odd year and it could lead to yet another surprise.  

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