Syracuse-Onondaga County cooperation starts at the top with mayor and county executive

Talk of merging the Syracuse and Onondaga County planning departments first surfaced in the 1960s. For a whole host of reasons — chiefly political fisticuffs between Democrat-controlled City Hall and Republican-dominated county government — it never happened.

Until now, that is.

Democrats still control City Hall and Republicans still dominate county government. What’s different are the approaches of their chief executives, Mayor Stephanie Miner and County Executive Joanie Mahoney. They rightly believe the fates of their communities are inextricable; the city and the county will fail or succeed together. Meanwhile, fiscal realities are forcing them to find better, cheaper and more modern ways of governing.

Perhaps too much has been made of the fact that both leaders are women. Women in power are said to be more collaborative and less territorial than their male counterparts. That may be so, but don’t get carried away with the warm fuzzies. Miner and Mahoney can be as hard-nosed as the next politician. The backbone of their extraordinary collaboration is pragmatism.

First, in 2010, came the sales tax deal, a can of worms opened once a decade. Miner and Mahoney negotiated a split that was favorable to the distressed city and its school district; it passed the county legislature unanimously. Then came Save the Rain, Mahoney’s initiative for managing storm water to stop sewage from overflowing into Onondaga Lake. Mahoney stopped construction of a sewage treatment plant smack in the middle of Armory Square and scheduled 100 Save the Rain projects within city limits. Miner and Mahoney also consolidated the duplicative city and county purchasing and economic development offices.

Now the leaders have set their sights on planning. While the Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning Agency has been around for a long time, its lines of authority were confusing and its processes were cumbersome to property owners.

When the mayor lost federal funding that paid for her Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, she approached Mahoney. They worked out the transfer of three city employees to the county payroll and the appointment of a city employee, Andrew Maxwell, to be director of the agency. Maxwell’s salary will be split between the city and the county.

The office won’t be any cheaper to run, but it will streamline the approval process for the public, and, it is hoped, lead to faster and better decisions. Plus, the solution the mayor and county executive engineered will persist even if their successors don’t get along.

The Onondaga County Legislature voted unanimously last week to approve the plan. The Syracuse Common Council and the state Legislature should follow suit without delay.

The county executive said of the planning merger, “I don’t think it’s the last one.” Mahoney told the editorial board on April 12 that she plans to “take advantage of the fact that there’s a mayor in place who wants to work with the county.”

We like what we see, and urge Miner and Mahoney to forge ahead with more cooperation. So, what’s next?

A Little History of Miner for Mayor

Whether it was standing up to Destiny developer Bob Congel, having the courage to take on state leaders to kick-start the Joint Schools Construction Project or tackling crime with the increased use of police cameras, voters know they can count on Mayor Miner to take on their fights and win them. In eight years on the Common Council and now four as Mayor, Stephanie Miner has earned a reputation for being a tough and effective leader who takes an innovative approach to government and isn’t afraid to make the difficult decisions necessary to move Syracuse forward.“It’s really hard to believe four years has gone by. When I first ran for Mayor, people would tell me, over and over again, that Syracuse’s best days were behind us. Four years later, I can point to a track record that shows that isn’t the case.”

Stephanie Miner was elected as the 53rd Mayor of Syracuse, New York in 2009 and serves as Co-Chair of the New York State Democratic Committee. She is the first female mayor of any of New York’s big-five cities and she is seeking re-election in 2013.

Born April 30, 1970 in Syracuse to a nurse and an Army officer, Mayor Miner got her start in politics at an early age helping her Grandmother Cooney stuff and stamp envelopes at the family’s kitchen table. She would attend neighborhood meetings and fundraisers with her Grandmother and remained active in local politics throughout high school.

She attended Syracuse University, studying Political Science and Journalism and graduated magna cum laude in 1992. Following college, she joined Geraldine Ferraro’s 1992 campaign for United States Senate, serving as Assistant Upstate Coordinator. The Mayor then served as Central New York regional representative to then-Governor Mario Cuomo, before returning to the classroom to earn a law degree from SUNY Buffalo.

After law school, Mayor Miner began representing employees and unions, advocating for working men and women as a labor lawyer. In her first run for public office in 2001, she ran for one of Syracuse’s two at-large Common Council seats up for election. She placed first among four candidates. Her tough leadership on important city issues propelled her to re-election in 2005 when she again placed first among four candidates for the two seats.

In early 2009, Stephanie Miner began her campaign for Mayor of Syracuse. Believing Syracuse’s best days were ahead, she vowed to take on the status quo and re-invent city government to make it more accessible and transparent. After a tough four-way Democratic Primary and a three-way General Election, city voters elected her mayor.

As Mayor, Stephanie Miner has taken on Syracuse’s challenging fiscal crisis, streamlined the city’s permitting process which has led to record-breaking economic development. She has doubled down on investment in Say Yes to Education, which has helped send thousands of students to college and has implemented new and innovative strategies to address crime.

Former New York State Lieutenant Governor and noted municipal finance expert Richard Ravitch called her “smart as hell” and the New York Times described her as an “advocate for suffering cities.”“My re-election effort is about looking toward the future, about embracing ideas, about embracing innovation. It’s about looking at what we have done in the last four years and imagining what we can do in the next four years when the challenges are even bigger. There is no doubt that Syracuse is poised for great things.”

Stephanie Miner believes in Syracuse and the people who call it home. She believes everyone deserves a fair shot, no matter their income, gender, sexual orientation, or race, and she fights tirelessly to make sure everyone has a say in improving our community. Mayor Miner knows her first priority to stand up for the people of Syracuse; everything else comes second.

Through Mayor Miner’s decisive leadership, Syracuse is now a 21st Century city on the move.