In a surprise move, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney appointed former Cicero Supervisor Chet Dudzinski to replace outgoing Legislator Bill Meyer, just hours before the Cicero Republican Committee nominated current Supervisor Jim Corl for the position.
Corl said he was notified of the decision in an email that was also sent to Dudzinski and Michael Becallo, who had also expressed an interest in the seat.
In her letter to third district legislative candidates Michael Becallo, Jim Corl and Chet Dudzinski, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney revealed a major shift in party dynamics in the town of Cicero.
“I’ve been told that the deputy supervisor has changed her registration and it will become effective in November of this year,” Mahoney wrote.
Deputy Supervisor Jessica Zambrano confirmed that she had changed her party registration from Democrat to Republican.
“I have been working closely with Jim Corl since the fall of 2011 when we together attempted to introduce an alternative budget,” Zambrano said. “When he won the election, he asked me to be his deputy supervisor. It just seemed appropriate for me to change my political affiliation in support of his administration, whether at the town or county level.”
How will that affect politics in the town of Cicero? Zambrano says it won’t.
“There will be no impact on the rest of my term,” she said.
Zambrano was elected to her current term in 2011 as a Democrat. Onondaga County Democratic Committee Secretary Joan Kesel said that she did not carry petitions as a committee member this year, which is required of all committee members every two years. She also confirmed that the shift will take place in November.
“If any voter changed their voter registration before the last November election, it is now in effect,” Kesel said. “If a voter submitted a change after the November 2012 election, it does not become official until after the next general election.”
“I did get an email earlier [Thursday] afternoon announcing that was going to be her decision,” Corl said. “I was actively pursuing the appointment, but I understand that it was ultimately her decision.”
Corl and Mahoney exchanged emails after the decision was announced.
The vacancy, which does not yet exist, will occur when Meyer, a Republican, resigns to take a position with the county Veterans’ Administration. The third district covers the town of Cicero and part of the town of Manlius, but Manlius’s Republican committee deferred to Cicero’s for the nomination.
According to the email sent to the candidates, Mahoney chose Dudzinski for the position in order to avoid the elevation of Deputy Supervisor Jessica Zambrano, a registered Democrat, to the position of supervisor.
“I heard from about 50 people, many of them Cicero Republican Committee members,” Mahoney wrote. “While the majority were to endorse a candidate, there was also a concern from a good number of them that an appointment of Jim would elevate a non-Republican to the role of supervisor. That is something many members of the committee indicated they did not want.”
Mahoney emphasized that her decision was made in order to maintain the best interests of the Republican Party.
“I don’t want to perpetuate this wrong impression that I’m somehow working against the party,” the county executive told the Star-Review. “I’m working with the party. That’s what this was about.”
The email also expressed a concern that there was no “consensus candidate.”
“I wanted to work within the Cicero committee process… It became clear that there is a divided committee and no consensus candidate,” Mahoney wrote. “After meeting with Chet, I was impressed by his willingness to put his self-interest behind that of the group as a whole. He and I discussed the concerns of the committee people and he indicated that he was willing to spare the committee the potentially divisive process of a contested vote tonight. He agreed to withdraw his name from consideration. In addition, he also agreed to finish Bill Meyer’s term which will honor the wishes of the committee members who did not want to elevate a non-Republican to the role of Supervisor. Chet said that he will not plan to run for re-election and that clears the way for the committee to move forward and endorse Jim Corl Jr. tonight and he can begin his campaign in earnest.”
However, Dudzinski said he made no such commitment.
“Ever since this came out, I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘What do you mean by that?’ What I said was, at this time when that press release came out, I don’t intend to run,” he said. “But my phone’s been ringing off the hook with people that believe I should rethink that position in the future. I’m really surprised at the response to that. Most people say, ‘You should run, go for it.’ So I’m keeping it in the back of my mind.”
Dudzinski said he brings 16 years of town government experience and a different perspective to the legislature.
“I have an opportunity at the county legislature to offer another view on issues that impact the town,” he said. “For example, the sales tax issue was a huge hit for all the towns. Did they take into consideration the impact on the towns? If I was there, I would have been discussing it. I’ve experienced what happens at the town level. That’s one of my biggest concerns and one of the things I’m very familiar with.”
Dudzinski, who serves on the Onondaga County Planning Board, also said he believed he had more support from the committee.
“[Mahoney] came to our [committee] meeting [in January] and said, ‘Anybody that wants letters or emails send to me, have people do it on your behalf.’ So that’s what I did,” Dudzinski said. “I believe, and she knows more accurately because I haven’t seen them, but I believe there was an excess of 40 or 50 letters sent on my behalf by a number of different people. Jim may have had three to six. But she can better tell you that.”
Corl said the committee’s vote speaks for itself.
“From the committee’s perspective, they made their choice,” he said. “Their message was loud and clear as to who they want to see on the ballot in the fall.”
Corl said he’s looking forward to the campaign.
“I think everybody’s excited about race and getting on with the campaign,” he said. “It’s important to note, I’m really enjoying the role of supervisor. For the rest of the year, we’ll make sure we keep moving forward with the goals we’ve set, and I look forward to great and positive campaign in the fall. I have a good message of accountability and less spending.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.