By Olivia Proia SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News)–After 11 years in office as the Onondaga County Executive, Joanie Mahoney leaves this week to become the chief operating officer at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. She also will work in an advisory capacity at SUNY Upstate Medical University.
In 2007, Mahoney set out on her campaign to become the Onondaga County Executive with a goal: to bring more jobs to Central New York.
“I asked people for the job because my husband and I are raising our kids in Central New York, and we had seen a lot of families where young people were moving away for jobs,” Mahoney said. “I asked people for the opportunity to do the job to see if I could make this community a place where young people would be more likely to stay.”
Attracting young people to the area is what Mahoney is most proud of as she leaves office.
“We have supported a lot of projects inside the city of Syracuse to create a vibrancy that really didn’t exist for the ten or 20 years previous to that,” Mahoney said.
While Mahoney lowered property taxes and created the Save the Rain program, the restoration of downtown Syracuse also attracts a more youthful crowd, according to Mahoney. She also said she thinks a strong relationship between Syracuse University and the people in Onondaga County has helped.
“I’m a Syracuse University grad and a law school grad. We didn’t have a downtown to go to. We were all up here on campus and it resulted in this disconnect.”
Mahoney explained that during her time at Syracuse University, her friends from out of town didn’t know much about the area, and growing up Mahoney knew little about what she described as, “this institution on the Hill.”
“That has changed,” Mahoney said. “We have benefitted from people who go to Syracuse University being more involved in our community. Those kinds of things make me really proud.”
Mahoney said success on the Hill is success for the entire county.
“Syracuse University is one of the most important employers in Upstate New York. And the bigger, stronger, healthier Syracuse University is the better for the surrounding region. I’m thrilled to see the cranes in the sky here,” Mahoney said.
While Mahoney has pointed to her success, there’s one thing Mahoney she said she wishes she had given more attention to.
“When it comes to the issues of race in Onondaga County, there is a lot of work to be done. I wish that I had made more change,” Mahoney said.
While in office, Mahoney did change the makeup of our county government, making it more diverse. She also created a minority and women in business enterprise program, where 30% of the county’s contracts go to minority and women owned business. Yet, she said, it wasn’t enough.
“If you just simply drive around Onondaga County, and particularly the city of Syracuse, you’ll see that we live a very separate life and that there are chronic issues inside the neighborhoods where people of color live,” Mahoney said. “This is not a big enough community where we can’t solve that problem, and I wish that I could have done more. I’m hoping that in my private life that I can affect more change there.”
She said she hopes her successor, Ryan McMahon, will continue to work on race issues as she transitions to working at SUNY-ESF and Upstate.
“Ryan McMahon is coming in as County Executive leader this week. He has a view similar to mine. I know he’s going to bring his own vision and have his own priorities, but Ryan recognizes the value of the city of Syracuse to this region as a whole,” Mahoney said.
As she begins her new positions, some critics have said Mahoney lacks experience in the education and health care fields. She said that criticism doesn’t faze her.
“I had a lot of critics coming into the job that I have now. People didn’t think I was qualified for the job. I hadn’t worked in county government before. I think I’ve proved them wrong just by being competent and effective,” Mahoney said. “If you just give me a chance, I think that I can answer some of the critics by performing the way I know I can.”
Mahoney will be taking some time off before entering into her new role at SUNY-ESF and Upstate.
“I’m going to take a couple weeks off. That kind of came about gradually but the opportunity presented itself,” Mahoney said. “I really love the idea of just taking a couple weeks off and I told my husband I’ll help him clean the basement.”