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McMahon claims opposition to the aquarium was mostly political

Legislator Chris Ryan expresses the reasoning behind his opposition to the aquarium before Tuesday's vote.
Scott Willis
Democratic Floor Leader Chris Ryan expresses the reasoning behind his opposition to the aquarium before Tuesday's vote.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon is blaming partisan politics for the long and difficult road to Tuesday’s narrow approval of the aquarium by county lawmakers. 
To hear it from McMahon, it would seem as if the opposition to the aquarium was purely political and personal, not on the merits of the project.

"This was very partisan. This was an effort to give me a loss and derail our agenda. A lot of this opposition was mean-spirited, it was political, and it was organized. It was a political campaign, and that's the way it was run."

There’s no doubt the many rallies opposing the project were organized. But we’ve reported that groups such as Lead Freedom Now!, CNY Poor People’s campaign, Syracuse Tenants Union, and some democratic lawmakers focused their messages on spending the aquarium funds to address housing, lead paint, poverty, child care, mental health just to name a few. Politics was never publicly mentioned.

The county also offered very little official opportunity for public comment…aside from a narrow window before Tuesday’s vote. McMahon says the public had plenty of chances to learn about the project, but not really to offer feedback.

"I've gone to schools. I've gone to universities. I've spoken with business groups. I did telephone town halls. Did we provide a venue for the partisan opposition to have the opportunity to sit there and scream at me for an hour? No. But did we provide venues for public engagement with me directly to hear from me? Yes."

County legislator Linda Ervin said at Tuesday’s session that she was asked repeatedly for 10 months if there will be town hall or other public meetings so people can talk about the aquarium.

"Over and over again, I've been told we talked to people. Yes, they've talked to people, but not the right people. They've talked to business people. They've talked to folks who would benefit from building this. They have not talked to the people back there," she said, referring to the crowded gallery in legislature chambers. "Folks that will be affected by this have not had a chance to say anything until today, and had 30 minutes to do that today."

For his part, McMahon acknowledged that pushing hard for an up or down vote on the aquarium likely wasn’t the best way to build consensus around the project.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at