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County Exec. Joanie Mahoney Focuses on Helping Those Who Need it Most in State of County Address

Scott Willis

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney delivered perhaps her most passionate state of the county address to date last night, outlining her administration’s accomplishments while also addressing the community’s significant challenges.  Perhaps the biggest surprise came when she announced Syracuse’s Say Yes college tuition fund would be permanently endowed.

"You all know we were successful in the URI (Upstate Regional Initiative) competition, and we were awarded $500 million.  What you may not know is that Gov. Cuomo included $20 million to the Central New York Community Foundation to complete the Syracuse College Promise endowment."

Mahoney received a standing ovation for that news, which comes on the heels of an announcement earlier in the day that the endowment had reached $10 million, but was still 20 million short of its goal.  Prominent Buffalo Developer turned President and CEO of Empire State Development Howard Zemsky was invited to Mahoney's address.  He echoed the importance of education in breaking the cycle of poverty.

"This is the most important opportunity for these kids.  If you think about the workforce and if you think about the pipeline, K-through 12, the economy needs a great workforce.  Every passing year, the importance of education only gets higher and higher for almost every job in today's economy.  This is a great opportunity for Syracuse, the economy of Syracuse, and for the future."

Mahoney told county lawmakers that they bear some share of responsibility to help the county's neediest residents.

"It's an abdigation of our responsibility to the people we serve if we're going to avoid talking about it.  It's difficult enough to be poor, but it's exponentially more difficult when everyone around you is also poor.  This is Central New York in 2016, and it is  simply not OK to let any of our neighborhoods be left behind."

Mahoney also didn’t want to leave behind those struggling with heroin addiction. 

" The need for safe and controlled treatment is essential to addressing the epidemic, and we currently have a severe shortage of available treatment in the community.  In the coming months, I'm going to propose to you in the legislature that you add $100,000 to our partnership with Crouse Hospital's outpatient treatment program so that Crouse professionals can expand their treatment operations.”                      

Mahoney saved her most direct remarks for the Consensus discussion on modernizing local government.   She offered a rebuttal to the wild speculation, fear, and negativity that dominates the conversation.

"This isn't happening 'last minute'; it isn't 'too quick,' or 'happening in the dark of night' and 'being shoved down our throats' as the nabobs like to say.  It isn't being driven by me, and it certainly isn't being driven by Governor Cuomo.”                      

Mahoney says the conversation isn’t new.  Perhaps hoping to point out the absurdity of recent comments, she spent several minutes reading headlines and clips of newspaper articles about consolidation efforts from more than 20 years ago, many of them expressing similar doubts and skepticism.  Mahoney says only the names have changed.

Zemsky with Empire State Development says the region has to send a message to young people that it's leading the consolidation effort if only to say it's not paralyzed by fear and the status quo.

"What is it about the last 50 years were things so great in any Upstate city or region that's worth holding on to the status quo?  Were things so great that we should be scared to change?  Are you kidding me?  We should do the opposite of what we did for so long, and let's take a risk.  We owe it to the next generation to do these things."

Zemsky says there needs to be a willingness to embrace the future and not be bound by the disappointments of the past. He says Central New York is poised to be a leader in modernizing government.

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