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 #3.
In 2011 this seat was represented by ling term County Legislator William Meyer. The GOP majority on the redistricting commission barely altered this district. They removed a small piece of the village of Minoa but basically kept this seat intact. While this district avoided the massive redraw that created the weird shapes our districts are in now, that is mainly because this district was already weirdly drawn. Instead of staying inside the Town of Cicero it has dipped down into the northern portion of Manlius since 2000 when Manlius was a blood red town. This avoided having to encompass the village of North Syracuse, a more Democratic village and keeping that packed into another district.
OCL 3 has a moderate GOP. 34% of registered voters are Republican while 30% are Democrat and 28% non-enrolled. This small advantage has kept the GOP in power in this district for as long as anyone can remember. Cicero which makes up 88% of the district in terms of registered voters is one of the few large towns where GOP enrollment has been steady. The small portion of Manlius in this district was once blood red but now has a small Democratic lean as the Town of Manlius has changed dramatically over time.
This district has been remarkably stable in terms of partisan enrollment. Both the Democrats and GOP have gained in enrollment during and since the 2016 presidential election. While Democrats have started to close the gap, it is by inches and not miles. The Non-enrolled has closed the margin on both the Democrats and GOP but again also by only a few percentage points. The interesting part of this district is there does seem to be a slide by the GOP since the last election and while Democrats have continued to rise. This could be a reaction to the January 6th insurrections or a movement out of the GOP by conservatives who more ally with Trump then their party.
The Cicero portion of the district not only dominates in overall population and that allows it to heavily influence the partisan lean of the district. Not surprisingly the GOP dominates the Cicero portion of the district. This overwhelms both in number and partisan advantage the Democratic plurality in the Manlius portion of the district. The irony here is that the hopes of avoiding a more Democratic friendly portion of Cicero made 20 years ago has dived the district into a Democratic area and opened it up to a fresh faced challenger, Matt Johnson, from the Manlius portion of the district.
The representation of this district has been on a whirlwind since 2011. In 2011 longtime OCL representative Bill Meyer faced a tough challenge from former Cicero Supervisor Joan Kessel. After barely winning his re-election he took a county job from Joannie Mahoney to open up the seat in 2013 (practice described as “a tradition of appointing long-time county legislators to county jobs.” by Syracuse.com that is alive and well today. Joannie Mahoney appointed Chet Dudzinski who lost a primary to Jim Corl who ran unopposed in 2013. Jim Corl decided not to finish his term after finding employment as a law clerk for Onondaga Family Court. Tim Burtis the deputy supervisor for Cicero was chosen to fill out the term and is the current legislator. He barely survived his first election challenged by long time Elections Commissioner Ed Szczesniak (D). Burtis first re-election in 2017 was not as close, despite a conservative party candidate splitting the vote. In 2019 Burtis easily won re-election as the Democratic Candidate Gary Williams barely survived a challenge to his petitions and was unable to recover and mount a campaign. To show how insular this region is in GOP representation, Bill Meyer replaced Tim Burtis as deputy supervisor of Cicero in 2015 is now the supervisor for the Town of Cicero.
Unfortunately, the wild election results for the county legislature are not matched in this district with other races. OCL 3 has consistently supported GOP candidates outside of the County Legislative race. In 2019 the GOP had a clean sweep of the County races, though a small decrease for the County Comptroller race. Democrats lost all three comparative races in 2020 as well. Even Biden lost this district by over 4 points. For a Democrat to be successful in this district they will have to build a coalition with the non-enrolled and convince them to go against their base ideologies to make a local choice. However, we have seen in the past this district has shown signs of doing just that.
The Democratic nominee for County Legislature in the 3rd district is Matt Johnson. This is his first run for public office but has received national endorsements from Run For Something and has already outraised his GOP opponent since getting into the race. He can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/MattForLegislator, on Twitter at twitter.com/matt4countyleg and on the web at www.votemattjohnson.com. Follow his campaign to learn how to help.