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Onondaga County Executive to Step Down for ESF Post; Legislature Chairman Seeks to Replace Her

Scott Willis/WAER News

There will be an unexpected change at the top of Onondaga County government this fall after County Executive Joanie Mahoney announced Monday that she will step down to take an administrative post at SUNY ESF.  Mahoney has one year left in her third term in office, but she felt now was the time to accept the offer as Chief Operating Officer. 

“We have a lot of different functions in the county, a lot of different moving pieces, thousands of employees,” Mahoney said. “When we set a goal, I see my role as making sure that plan gets implemented so that we reach that goal. I see those skills transferring well to a role as an operations person at ESF.”

The college has been in some turmoil as of late with the departure of President Quentin Wheeler this summer over differences with faculty. 

Mahoney would serve under interim president David Amberg, whom she believes is off to a great start. 

Mahoney says she is proud of her time as county executive, calling the post exhilarating, and the best job she’s ever had.  At the same time, she says there’s room for a new set of eyes. In all probability, Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon will bring that fresh perspective.

“It’s been a position that I think many of my colleagues will tell you I have always had interest in. This is a unique opportunity to try to implement and lead from that branch of government,” McMahon said. “With my skillset of trying to be bipartisan, and bring people together, listening to people, I think we have done a nice job at the legislature over the last year, collectively, with putting the people’s business first”.

He made his announcement with nearly every county lawmaker standing behind him in support, and Mahoney is also in his corner. 

 “It looks like things are lining up for him,” Mahoney said. “So I’m very comfortable telling you that I think he is very well prepared. He and I talk all the time. He is a very involved legislator, and I think he would hit the ground running in a way that I wasn’t able to.”

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
Legislators (left to right) Peggy Chase, Mike Plochocki, Tim Burtis, Judy Tassone, Casey Jordan (behind McMahon), James Rowley, and John McBride support Ryan McMahon in his pursuit for the now vacant County Executive position. (Not pictured, but present): Kevin Holmquist, David Knapp, Brian May, Monica Williams, Debra Cody, and Ken Bush Jr.

Lawmakers will likely consider McMahon’s and any other appointments at their regular session October 2nd or their budget vote October 9th.  If he wins, McMahon says he plans to seek election to the seat next fall. 

“I’m not interested in being a placeholder,” McMahon said. “There will be time for political announcements.  But, I have dedicated my career, since I was in my early twenties to serving my community. I still think I have a lot to offer.”

McMahon began his political career as a Syracuse City Councilor before running for County Legislator and immediately being named Chairman.  Mahoney is expected to stay on and help with a transition until the end of October. 

John Smith has been waking up WAER listeners for a long time as our Local Co-Host of Morning Edition with timely news and information, working alongside student Sportscasters from the Newhouse School.
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