The only wide open race on the Onondaga County Legislature has generated plenty of interest from candidates seeking to represent the 7th district. There was a rare primary among democrats, and now there’s a three-way contest for the district which includes most of DeWitt and small slices of Syracuse. Now the candidates want voters to get equally engaged.
All three candidates are relatively new to politics. Democrat Mary Kuhn is a retired county social worker, and says she’s stunned how few people have any idea who represents them on the county legislature.
"I've probably knocked on 1,500 doors or more. And maybe six people knew who represented them. Many people say, well, what does the county legislature do? The county legislature is responsible for so much in our county. Until I got into this, I had no clue about how critical and how pivotal the county legislature can be in terms of the direction our community goes."
Kuhn says part of the reason might be the lack of any effort by the legislature to involve the community. She says holding committee meetings in the morning, then voting sessions in the early afternoon makes it difficult for most people to know what’s going on and get engaged.
"I'd like to see the availability of evening meetings so that constituents can begin to get more involved. The county legislature controls all the dollars that come into this region. And the County legislature also is responsible for all policy decisions. There needs to be a lot more transparency."
Kuhn says meetings should be livestreamed. That way, she says people might see how little collaboration there is between the super-majority republicans and the democrats, who caucus separately behind closed doors before every meeting. Kuhn also feels the county can take the lead on more issues relating to sustainability, mitigating climate change, and infrastructure versus what she calls shiny objects like an amphitheater and beach on Onondaga Lake. She says lawmakers can also take steps to re-draw gerrymandered districts.
"When I show people the map, they're horrified. They never had any idea, just like they didn't know who was representing them. So I think again, the more that we can get constituent involvement, the better it will be."
Courtney Hills is running as an independent, and agrees districts seem to favor one party or another.
"If you look at our particular district, there are far more registered democrats than republicans, so it is skewed a little bit. It does make it very difficult for a republican to succed in this district. I know that it's reversed in other districts. I think it's something that needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addresssed independently."
HIlls is a municipal attorney who was picked at the last minute to run for the seat in 2017 but lost to Tom Buckel. She’s been cross-endorsed by the GOP.
"I see that as a good thing because they're willing to work with someone outside of their party. I would be the very first independent candidate to get elected county-wide. I work every single day with democrats and republicans, and I know what it takes to work together to get things done."
That includes improving access to jobs. She credits current leadership for making strong progress on job creation, but there’s still a stark skills gap.
"Employers are struggling to fill the jobs they have open because our unemployed, our workforce, don't have the skills to fill those positions. I think we could probably do more with development programs that prepare our unemployed to fill those open positions."
On the conservative party line, Daniel Carroll is making his first run for office.
"I personally see things from a common sense standpoint and that aren't being done. And I would like to approach that in the same manner with common sense and to help people to understand that government isn't their baby's daddy."
Like Democrat Mary Kuhn, Carroll would like to see more transparency in county government. He says the meeting minutes are hard to understand, which are the only way to know what happened at a meeting without attending in person. Carroll says he hasn’t done as much door to door campaigning as he’d like, but has been encouraged by the response.
"When I did go out, I have to tell you, if I was a fuller brush salesman, I'd have been a rich man. After that first day, they're all saying they're going to vote for me, whether it was just to get me out of their hair or not. I sincerely believe that one of them even said, nobody else came around. So, I guess that kind of spurred me to do that."
Carroll says people seem divided on everything, whether its politics or I-81. He feels we’re better than that…and should remember there are other priorities.
"Money that could go towards better programs like mental health organizations and things like that, parks. I think that we don't have to be so stuck on the fact that we're divided by concrete divided by party lines."
Voters in the legislature’s 7th district can cast a vote through Sunday at any one of six locations across the county, or on election day at their regular polling place.