The assembly and senate districts that cover much Syracuse’s western suburbs are wide open, presenting many voters the rare opportunity to choose two brand new representatives to go to Albany. But the question during a pandemic remains…how are candidates with little name recognition trying to reach voters?
WAER News tries to find out starting with those seeking the vacant 50th senate district seat.
To be clear, the 50th senate district and 126th assembly district don’t overlap entirely, but they do cover much of the same territory. Regardless, the lack of an incumbent in any state race is unusual, and to have two seats up for grabs in the roughly the same area even moreso. The senate seat has sat empty for nearly a year after Bob Antonacci left mid-term for a spot on the state supreme court. His former opponent, Democrat John Mannion, and Republican Angi Renna have had their eyes on the seat ever since, leading up to special elections that didn’t happen.
“We’ve been running at full speed for a very long time because we were anticipating an election in April. More than that, what should concern all of us is that we currently do not have representation in the state senate for the nearly 300,000 people in the 50th senate district," said Mannion.
“I entered the campaign in February before COVID, before we knew what our new lives were going to look like. We had a special election that we were pushing for when everything came to a grinding halt,” said Renna.
That forced the candidates to change gears to safer, more remote forms of campaigning.
“We switched very quickly to social media, and we have a very strong social media presence and network," said Renna. "I hear from our voters every day. They’re very engaging. They email me, they inbox me, they message me through various social media outlets. We have conversations regularly, and we have a good pulse on what’s going on out there and what they want to hear about.”
Renna, who runs a financial services firm, has produced numerous podcasts over the past few months called "CNY Matters with Angi Renna" where she discusses issues facing voters. She says concerns range from public safety in neighborhoods locally and statewide, to effective remote learning for school children, and how small businesses can reopen, survive, and thrive.
John Mannion says they’ve used social media, as well as phone banks. Households can probably expect mailers, too.
“We believe that it’s not safe and people aren’t comfortable with us banging on their doors, and we want to be responsible when it comes to that," Mannion said.
He did post a light-hearted video on social media of him knocking on his own door. His wife answers, gently asks him to stop, and reminds him she's told him to paint the fence four times.
"We focused on connecting with voters by phone. We really have been very successful at that. We’ve had some great conversations,” Mannion said.
The West Genesee High School teacher says most concerns naturally revolve around the pandemic, including furloughs and unemployment insurance. Mannion has also appeared at events supporting the US Postal Service and its workers.
He says his previous run gives him a bit of an edge, even if he can’t engage with as many people directly.
“I’ve already established relationships with many of our elected officials, business leaders, and leaders of community organizations, and many of them have discussed with me the challenges in front of them.”
Meanwhile, Angi Renna comes into the race as a newcomer with limited name recognition. But she’s had the benefit of some extra time thanks to those previously postponed then cancelled special elections.
“Not being a politician, there’s always the challenge to build up that name recognition," Renna said. "We think we’re doing a fantastic job. It’s amazing when I’m out and about in the community the support that I’m receiving. People are coming up to me. They do know who I am now, where months ago they may not have. We know what we’re doing is working.”
Renna says through the shutdown, she volunteered at several non profits to get engaged with the community. As the community reopened, she was able to attend car shows, farmers markets, and other small events.