In this week’s Wonky Wednesday I take a look at the Onondaga County Family Court Judge race. Both of the Family Court judge seats that are up this year are open seats, meaning no incumbent. The Family Court Judge position runs county wide but this year there is a bit of a twist. When multiple judge seats become open at the same time the candidates run in a group together regardless of party and the candidates with the most votes win. This is a vote for two race so the two Democratic candidates and two GOP candidates are grouped together and voters are allowed to vote twice in the race. The top two candidates with the most votes wins the General election and will become the next two Family Court judges.
The Democratic Candidates are Julie Cerio and Christie DeJoseph. Julie Cerio is an attorney in Syracuse specializing in Family Court handling matrimonial, family and other civil cases. This is her second run for public offices coming within the absentee ballot margin I last year’s 5th Judicial Supreme Court Judge race. She is on the Democratic, Conservative, and Independence lines.
Christie DeJoseph is no stranger to Democratic politics but is making her first run for public office. She is a Senior Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Syracuse. She was also a founding partner of Curtin & DeJoseph where she represented businesses, religious, and other non-profit organizations, as well as individuals in family court matters. She will appear on the Democratic and Working family Party lines.
The Republican candidates are Sal Pavone and Paula Engel. Sal Pavone is a Manlius town Judge and running on the Republican, Conservative, Libertarian, and Independence Line. Paula Engel is currently Onondaga County’s Chief Welfare Attorney. She will appear on the Republican, Libertarian, and SAM party lines.
The registration numbers for Onondaga County are lower in total then we would expect in a Presidential year. While 295k is the highest total since 2004, there was hope at the beginning of the year we would beat the 2004 record. Usually we see massive registration increase in a presidential year, however the COVID-19 crisis has had a chilling effect on registration. DMV offices have been closed and in person registrations have been non-existent as festivals and on campus activity have been limited. The one caveat is there has been an increase in registrations since 2017. This goes against the trend where registrations would fall dramatically between presidential years. So while overall registrations are not risen as dramatically as we hoped this year, the constant rise over the last three years have made up for it.
As I have been chronicling for years Onondaga County has gone under a trans-formative realignment. Once known as a solid red county, Onondaga County continues to be a breeding ground for a rapidly rising Democratic plurality. The GOP has seen a steady decline in registrations since 2004. However the Democrats since the energy and election of Barack Obama in 2008 have steadily added to their increase in numbers. That increase has dramatically escalated in the last 3 years.
The City of Syracuse share of Onondaga County voters has decreased over the last decade. It has been common thought that the City of Syracuse dominates the county. In truth the steady rise in population had come in the suburban towns around the City. The rise in Democratic advantage can’t just be from the increase in polarization in Syracuse (as we saw in the City Court Judge article a few weeks ago). The City of Syracuse voter share is at their lowest and the town population has the highest voter registration on record.
As the Towns vote share has grown they have gotten more Democratic. Democrats have been closing the gap in these traditionally republican strongholds. In fact in 2020 for the first time Democrats have eclipsed Republicans in enrollment outside the City of Syracuse. As we see the bulk of this growth has come since 2017 as the GOP has remained inert. The large number of non-enrolled voters in these towns is the key to winning countywide. Democrats wanting to win need to penetrate this large voting bloc.
This dramatic shift towards Democrats can be seen in the large suburban towns. Democrats are dominating in terms of enrollment and elected town positions in Dewitt and Manlius. Unfortunately the large Democratic advantage in Salina has not realized elected office gains. Still when voting for county wide judges these three towns have produced for candidates in the past. Clay may be the Texas of Onondaga County. A large piece of real estate with the most voters in the county, however the Democratic advantage there has not led to any elected gains and it underperforms in county wide races. Lysander and Cicero remain strong grounds for the GOP. The key to future gains will be the towns of Geddes, Onondaga, Camillus and Van Buren. Onondaga and Geddes just recently flipped to Democratic pluralities and Camillus is very close and probably will by the end of the year. Van Buren is trending Democrats way but is probably a couple of years before it switches.
Rural towns however still remain solidly Republican. The Republican advantage in these towns are solid. However Democrats have made gains when opportunity presents itself. Democrats have in the past seen opportunities in Spafford and Skaneateles when unpopular GOP regimes have made mistakes. Pompey last year flipped when the GOP underwent a civil war. That being said these local town successes have never developed into long term gains nor contributing to county wide campaigns,
It’s hard to determine a recent race to compare Onondaga County’s electorate to for this year’s Family Court race. The last Family Court race Democrats seriously contested was 2012 when Julie Cecile won Family Court. The race that I have been focused on to determine how Onondaga County reacts to local races is last year’s county clerk race. The race had little fanfare and little money spent by either side and the Democrat came closer to winning that race than any other county wide race that year (except 1). The margin was only 4566 votes and Democrats have gained 1927 in registration advantage since then. However where Democrats hopes lie in the Family Court judge race is the over 105k voters that don’t vote in local years but do in Presidential.
Julie Cerio and Christie DeJoseph were a recent guest on Zoom with Czarny. You can find it on Spotify or watch in fb here: https://www.facebook.com/1752445941520827/videos/350997026068898. You can find out more about the Democratic judicial candidates by going to their websites. https://www.juliecerioforfamilycourt.com/ & https://dejosephforjudge.com/