Something Exciting is Happening in the Race for County Executive
by Maximilian Eyle
The position of Onondaga County Executive is one that people rarely talk about. Since 1962, there have only been three elected County Executives despite the fact that an election is held every four years. Time and time again, the incumbent wins without much of a fight. The current County Executive, Republican Ryan McMahon, was appointed without an election. He is being challenged by a new face in local politics – Tony Malavenda. One thing is certain: the results of the election this November will have major consequences for our county.
If you aren’t sure what the County Executive is, or does, you aren’t alone. But their role is incredibly important. They help manage the county budget, they oversee all county departments and agencies, and they can veto county laws. You could describe it as being the mayor or president of Onondaga County.
The son of Italian immigrants, Tony Malavenda grew up in Syracuse in a working-class household. As a young man, he started his own business with a friend and began traveling all around the United States. Their company was called Dukes Root Control and specialized in removing tree roots from municipal sewers. It quickly grew from a local business to a national brand. Working in this field gave Malavenda firsthand experience in seeing how different counties across the country function, and inspired him to want to improve things at home. “Other communities adapted to economic change and we did not,” said Malavenda in an interview, “And the fact that we didn’t adapt is why we haven’t prospered.”
Central New York has a lot to offer, argues Malavenda, but we have been struggling to make use of our resources and grow as a community. “The current system works very well in maintaining the status quo,” he says. “Many of the infrastructure problems we face now were the same in the 1970s when I was growing up.” Malavenda hopes to start making actual progress on these longstanding issues like cleaning up Onondaga Lake, limiting tax breaks to large companies, and starting construction on the community grid redevelopment for I-81. “When we built that highway overpass 60 years ago,” said Malavenda, “we destroyed a neighborhood and became a more segregated city. Today we have the highest concentration of minority poverty of any city in America, and the highway has a lot to do with that.” If he wins, Malavenda would be the first Democrat to be elected to County Executive. His primary goal is to make our county government work more efficiently for its residents by improving the delivery of services and rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure.
Because Malavenda has lived a private life up to this point, building name recognition has been a challenge. But his campaign has caught the attention of the press and in September, he released a series of television ads outlining his plans for Onondaga County. He has also been active at community events, and many families have hosted open houses as a platform for neighborhood residents to ask him about issues directly and hear him speak. At a recent event on the east side of Syracuse, Malavenda responded to a question about his reasons for running: “I know my opponent has larger political ambitions beyond serving as County Executive. For me, I am already 62 and look forward to retiring after my time in office. I just want a chance to give back to the community I’ve lived in my whole life.”
This article was written and edited by Maximilian Eyle who is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.