Welcome back to Wonky Wednesday. Each week I do a deep dive into the election and registration data that makes up the electoral landscape of our home, Onondaga County. I hope by looking into this data we can glean that this everchanging county is not monolithic as once thought and competition for Democrats, and all registrations, can be found everywhere. This week start my #Fliptheleg series looking at each of the 17 Onondaga County Legislative races. Today I look at Onondaga County Legislative seat #1
In 2011 Richard Lesniak, the GOP Floor leader, occupied OCL 1. Once the GOP majority on the redistricting commission announced its redistricting plan, Lesniak decided to not run for re-election and Brian May (R) has served on the legislature ever since. OCL 1 It covers all of the Town of Lysander and a small portion of Clay. OCL 1 was not changed drastically in the redistricting, unlike many other districts that had weird shapes. Besides extending a small protrusion into western Clay, the district has basically the same borders.
OCL 1 has a strong GOP plurality to it. 36% of registered voters are Republican while 31% are Democrat and 26% non-enrolled. This domination has led many to believe this is a safe GOP seat. For as long as anyone can remember this seat has been held by the GOP. Lysander also dominates the district making up 85% of the voter population with 15% in the small portion of Clay that is included in the district.
Democrats are gaining on the GOP in this district. As we saw from my previous Wonky Wednesday: The Town of Lysander the town is undergoing changes too, but has traditionally been dominated by the GOP. The pace of the Democratic growth since 2011 has been about the same pace as the county as well. On top of that, since the election, there seems to be a definite shift out of the GOP into the non-enrolled category as well as increase enrollments by Democrats. However, Democrats started in a large deficit in this Leg district, and it will take many more years for demographic gains alone to catch up.
The Lysander portion of the district not only dominates in overall population, but it also dominates the partisan trends of the district as well. While the Clay portion of the district is more Demographic, their vote is diluted by the overwhelmingly GOP portion of Lysander. It is unlikely this was done on purpose in the redistricting as Lysander alone does not have enough voters in 2010 to warrant their own district and has traditionally had that same portion of Clay. That being said it is a dilution for the Democratic votes in the western portion of Clay.
Since Brian May was nominated to replace Richard Lesniak in 2011, he ran unopposed all but one election. As we will see in upcoming articles, this is all too often the case with some of these districts drawn to be dominated by the GOP. In 2019 Justin Neal ran on the Democratic and WFP lines to give Brian May his first real challenge. May won in convincing fashion but has since broken a pledge to form an independent redistricting commission as well as other controversial votes. Justin Neal is challenging him again in 2021 in hopes of taking advantage of the changing demographics as well as banking on name recognition he gained in the first run.
Neal does have a glimmer of hope in this district. While a GOP heavy district it tends to reject the more Trumpian conservative candidates. As we look at our 5 comparative races there is reason for some cautious optimism. In 2019 the district supported Ryan McMahon for County Executive and Lisa Dell for County Clerk, however Matt Beadnell lagged. The biggest glimmer of hope is from the last election. While Congress was the typical blowout, Senator Mannion came within 1.5% of Angie Renna and President Biden won this district by 4.5%. Neal will have to appeal to the Presidential voters as well as convince non-enrolled that May is out of touch with the changing ideology of the district.
The Democratic nominee for County Legislature in the 1st district is Justin Neal, the current Town of Lysander Democratic Chair. He can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NealforNY and on the web at https://www.nealforny.com/. Follow his campaign to learn how to help.